Harper shines at G8

PM has reclaimed Canada's role as honest broker

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Gazette, Friday, June 8, 2007

For a leader attending only his second G8 summit, Stephen Harper looked quite sure-footed this week, assuming the Canadian role of bridging differences between Europe and America.

This time it was about climate change, and bridging the gap between the Europeans' strict adherence to short-term Kyoto targets, and the Americans' insistence on more achievable emissions reductions in the long term.

The compromise reported out of the Heiligendamm Summit yesterday, reducing emissions to 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, has Canada's fingerprints all over it.

Harper's role in this began in two bilateral meetings, first with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday, and then with the new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, in Paris on Tuesday.

Even before meeting with Merkel, Harper put down three important markers in a Berlin speech.

First: "Canada's long term target of a 60-to-70-per-cent reduction of 2006 emissions by 2050 is consistent with cutting global greenhouse-gas emission by half over 1990 levels - a goal sought by the European Union."

Second: "I believe Chancellor Merkel and I are on the same page on this point at least: All countries must embrace ambitious absolute reduction, so that the International Panel on Climate Change's goal of cutting emissions in half by 2050 can be met."

Third: "It is time for all countries - especially the large emitters represented at the meetings of the G8 and the five major developing countries - to come together and co-operate as we move toward a post-2012 regime."

In other words, post-Kyoto, which the Americans refused to sign, but with their participation, as well as China's and India's. There's no solution to global warming when the United States, with 25 per cent of the world's emissions, isn't at the table, while China and India, with another 25 per cent, are signatories without obligations.

Which set up Merkel, as host of the summit, to say while she "wasn't happy Canada abandoned the Kyoto goals, I am equally encouraged that we can agree that, long term, we need to reduce emissions significantly."

Then on to Paris, and lunch with Sarkozy, not in a formal setting at the Elysee, but at one of the oldest restaurants in the city, after a walk through central Paris. Sarkozy, notwithstanding his own campaign commitments on climate change, said he perfectly understood Canada's problems in meeting its Kyoto commitments.

The German chancellor and the French president are always the key European players to be engaged in bridging any gaps on issues with the U.S. In the time of Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand in the 1980s, Brian Mulroney worked them both diligently to bridge their differences with Ronald Reagan and the first president George Bush.

It is no different with Harper this week, as between Merkel and Sarkozy on the one hand, and the second George Bush on the other. Merkel, as the host, and Sarkozy, attending his first summit, have particular reasons to work for successful outcomes. And Bush has other reasons - he needs a friend, and Canada is a reliable friend of the United States.

At least, this prime minister is America's friend, without being positioned too close to its president in the summit photo-ops (the Americans understand that, and they're not troubled by the appearance of Harper keeping a polite distance from Bush).

The policy of reducing emissions by 50 per cent by 2050 - call it 50 by '50 - has a neat resonance. It's a long-term target endorsed by the UN climate-change panel. It's a number endorsed by the scientific community. In Canada, it has the support of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. It has the virtue of being government policy, and thus a target Harper is quite comfortable advocating.

Of course, it leaves Kyoto behind. Or perhaps, it respects the spirit of Kyoto, but acknowledges a crucial point the world forgot in the decade since Kyoto - there is no solution without U.S. leadership or the engagement of the U.S. president. Everything else is just talk that raises the level of hot air.

In Canada, the opposition parties will demand anew that Harper recite the Kyoto mantra. The environmental interest groups will be outraged, and left behind, again. Nevertheless, goodbye Kyoto, and on to the next phase. If the G8 says so, it's a fait accompli.

For Harper it's a leadership moment, one in which he has reclaimed Canada's modest but sensible role as honest broker in the single most important club in the world.

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