You used to be able to count on the United States to be the bad guys at United Nations climate conferences. But this year, while the Obama administration's pledges aren't as ambitious as some might like, the US government is more willing to combat global warming than it has been for years. That's left our northern neighbor, Canada, to emerge as the summit's major stinker.
Perhaps the best sign of Canada's fledgling pariah status was the fact that it was targeted on Monday by the notorious pranksters, the Yes Men. The group issued a fake press release from Ugandan delegates celebrating an "announcement" from the Canadian government proposing "ambitious new emissions-reduction targets and vigorous climate-debt reparations to African nations." Canada now joins Yes Men victims such as George W. Bush, Dow Chemical, and, most recently, the US Chamber of Commerce.
The Yes Men's stunt drew attention to the chasm between Canada's climate policies and those environmentalists wish it would adopt. Back when Canada was governed by the Liberal Party, it ratified the Kyoto Protocol and agreed to cut emissions by 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. But since the election of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2006, his conservative government has walked back from that commitment, arguing that those cuts are unattainable. Canada's emissions have also risen sharply since then—largely due to its increased production of oil in the tar sands of Alberta. Now Harper's government wants to do away with the Kyoto Protocol altogether. At Copenhagen, Canada has only offered a scaled-back proposal to cut emissions 3 percent below 1990 levels.
At last year's climate summit, Canada was voted the Fossil of the Year—an award handed out by Climate Action Network International to the conference's most obstructive country. So far, Canada is on track for a repeat victory—in the daily "fossil" awards at Copenhagen, it has landed in the top three six times. George Monbiot recently wrote that Canada is now to climate as Japan is to whaling. And on Monday, Canada took the second to last place on the Climate Protection Index, a project ranking major polluters on their efforts to curb emissions. Only Saudi Arabia scored lower on the list.
And Canada is about to become even more unpopular. On Tuesday, leaked documents from the Harper administration indicated that the nation is considering even weaker emission reduction targets for fossil fuel industries. The documents suggest that the Tories plan to abandon a 2007 plan that called for cutting emissions from the oil and gas sectors by 48 megatonnes. A new proposal only calls for a 15 megatonne decrease—raising questions about whether the country could reach its stated pledge at Copenhagen of reducing emissions 20 percent by 2020.