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Canada Has Restored Its Tarnished Environmental Reputation

12/16/2015 03:45 EST | Updated 12/16/2016 05:12 EST
Chesnot via Getty Images
PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 11: The slogan 'No Plan B' is projected on the Eiffel Tower as part of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) on December 11, 2015 in Paris, France. COP21 President Laurent Fabius unveiled the final draft text of a global climate agreement of negotiations in Paris. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

The City of Lights has been the setting for historic peacemaking over the years, beginning with the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 that ended the First World War. In 1973, the Vietnam War was officially ended in Paris , and in 1991, the carnage between Cambodia and Vietnam was laid to rest in the city of lights.

For the last two weeks, the eyes of the world have been on the climate talks in Paris in the hope that a planetary peace deal would be forged to combat global warming. On Saturday, December 11, shortly after 7:25 p.m. local time, climate summit president Laurent Fabius rapped his green, leaf-shaped gavel and made history. "Looking out to the room I see that the reaction is positive, I see no objections," he said. "The Paris agreement is adopted."

The stunning success of Paris is all the more heartening when set against the tragicomic spectacles of previous summits. The world has been gathering to discuss the imperiled environment since 1988 in Toronto, when politicians and scientists concluded that "humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war."

Over the next 26 years, what Time Magazine called "the annual exercise in futility that is the U.N. climate summit" has been staged around the world, consistently producing daily dramatic walkouts, finger-pointing, stall tactics and peacock-like posturing.

Almost 200 nations met in Doha, Qatar in late November 2012 in yet another high-profile attempt to hammer out a U.N. deal to curb global emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020. Opinions were mixed about the wisdom of having an OPEC member like Qatar host a summit on fossil fuels, and there was a furious controversy over the choice of summit president. Not only was Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah Qatar's oil minister and a former president of OPEC, but he had been named the best petroleum executive in the world in 2007.

These concerns appear to have been borne from the fact that interventions from non-governmental organisations groups during the talks were limited to a farcical 30 seconds. The Economist's headline the week Doha closed was "Theatre of the Absurd," and it charted the complex failures of previous summits:

"... at Durban [2011], with the obligations that Kyoto put on rich countries about to expire, countries promised more talks about talks, saying they would negotiate a new climate regime by 2015 and have one in force by 2020. The Doha meeting begins that negotiation."

A fitting eulogy for that round of ponderously slow talks about talks about the urgent need to act quickly was written by Irish Times columnist Frank McDonald, whose column on Dec.10, 2012 ran under the headline "Doha Climate Conference Yields More Heat Than Light":

"...the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change process is governed by consensus and characterized by compromise, so what often emerges is the lowest common denominator; an agreement to move forward with which almost no one is entirely happy, but that is widely recognized as the best available at the time."

In the 1990s, Canada was a widely respected middle power in environmental negotiations. Dr. David Suzuki's then 12-year-old daughter, Severn, became famous as "the girl who silenced the world for six minutes" after giving a stirring speech at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

At the time, Canada was a leader on global environmental issues. Oh, how the mighty plummetted; by Doha in 2012, Canada had sank to 58th place out of 61 countries judged on climate change policies. We beat out only Kazakhstan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. The influential Conference Board of Canada branded us an environmental laggard in a January 2013 report.

According to How Canada Performs, we rank 15th out of 17 developed nations on environmental performance, ahead of only the United States and perennial bottom dweller Australia. Canada was awarded a satirical "fossil award" from environmentalists at the summit. It marked the sixth year running that Canada had taken the dubious honour. Canada fell woefully short of 2012 emissions targets and in December 2011 became the only country to pull out of Kyoto, the world's only binding climate treaty.

That was in the dark decade of Stephen Harper. Prime Minister Trudeau led a younger, far more optimistic and enlightened entourage to Paris, including opposition MPs, premiers, First Nations leaders and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who was refused a spot in the last summit by PM Harper and had to join the Afghan delegation.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was named to a group of 14 international ministers who served as facilitators of the climate conference to help French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius, the conference's president. Her surprise appointment marked Canada's return to prominence on the world environmental diplomacy scene and buried those fossil of the year awards of those dark Harper years.

This is an excerpt from Captain Trevor Greene's new book, There Is No Planet B: Promise And Peril On Our Warming World, soon to be available in e-book format.

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