Environmentalists full of hot air

Solutions will come from government, industry and consumers, not lobbyists

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The Gazette, Friday, November 17, 2006

Last Friday, Rona Ambrose announced three new appointments to the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the government's advisory panel on sustainable development. They were David Chernushenko, deputy leader of the Green Party, Tim Haig, president of BIOX Canada and chairperson of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, and Marc Jaccard of Simon Fraser University, author of Sustainable Fossil Fuels, winner of the Donner Prize.

Coming on the eve of the United Nations conference in Nairobi, the appointments were as striking for their timing as for their obvious merit. Ambrose and the Conservative government were extending an outstretched hand to the environmental movement.

But with the exception of Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who had the good grace to endorse the appointments, the silence from the interest groups was eloquent.

They, and the opposition parties, had another agenda - ambushing Ambrose in Africa.

Having pestered her for an invitation to the UN conference, Liberal MP John Godfrey showed his gratitude by joining Bloc Quebecois critic Bernard Bigras and Greenpeace spokesperson Steven Guilbeault at a news conference trashing her on the world stage. Before she had even landed in Nairobi, they organized a drive-by shooting in a global forum.

This is to be expected of Greenpeace, which historically specializes in cheap stunts. But for Godfrey to call Ambrose's position on climate change "completely idiotic" was a little bit over the top. Then Godfrey and the Liberals had the effrontery to be offended when she replied in kind in her keynote address that Canada was unable to meet its Kyoto commitments within the 2008-2012 timeline because of the inaction of the previous government, under which greenhouse gas emissions rose by 33 per cent over 1990 levels, rather than moving to six per cent below them.

Nor have any of the environmental interest groups had a good word to say about Ambrose's target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 66 per cent below 2003 levels by 2050. As it happens, this was the recommendation of the round table to the government last June, based on studies undertaken during the Martin government. So the Conservative made-in-Canada plan is actually the Liberal plan. Oops. As it also happens, long-term targets are precisely what the scientific community has been demanding.

The scientists also understand that the conversation has changed from Kyoto to climate change. In their letter to Stephen Harper last spring, they referred to climate change several times, and didn't mention Kyoto even once. Even Jack Layton gets it - in several interventions in the House asking that the Clean Air Act be referred to a special committee before second reading, he changed the channel from Kyoto to climate change.

But for the Liberals, the Bloc, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and Canada's Climate Action Network, it was Kyoto or nothing in Nairobi.

But when you think about it - what have the environmental lobbies ever actually accomplished, when solutions are with government, industry and consumers?

Allow me to illustrate.

In the spring of 1992, Dan Gagnier, then deputy clerk of the Privy Council, invited all the environmental stakeholders to a meeting in the fourth-floor boardroom of the Langevin Block. He wanted their advice for a speech I was writing for Brian Mulroney as a curtain-raiser for the Rio Summit.

No one sitting around the table had a good word to say about the government or its record, not about the 1987 Montreal Protocol on ozone depletion, not about the 1991 acid-rain accord with the U.S., not even about Mulroney's efforts to persuade the first President Bush to sign on to the Rio convention on climate change.

Nope. What they wanted and, indeed, demanded, was that the prime minister denounce the Americans for failing to endorse the second Rio accord on bio-diversity. I pointed out while we expected to endorse it, we would allow the Americans the exercise of their own sovereignty, and that we wouldn't be insulting the president of the United States in public.

When the meeting ended, I turned to Gagnier and said, "that was a complete waste of our time. We can't do business with these people."

Fourteen years later, many of the same people who were insisting on Mulroney's inadequacies on the environment were fighting to get into a tribute dinner in his honour as Canada's greenest prime minister.

As for Dan Gagnier, he went on to become senior vice-president responsible for the environment at Alcan, which has reduced its emissions 30 per cent below 1990 levels in Canada, and 25 per cent worldwide in more than 60 countries on five continents.

Unlike the hot-air crowd, who talk about the environment, he and his company actually have accomplished something.

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