climate change energy politics

Not so nice now: is Canada the main obstacle to a climate deal?

With just five days to go until the Copenhagen summit, things are moving pretty fast in the world of climate change. Obama now plans to attend, which is great news. Gordon Brown will also be there in person, and so will our future monarch Prince Charles.

The reports are coming in too. Yesterday’s headlines included the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, who boast the Bond-villainesque acronym SCAR. They predict a sea-level rise of 1.4 metres by the end of the century, doubling the previous estimate. Obviously that’s new research and may or may not be confirmed, but it certainly ups the ante if it’s true.

Among the politicians and scientists waving the flag for a robust deal, there are also those who are working in the opposite direction, and the most important of them is somewhat unexpected: Canada. The big enemies of Kyoto have always been the US and Australia, who refused to ratify it. But it was Canada who ratified it and then publicly renounced their targets in order to pursue the tarsands project. There was no way they could exploit their filthy oil reserves and meet their emissions targets at the same time, so the targets had to go.

On the one hand, who can blame them? Under Alberta’s vast forests lies the largest new source of oil in the world, and the rising oil price was making it economically viable to extract for the first time. Canada could be the new Saudi Arabia, and Canadians can all be as fabulously wealthy as the Saudi princes…. if only it wasn’t for this pesky climate change business.

As George Monbiot points out in his scathing article this week, Canada has done more to obfuscate and stall a global deal than anyone else in recent years. As the US, China and India have all come on board in recent weeks, Canada has ended up being the country to watch in the coming conference.

Before we point the finger, it’s worth remembering that it’s Shell, a British company, that’s leading the tar sands charge, and it does so with money from British banks – including RBS, which you and I apparently own. And of course, Canada’s choice is the same one we’re all making in other ways: economic growth now, or environmental stability in the longer term? It’s a question that will last well beyond Copenhagen, whatever the outcome might be.

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