G8 Summit Reflects Canada’s Climate Change Policies

G8 Summit
Obama, Medvedev & Harper (White House photo)

No one should be surprised that the G8 Summit in Toronto came and went with almost no mention of global warming. After all, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the rotating G8 President this year, and his government has been named the world’s Colossal Fossil at each of the last three climate summits. The message from G20 Summit on Sunday was no different.

Though the wording was slightly different, G8 leaders reiterated much the same goal as they did last year in Italy — that they share a desire to cut global CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050. Of course, the devil is in the details, and environmentalists are quite right to criticize their promises as weak and nebulous.

“Consistent with this ambitious long-term objective,” the G8 Communique ran, “we will undertake robust aggregate and individual mid-term reductions, taking into account that baselines may vary and that efforts need to be comparable.”

That and $2.50 will get you a cup of fair trade coffee.

“Reiterating last year’s commitment to keep global warming below two degrees is meaningless without action,” said Dale Marshall of the David Suzuki Foundation. “Much greater reductions in global warming pollution are required from G8 countries. Otherwise, warming will be twice the dangerous threshold, which will be devastating for many of the world’s people and species.”

Truth to tell, it’s just the latest salvo in Harper’s overall strategy to lock North America into a fossil fuel economy. And that’s because his tentative hold on power in Canadian politics requires him to serve the needs of his home province of Alberta and its Tar Sands.

As politicians go, Harper — who doesn’t believe in the science of climate change — is crafty. He’s managing to delay and derail international climate change policy on a grand scale even as he convinces Canadians that our country remains environmentally progressive.

How?

A recently leaked document from a source at Environment Canada (EC) shows that media stories on global warming are down by 80% in the Great White North since the Conservative government instituted rules in 2007 that curtail the ability of government scientists to speak with the reporters. The scientists must receive permission from government mandarins before giving interviews, and the approval process is often measured in days, if it comes at all. As a result, the country’s high-profile media, often facing quick deadlines, have stopped calling EC scientists.

Senior scientists in Canada are frustrated by the muzzles, and feel that Canadians are being kept in the dark about one of the most important issues facing the country. They have voiced their displeasure to the government communication officials, which appears to have resulted in an increasingly frosty relationship. As a result, four experts who were quoted in 99 major articles during a nine month period in in 2007 were only quoted in 12 articles during the same period in 2008.

“It’s definitely a scandal,” said Graham Saul, Executive Director of Climate Action Network Canada. He added that the government was “muzzling scientists; they’re putting climate deniers in key oversight positions over research, and they’re reducing funding in key areas […] It’s almost as though they’re making a conscious attempt to bury the truth.”

Businesses throughout the G8 should be miffed. Canada’s position and intransigence creates uncertainty, and makes it difficult to plan for the future. And that, as most Triple Pundit readers know, is a recipe for disaster.

Richard is a writer and editor based in Halifax, Nova Scotia who specializes in clean technology and climate change. He's the founder of One Blue Marble, a climate change activism blog and web site.