Don't despair - a Copenhagen pact is close

It's always the darkest before the dawn at these international conferences

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The Gazette, Wednesday, December 16, 2009

As the climate-change conference runs into a patch of heavy turbulence in Copenhagen, there are two points to bear in mind from a Canadian perspective.

First, it is always darkest before the dawn at these global conferences - there are simply too many people at the table, and too many issues in play for a simple herding of cats. Not to mention all the interest groups and activists outside the hall, shouting about the inadequacy of any and all proposed solutions to global warming.

And second, Canada's role is modest enough without being diminished by provinces and environmental activists constantly undermining the position of their own country. Uniquely in the world, Canadians take perverse pride in dumping on their own country on the global stage. It's no way to build the Canadian brand.

That being said, a deal is in the offing in Copenhagen notwithstanding the grandstanding of the developing countries, notably the Africans, who boycotted the conference for three hours on Monday.

What's their problem? They say that the proposed transition fund of $10 billion a year over three years, to be paid to them by the developed countries, is shamefully inadequate and should be $100 billion a year.

Let's see if we've got this right: these countries are already receiving significant development and AIDS assistance, and they're saying $10 billion a year is chump change.

The response should and will be: There's $30 billion on the table, take it or leave it.

Then the developing countries are clinging to Kyoto, when the whole purpose of Copenhagen is to achieve a post-Kyoto framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Kyoto is a dead letter. The United States will never sign on to the target of reducing GHG emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. And Canada signed on to it under the Chrétien government with no plan to achieve it. Emissions actually increased by 25 per cent before the Liberals left office in 2006. It is a legacy of hypocrisy and failure.

That the Americans are at the table, and sending their president to close the conference at Friday's leaders' summit, means an agreement in principle is within reach at the ministerial table, provided they aren't distracted by the sideshows in the hall, or the circus atmosphere outside.

Canada's position, vis-ŕ-vis the Americans is very clear - we're with them. Totally aligned. Completely on the same page. And for Stephen Harper, in terms of managing the Canadian public opinion, it's much easier to have Barack Obama as his partner than George W. Bush.

What there isn't going to be out of Copenhagen is a treaty that Obama can present to the U.S. Senate, a place where treaties, from Versailles to Kyoto, have gone to die.

But there will be an agreement on emissions reductions over the next decade--either a 17-per-cent reduction below 2005 levels as approved by the U.S. House and advocated by Obama, or 20 per cent below 2006 levels as advocated by Canada and most other countries. It's six of one, half a dozen of the other, take your pick.

The cap-and-trade framework, proposed by the U.S. and supported by Canada, means industries that exceed permissible levels can buy credits from those that exceed targets. This is important in the U.S., where the $200-billion-a-year electricity industry is still about half fired by coal. Those utilities and those states all have members of Congress.

From the Canadian perspective, cap and trade is a dealmaker for provinces with different transition issues. Manitoba and Quebec are big hydro producers, and that's green energy. Alberta and Saskatchewan have oil, and that's another story.

But the Canadian case is no more advanced by premiers showboating around the conference than it is by foreigners calling us climate criminals. Both Quebec and Ontario have infuriated Alberta with some of their comments about the tarsands this week. They wouldn't like it if Alberta criticized the Ontario auto industry, or the Quebec aircraft industry, as big emitters.

This is a very slippery slope, the kind of beggar-thy-neighbourism practised by the Bloc. Separatist tactics are best left to the separatists.

As for the stunts and hoaxes outside the hall, everyone should just ignore them, and keep their eyes on the prize.

The herding of the 192 cats might still be to come. But the alignment of the issues is there. U.S. engagement, and moral leadership by its president, are the final elements. In a sense, this conference might be condemned to success.

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