Climate Change: Canada fiddles, the World burns

( -- Canada's performance on the international stage in the Harper era has not been pretty, and nowhere is it more disturbing than on the climate change issue. In Durban, South Africa, last weekend, a marathon session led to a world agreement on climate change weakened considerably by Canada's actions.

The story of these negotiations is so complicated that most people's eyes glaze over as they read the details of wording changes and regulations. News organizations understand this, which is why reporting, by Monday morning, was barely more than "Last-minute agreement signed on climate change."

That complexity almost makes you forget last week's headlines, such as international news website's "Canada is the bad guy at climate change talks". Canada's environment minister Peter Kent went to Durban repeatedly saying Canada was pulling out of the Kyoto protocol, and urging other countries to do the same.

By now, your eyes have probably glazed over as well. To make things simpler, here are the top five things you need to know about international climate change negotiations:

1. The Kyoto Protocol said rich countries caused most of the problem so they should make the biggest emission cuts. Canada signed, but never followed up.

2. Conservatives opposed and still oppose Kyoto because they don't want to make any cuts. As a smokescreen, they say "All countries should make cuts." Considering that people in poor countries are literally dying due to climate change, that's pretty close to "Let them eat cake."

3. The Durban "agreement" mainly requires signatories to make a deal a few years down the road that will force poor countries to make cuts while letting rich ones like Canada pollute scott-free at least until then. That's what Canada plans to do.

4. This arrangement suits the rich countries fine. Their oil companies can go on profiting and polluting, their citizens don't have to alter their lifestyles, and taxes remain stable.

In poor countries, as global temperatures rise, millions of people will die as a result of crop failures, water shortages and catastrophic weather.

These are the reasons that South African anti-apartheid legend Archbishop Jacob Tutu Tutu and other prominent Africans have signed a petition against Canada, and published advertisements in international media urging Canada to take action on climate change.

"Canada, you were once considered a leader on global issues like human rights and environmental protection," read the ads. "Today you're home to polluting tar sands oil, speeding the dangerous effects of climate change. For us in Africa, climate change is a life and death issue."

"I was astonished and disturbed by the comments of my colleague from Canada," Indian environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan said Friday about Canada's Peter Kent in a speech that drew a standing ovation. She was upset that Kent was accusing poorer countries of stalling the talks and said it's actually the highly industrialized countries that are refusing to sign on.

"I am disturbed to find that a legally binding protocol to the Convention, negotiated just 14 years ago, is now being junked in a cavalier manner," said Natarajan. "Countries which had signed and ratified it are walking away without even a polite goodbye."

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