"Canada is not here to negotiate our domestic targets"

In a meeting Wednesday night with Canada’s lead climate negotiator, Mr. Michael Martin said this to me as he explained the position of the Canadian government. Background information: Negotiating domestic and international targets is precisely why these United Nations conferences exist.

When I asked our lead negotiator, Mr. Michael Martin, to explain Canada’s position further, this was what he said:

We are not going to set a conditional target. I honestly believe in a system where we are doing as much as we can, as fast as we can. Philosophically, I’ve never understood the logic of  ‘if you’re not doing more, I ‘m not doing more.’  It’s the problem of collective action. I heard this analogy the other day: When you’re all on the Titanic, the situation requires every one on board to do their part. We’re all heading towards a serious problem and need to all deal with it collectively and accordingly.”

[Here's where I responded, "Yes, but only those in 1st class survived the Titanic..." Anyways.]

He continued:

“The reality in developed countries is that you have domestic plans, plans for action, etc… And because it’s so fundamental and complex, and because it engages a whole economy, I don’t think you can expect in Copenhagen that a country will increase its domestic [emission target]. This is very different than Kyoto. We now have more policy work in most developed countries, and we know more – frankly. I think qualitatively it’s quite a different dynamic.  Now, how stringent Canada’s action needs to be, that’s a political discussion.

I don’t think those numbers (emission targets) are basis for negotiation. Its simply not the basis for a successful negotiation. We could put a number from 1 to 100. The models that are out there are top down; this is bottom up. We are not here to negotiate that target.

Here’s where I blatantly said:

Isn’t that why we are here? Perhaps this is my naïevity surfacing, but my understanding is that this is the mandate of these negotiations. What would happen if every country arrived with that position – non-negotiable targets?”

Answer? Words that only a bureaucrat could say to  a question that must be re-addressed to those that develop the political stance of our country.

At this point, another Canadian chirped in, “I’m glad I follow the [long-term commitments]… the Kyoto Protocol is too emotional.”

I could not agree more. To be quite frank, I can’t help but become emotionally engaged as I think about the immensity that is lying on the line at every one of these sessions. The consequences of inaction are unimaginable – and every single hour at the United Nations spent changing the text of the world’s commitments mark another notch in the line of progress moving towards where we need to be.

The job of the lead negotiator is to debate the policy that is within the political framework with which the negotiating team was sent. No one needs a UN translation headset to understand that mandate was sent from Ottawa, our federal government and Minister of the Environment, the Honourable Jim Prentice (see contact info), as well as to your own representative, your Member of Parliament (find contact info). Provinces and territories have a role in developing national targets as well, so writing to your regional Minister of Environment is also key.

Is imperative that we all call and write our political representatives as soon as possible in order to inspire political will and ambition. I already have, as have many dedicated readers already. We have the ability to shift this position. It is extremely helpful for our government to know that there are many people following the UN climate talks and that we would very much like to see Canada preform with the same, or greater, ambition as the rest of the developed world.

About The Author

Avatar of Zoë Caron

Zoë is the co-author of ''Global Warming for Dummies" and International Policy Editor on ItsGettingHotInHere. She is the Climate Policy & Advocacy Specialist for WWF Canada and served on the provincial renewable energy stakeholder consultation project team in Nova Scotia. She is the President of the Board of Directors of Sierra Club Canada and was a founding member of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. Having worked with non-profit companies and organizations within sustainability, education and social mobilization, Zoë has been named in the Top 50 Canadian Green List, The Gold Awards in ELLE magazine, and profiled with colleagues in Vanity Fair. With an academic background in international development and environmental science, Zoë attends United Nations Climate Change Conferences and has ventured to both the Arctic and Antarctic on education and science based expeditions. Zoë is based out of Toronto, Canada.

  • http://www.sindark.com Milan

    Canada’s current position, insofar as international climate change negotiations are concerned, is both deeply hypocritical and incoherent.

    Consider, first, the issue of binding emissions targets. Canada says that a successful agreement absolutely must include binding targets for ‘all major emitters.’ This definitely includes the United States and China, and may include others. At the same time, Canada has walked away from the binding commitments it accepted at Kyoto. Taken to court by Friends of the Earth, they are arguing that they do not see the Kyoto commitments as actually binding. Major emitters who adopt binding commitments in the way Canada has will find them easy to honour.

    Secondly, there is the question of unilateral versus coordinated action. On the one hand, Canada is making demands of other major emitters: suggesting that Canada will only go further in our own actions if others come along. On the other hand, Canada is arguing that our existing domestic mitigation plan is already sufficient to achieve the environmental outcomes we want. If we have already done as far as we are willing to go unilaterally, we aren’t actually negotiating and our demand that others accept binding targets has no substance.