Much mockery has been made in recent days of a pledge by G7 leaders to "decarbonize" their economies by 2100. Prime Minister Stephen Harper in particular has come in for criticism, even from some Conservative Party supporters, for making a pledge that won't come due until long after he's dead. The G7 Leaders' Declaration, written in the usual bureaucratic bafflegab common to global summits, laid out a very long term strategy to fight climate change.
Mindful of this goal and considering the latest IPCC results, we emphasize that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required with a decarbonisation of the global economy over the course of this century. Accordingly, as a common vision for a global goal of greenhouse gas emissions reductions we support sharing with all parties to the UNFCCC the upper end of the latest IPCC recommendation of 40 to 70 % reductions by 2050 compared to 2010 recognizing that this challenge can only be met by a global response.
We commit to doing our part to achieve a low-carbon global economy in the long-term including developing and deploying innovative technologies striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050 and invite all countries to join us in this endeavor. To this end we also commit to develop long term national low-carbon strategies.
Reports from the summit indicate that Canada and Japan were largely responsible for watering down the declaration, ultimately overcoming pressure from more environmentalist leaders such as Angela Merkel. This fits into a wider pattern we've seen from the Harper government over the last nine years. While not directly attacking the global warming hysteria, the Tories have played a game of dodge and feint with environmental issues.
Back in 2002, while still in opposition, then Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper sent out a fundraising letter which described the Kyoto Accord as a "socialist scheme" to redistribute money from the developed world. Once in power the newly reunited Conservatives dropped the strident rhetoric, though not necessarily their opposition to Kyoto.
Upon taking power in 2006 the Tories frequently criticized the Kyoto Accord, promising to replace it with a "made in Canada" solution to climate change that never really materialized. In 2007 then Environment Minister John Baird announced "aggressive targets" to cut greenhouse gas emissions, though the targets were below those specified by Kyoto. While sounding like a staunch environmentalist in public, that same year Baird quietly exempted a new Irving refinery in New Brunswick from many of these proposed restrictions.
The say-one-thing-and-do-something-else approach of the Harper Tories continued for the rest of their two minority governments. During a speech in Germany in mid-2007 the Prime Minister described climate change as "perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today." In the lead up to the 2008 campaign the Tories pledged to a introduce a cap and trade system. By 2011, with a majority government secure, then Environment Minister Peter Kent announced that Canada was pulling out of Kyoto. Come 2013 then Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver was casting doubt on the whole idea of climate change.
The Harper government's approach to the environment, and in particular to the issue of climate change, has been deeply cynical. Making the appropriate noises in public, as a way of protecting their political Left-flank from disastrous ideas like Stephane Dion's Green Shift, while privately working to emasculate any legislation, regulations or agreements that might hurt the Canadian economy. The Tories' enthusiasm for environmental issues has waxed and waned depending on the mood of the electorate.
While the Conservatives can be attacked for their hypocrisy, they cannot be criticized for their lack of political savvy. Environmentalism is a political luxury good, rising in the opinion polls when the economy is strong, then quickly dropping to the bottom of voters' minds as darker economic times approach.
Stephen Harper, perhaps the most astute political operator since Mackenzie King, understands this only too well. Knowing he cannot attack environmentalism with same gusto he brings to international affairs, he instead bides his time until the public mood shifts to other matters.
Let's not knock his approach too much. If not for such cold political calculation much of Canada's energy sector might be a dead duck.
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