A sophisticated hoax has targeted the Canadian government and caused a ruckus at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) currently underway in Copenhagen, Denmark. The elaborate prank is an attempt to embarrass the Canadian delegation to the summit, which has received criticism from the world press for its allegedly obstructionist role in negotiations.
At the centre of the ruse is a spoof news release in which Environment Canada announces the launch of “Agenda 2020”, an ambitious plan for reducing the country’s carbon emissions.
The release in part states:
Agenda 2020 sets binding emissions reductions targets of 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 80% by 2050, in line with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and approaching the levels demanded by the African Group (link). The plan also introduces a new instrument, known as the "Climate Debt Mechanism" (CDM), committing Canada to much-needed funding to those developing countries facing the most dire consequences of climate change. CDM payments will begin with 1% and rise to the equivalent of 5% of Canada's GDP annually by 2030.
It was made available at http://www.enviro-canada.ca/agenda2020. Environment Canada's actual Web site is located at http://www.ec.gc.ca/. The news was also distributed on a fake Twitter account for Jim Prentice, Canada's minister of the environment.
Following the publication of the initial release, an alleged response to the launch of Agenda 2020 was made by the Ugandan delegation to Copenhagen.
That release states:
The Ugandan delegation to the COP-15 climate talks has been the first to react to Canada's announcement of ambitious new emissions-reduction targets and vigorous climate-debt reparations to African nations.
The second release was again distributed via the e-mail address press@enviro-Canada.ca. It was also made available at a mock COP15 Web site with the URL http://cop-15.org/. The summit’s actual English Web site is located at http://en.cop15.dk/.
Questions remain as to the authenticity of the Ugandan delegation’s alleged response. In a blog post, CBC News summed up the level of confusion around the video posted on the fake COP15 Web site, writing, “Is the Ugandan delegation in on the joke? Wait, is that even really the Ugandan delegation? Is there a Ugandan delegation at COP15 at all?”
Next, a third release was issued, this one denying the legitimacy of the first two. It in part read:
One hour ago, a spoof press release targeted Canada in order to generate hurtful rumors and mislead the Conference of Parties on Canada's positions on climate change, and to damage Canada's standing with the international business community.
The release, from "email@example.com," alleges Canada's acceptance of unrealistic emissions-reduction targets, as well as a so-called "Climate Debt Mechanism," a bilateral agreement between Canada and Africa to furnish that continent with enormous sums in "reparation" for climate damage and to "offset" adaptation.
This third release, sent from firstname.lastname@example.org, also turned out to be a fake. Note that the “ec” and “gc” in the address’s domain name are separated by a dash and not a period.
This release states that major media outlets had reported on the original two releases, and linked to a story allegedly published in the European edition of the Wall Street Journal.
But the authenticity of this site was also quickly called into question and appears to be a fake. Its URL is http://online.europe-wsj.com/ while the legitimate European edition of the Wall Street Journal is located at http://europe.wsj.com/.
The third release representing itself as a product of Canada's environment department also aimed to draw attention to the Alberta tar sands. It included the following passages:
Canada's current energy policy represents an elegant synthesis of the most advanced science, while remaining faithful to Canada's tradition of political pragmatism. Experts note, for example, that the much-decried oil sands of Alberta, contrary to environmentalists' dire assertions, are enabling Canada to meet ambitious emissions goals by providing her, as well as her neighbors, with the energy resources needed to transition to a cleaner energy future.
“Without the dynamism of our oil sands industry,” says Bruce Carson, a special Adviser to Environment Canada, “we in Canada would not have the energy - moral, financial and literal - to develop the alternative energy future the whole world craves.”
A few hours later, a fourth and, so far, final release was sent out from the second fake e-mail address. This release states:
We at Environment Canada wish to thank the international press community for their measured and understanding response to the hoax that struck our agency earlier this afternoon, while expressing our condolences to the Ugandan delegation who were swept up in the excitement of this false future "vision." (Click here for video.)
This sophisticated operation was reported in the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and a number of other outlets as the irresponsible spoof that it was.
Environment Canada wishes to stress that the Ugandan delegation's impassioned response to the announcement is a dramatic tragedy for those who stand to suffer the most.
At the time of publication, Environment Canada had not posted a response to the affair on its Web site. However, as reported in the Globe and Mail, Dimitri Soudas, spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, stated in an e-mail, "More time should be dedicated to playing a constructive role instead of childish pranks."
It remains unknown who perpetrated the hoax.
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