Canada's Environment Minister Peter Kent met with The Huffington Post Canada's editorial board on Thursday and took the time to answer some of the best questions sent to us by readers.
Kent answered reader queries on climate change, China, the funding of environmental charities and his famous 1984 documentary "The Greenhouse Effect."
Here are the questions and answers (in some cases HuffPost had follow-up queries).
Q: Do you support current scientific theories that state the planet is undergoing global warming and that it is in part caused by us?
A: Yes. The official government position — the Question Period line in the 35 seconds you have to answer questions from the Opposition is Canada recognizes that climate change is a global challenge that requires global solutions. But we do recognize and observe science alone shows that we are warming. The Canadian Arctic is already warming at above the two degrees we're hoping to prevent on a global basis.
From Kris Dubuque
Q: Can you explain how it is in Canada's best interest to sell oil to a communist dictatorship? Don't you think Canada loses credibility to preach about human rights when we're enabling one of the worst offenders on the planet?
A: Well, we've found that, and again the foreign policy side of this is beyond my jurisdiction, but we've found that isolation of a country which has practices which are counter to Canadian values or policies, human rights, democracy, pollution, that sometimes engagement is the best way to affect change. There are signs, I mean certainly there has been massive change in China over the past couple of decades. We are an exporting nation. We still, and the Prime Minister made it clear on this most recent trip, that even while we were exploring new trade agreements, some of which involve resources, he made quite clear that we haven't modified or moderated our positions on principles regarding human rights, regarding pollution and so forth.
I had some fairly strong exchanges in Durban with the the Chinese minister over whether or not they should engage in helping to create and participate in a new climate change regime. And that is continuing.
Q: Will the prospect of us selling them more oil change their bargaining position on climate change?
A: They have moved toward the centre quite tangibly in the last few years. They do recognize, they speak to the concept of participation. We know that they are spending in dollar amounts more than any other country in the world to research ways of combating pollution. But there is some way to go and we will continue to engage and encourage. Obviously the world's largest polluter needs to be engaged in helping us meet the challenge of reducing greenhouse gases.
Q: Does it weaken our bargaining position if we're concerned about China's greenhouse gas emissions and using that as one of the reasons for pulling out of Kyoto if we're then selling them oil which they will burn to create more greenhouse gas emissions?
A: Well if it is burned, if it is extracted and processed responsibly with improved technology, better practices, better containment of the greenhouse gases generated and if when they use it for whatever applications they have, for transportation or industial uses, if they adopt those best practices. They are interested for example, and there may be eventually from our initial commercial carbon capture projects in Western Canada, Estevan, Saskatchewan, they may eventually be interested in buying that technology, because obviously domestically within China we know there are concerns about pollution, about air quality, water quality and any responsible government responds to its population, if not at its own risk. So I think going forward there is a possibility.
Q: But we don't have any strings attached to the oil we're selling. I'm wondering if it's kind of the equivalent of selling alcohol to someone who is visibly drunk?
A: (Laughter) They are going to continue to develop their industrial base whether we sell them the product or not. But if we are engaged at that level as well as on any number of other levels ... They have a great many interests, they attend all of the international conferences, some as observers some as full members. So that's just another point of engagement.
From theLastEssayist i.e. Marc Cameron
Q: Last month, troubling accusations were made that your government and the Prime Minister's Office have made backroom threats to remove the charitable status of environmental protection organizations in an attempt to stymie the voices of Canadians who oppose pipeline development from the Alberta oil sands. Do you agree that, if these accusations are true (as represented in Andrew Frank's affadavit from 23 January 2012), it is an affront to Canadian democracy and the processes that protect our nation's common interest?
Will you go on the record, stating that environmental protection and conservation groups are not enemies of the state, nor of the government of Canada, by virtue of their opposition to any development plan or industrial endeavour?
A: First of all I think we have to recognize there is no single category of environmental non-governmental agency (NGO). There is quite a range and the focus of their interest or opposition to resource projects, for example, is again a very broad range. There are some groups which would, as the Prime Minister said, reduce Canada to one great national park, with no resource development of any sort. There are others who are narrowly focused on one specific issue with regard to resource development. There are some who may have hidden agendas and some of the offshore, foreign funding, and we do have a concern about money coming from abroad that could represent rival resource interests disguised as environmental concern. In other words, to protect market or some other interest.
