06/15/2012 01:24 EDT | Updated 08/15/2012 05:12 EDT

Canada Wins 'Fossil' Award At Rio+20 Talks On Sustainable Development


OTTAWA - A fresh round of global environment talks has just begun, and Canada has the dubious distinction of being the second country to receive a "Fossil of the Day" award.

Tens of thousands of government delegates and organizations from around the world are gathering this week and next in Brazil for the Rio+20 talks on sustainable development.

As at other summits in the past, some of the non-governmental organizations in Rio are singling out countries for what the groups say is an obstructionist role in negotiations.

On Friday, activists handed Canada the award for deleting wording for funding for developing countries, weakening language on fossil-fuel subsidies, and causing confusion on policies related to oceans and fisheries.

They also pointed to C-38, the government's omnibus budget bill that streamlined environmental assessment rules and changed protections for fisheries.

"As leaders gather in Rio, Canada is weakening key parts of the Rio agreement while rolling back decades of environmental legislation and climate protection by pushing through Bill C-38," Amara Possian of PowerShift Canada, a youth organization said in an email from Brazil.

"They are being given the Rio Fossil for standing in the way of a just and sustainable future at home and here in Rio."

But Environment Minister Peter Kent said the awards are politically motivated, and don't reflect Canada's commitment to promoting sustainable development at a global level.

Rather, they reflect the fact countries can't agree on how to move forward on sustainable development talks.

"There's a reflection of the negotiation positions on these outcome documents that is reflected in who gets what awards," he said in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press from Toronto.

On Thursday, the United States was granted the first fossil award at Rio+20.

"The United States is fully and broadly and deeply committed to these issues, just as Canada is," Kent said.

"Those two awards and the justifications for giving them ... reflect the fact that there are ideological differences, and probably differences that are based on our insistence that we be real, that we be pragmatic, and that we try to come up with agenda items that are achievable and fair."

The federal government has been in a pitched battle with environmentalists for months, with Ottawa labelling them extremists, and environmentalists accusing Ottawa of imperilling the country's environment in the name of resource extraction.

Kent agreed with the fossil-award nominators, however, that Canada does not want to discuss funding for the green economy. That's because federal negotiators don't want to see the Rio meeting degenerate into a pledging conference around a concept — green economy — that has never been succinctly defined.

"It is frustrating. There are some countries that would like Rio to be a pledging conference for wealth transfer," the minister said.

"We have to remind some of the folks who want to create great new funds and start massive transfers of wealth that we have first got to get our global economic house in order, before we can go off in some of these very positive directions."

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