05/12/2014 12:31 EDT | Updated 07/12/2014 05:59 EDT

Canada's Plummet From Environmental Grace


Fifteen-year-old Zoe Craig and Rekha Dhillon-Richardson, 13, lectured Canada on its poor record on climate change to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in September 2012. Zoe, a member of B.C.'s Musqueam Nation, took a page out of ecologist, Sandra Steingraber's Raising Elijah, in asking the Committee to treat climate change as a critical threat to children and said children must have input into Canadian climate change policies.

"My inherent right to life, and my right to culture as an indigenous person, are being jeopardized not only by climate change but by my country's lack of environmental standards and policies," she said. "Canada must give children a say in environmental policy."

Rekha Dhillon-Richardson told the Committee that she is aghast by the failure of her government: "As a 13-year-old girl, I can understand why children's rights are needed, because they apply to me and others I know," she said. "Canada's refusal to address the significance of environmental protection astonishes me because climate change is an urgent problem affecting children's immediate and long-term future."

The girls were inspired by then 12-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki's stirring speech at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Severn became famous as "the girl who silenced the world for six minutes." At the time, Canada was a leader on global environmental issues. Oh, how the mighty have fallen; at the 2012 Climate Summit in Doha, Qatar, Canada had plummeted 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 Canada 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 is badly lagging the rest of the world in the race to clean, green energy. We are one of the only countries in the world to have refused to join the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which has a goal of 100 per cent renewable energy worldwide. The IRENA club includes the EU, China, the U.S., most of Africa, India, Japan, and Australia. They seem to understand the significance of the $244 billion invested in clean energy worldwide in 2012.

In March 2013, the government pulled Canada out of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, which fights the effects of drought around the world, especially Africa. As with Kyoto, Canada is the only country on earth to pull out of the Convention, which Ottawa ratified in 1995 and costs just $300,000 a year.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird derisively labelled the Convention a "talkfest." But former Ambassador to the UN Robert Fowler called our withdrawal from the treaty "a departure from global citizenship. [The government] has taken climate change denial, the abandonment of collective efforts to manage global crises and disregard the pain and suffering of the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa (among many others) to quite a different level," Fowler said.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May went on the hyperbole attack, saying the withdrawal made Canada the "North Korea of environmental law. The Prime Minister told this House [of Commons] that Canada legally withdrew from the treaty to combat drought and desertification because it was '...not an effective way to [use] taxpayers' money'," May told the House of Commons. "The cost of the treaty, $300,000 a year, is roughly equivalent to half the cost of a G8 gazebo or 109 days of the care and feeding of a rented panda, less than 4 per cent of the PMO office budget, a third the cost of shipping an armoured vehicle to India, or two days of government advertising to tell us how happy we should all be with the way the government is spending our money."

This is an excerpt from Capt. Trevor Greene's new, self-published book, There Is No Planet B: Promise And Peril On Our Warming World.


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