In question to those who say, "Why are you concerned about foreign money coming in from opponents to resource projects when you're not against money being spent by the resource companies themselves in promoting their engagement?" Well the resource companies are doing it as responsible guest corporate citizens. They're investing, they're paying taxes, they're paying royalties, they're being regulated, they follow the regulations of Environment Canada, of Natural Resources, of Aboriginal Affairs. And some of the funding from abroad is well-intentioned, it's from groups like Ducks Unlimited, from any number of organizations — conservation-minded groups which have concerns but are not focused on obstructing despite any mitigation measures or corrective measures. There are others that would simply oppose everything, no matter how the resource practice might be regulated or controlled or in some cases rejected when they go through the environmental assessment process.
Q: So if the government was to find that a foreign government or a foreign corporation was funding an environmental group with the objective of stopping resource development what action would you take?
A: It depends how they are doing it. I think our concern initially was that some Canadian agencies registered as charitable organizations were receiving funds from individuals, organizations in the United States or abroad and that that money was being used to subvert the legitimate process of environmental assessment or consideration of resource projects. If that was the case, then the charitable status of those Canadian groups would be put at risk, because the criteria which surround a non-for-profit organization's ability to work as a charitable organization are quite clear; that would be a contravention.
The blogosphere has changed the way discussions of this sort are conducted, the reason that we are here is a reflection of that. But people like Vivian Krause for example, the West Coast blogger, who has probably done more due diligence on the sourcing of foreign funding to Canadian environmental groups than anybody else, has come up with some very interesting points of reference in terms of the objectives expressed by U.S. philanthropists, U.S. NGOs, U.S. public action committees (PACs) and again the thought of PAC money coming into Canadian societal considerations of any sort I think should be considered as ominous. We know what the PAC funding has done to the American political system and a lot of that money is anonymous and could be qualified as ominous in the way it's gathered and the way it is spent.
From Facebook: Elizabeth Maria Seger (question rephrased)
Q: Given that you're now being forced to balance short-term economics with long-term environmental issues, what do you think the 1984 you who made that pioneering "Greenhouse Gas Effect" documentary would feel about your decision to pull out of Kyoto?
A: If I had known then what was about to happen 20 years later and then 12 years after that, I would hope that logic would prevail and that I would come to exactly the same conclusion. I mean Kyoto was an aspirational protocol which didn't engage, even in its original form, most of the world's greenhouse gas emitters. And as we've seen over the years, some of the countries that committed, the Liberal government before us actually allowed emissions to go up 35 per cent rather than down six and hadn't considered what its impact would have been on Canada, how it was a protocol that worked well for some countries but would have been economically devastating for others, like Canada. So no, I think logic has to prevail.
As important as having a binding protocol, as important as having a defined protocol, is having a defined protocol which is also effective and will actually get what it's aimed at achieving. And I think that Kyoto was a good idea in its time, but it's almost irrelevant now.
Some of my critics love to quote Nature magazine when it suits them, but in November, before Durban, they had a themed edition which, whenever Kyoto comes up, deserves a little revisiting. And basically this respected journal concluded Durban was the place Kyoto should go to die. And it almost did. And it doesn't matter that it didn't, because we've moved on now, we're into post-Kyoto. There is a very small group of countries, mostly in Europe, that are clinging to Kyoto, but the world has moved on. We're now looking at Copenhagen, Cancun, Durban — Durban platform and the future.
If you could ask Canada’s Environment Minister one question, what would it be?
- What is the new multinational agreement signed last week?
- Why did Canada withdraw from Kyoto?
- Will Ottawa back down on regulations governing coal-fired power plants?
- Are scientists being “muzzled?”
- What happened to decorum in the House of Commons?
What do you want to know?
Peter Kent will join The Huffington Post Canada for an editorial board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 23, where we will present him with a handful of your best questions, as chosen by HuffPost editors. Leave them now in the comments section on this page, then check back to read the answers.
His portfolio includes the Meteorological Service of Canada, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Parks Canada, enforcement of the Species at Risk Act, Canada’s Chemical Management Plan and the country’s climate change policies.
Prior to his election to the House of Commons, Peter worked 40 years in broadcast journalism as a writer, reporter, producer, anchor and senior executive in Canada, the U.S. and around the world. He won several awards for his reporting, including the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Award.