Stephen Harper's G8 summit neglects climate change

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      When Greenpeace International asked Kumi Naidoo to run the organization, the South African activist dismissed the offer. He was 19 days into a hunger strike concerning the crisis in Zimbabwe, and he didn’t have the energy to make such an important decision.

      But Naidoo’s then–16-year-old daughter demanded that he seriously consider the job. She argued that climate change threatens her future, and said Greenpeace could help minimize catastrophic changes to the environment. That was all the convincing Naidoo needed.

      “I was taken aback,” he said in an interview at the Georgia Straight office.

      Now, less than half a year after being named Greenpeace International’s executive director in November 2009, Naidoo is taking his daughter’s message to the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations.

      He plans to attend the 2010 G8 and G20 summits in Ontario, which open on Friday (June 25) and Saturday (June 26), respectively, as well as visit the Alberta tar sands.

      As the current president of the G8, Stephen Harper played a leading role in setting the priorities for both of the summits. Noticeably absent from the agendas is the environment.

      “I don’t think Prime Minister Stephen Harper has provided leadership on the climate question at all,” Naidoo charged. “If anything, he has held it back.”

      Naidoo said that for weeks, his organization lobbied world leaders to focus on the environment at the G8 and G20. And while their efforts received some support—from German chancellor Angela Merkel in particular, Naidoo noted—the environment is not expected to receive substantial attention at this year’s summits.

      Naidoo explained that Greenpeace is asking world leaders to discuss reduction targets for greenhouse gases, ending subsidies to the fossil-fuel industry, and a plan to finance developing countries’ efforts to adapt to climate change.

      On that first point, Naidoo singled out Canada as playing an especially detrimental role in international negotiations. He explained that since many of the world’s governments announced carbon-reduction goals at the December 2009 Copenhagen summit, Canada has not only failed to make progress on its target but has actually reduced the amount of greenhouse gases it is aiming to cut.

      Wrapped up in all of this are the Alberta tar sands, which Naidoo is scheduled to tour by helicopter the day before the G8 summit begins.

      “The tar sands have become an iconic symbol of environmental destruction,” Naidoo said. “You can’t talk about the environmental issues without talking about the tar sands.”

      According to a Greenpeace briefing package, producing oil from Alberta tar-sands bitumen releases three to five times more greenhouse gases per barrel than oil from conventional wells. The report states that operations at the tar sands are the “fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada” and describes the mines’ tailings ponds as “the world’s largest impoundment of toxic waste”.

      Naidoo said that he requested a tour of the tar sands because the environmental degradation going on in Alberta has become a central part of the global conversation on the environment.

      “It is pointed at as one of the worst examples of a project having negative consequences for climate change,” he said. “The tar sands is something that should never have been started.”

      Naidoo reflected on the past, when, he said, activists around the world regarded the Canadian government as a body that was helpful in starting conversations on international issues such as human rights. For example, he explained, the 1997 agreement banning land mines is called the Ottawa Treaty. Now, Naidoo continued, the Canadian government is not only failing to lead on such issues, but on climate change, for example, it is actually taking the world in the wrong direction.

      Representatives of the G8 and G20 summits and the office of Canada’s minister of the environment did not respond to interview requests by deadline.

      David McGuinty, the Liberals’ environment critic, told the Straight that it’s no surprise Harper left the environment off the summits’ agendas. “Harper has concluded”¦that the environment is not a file he can possibly win on,” the Ottawa South MP said by phone.

      According to Naidoo, despite the lack of attention climate change will receive at the G8 and G20 summits, Greenpeace will try to raise the issue of the tar sands at both conferences.

      What message do you think G8 leaders should hear from Canadians?

      Ali Godson
      President, Simon Fraser Student Society

      “There are three things”¦systemic inequality fuels extremism. Secondly, emphasizing the importance of human rights and recognizing that they are universal and they should transcend cultural, economic, social, and racial barriers. Finally, I think that Canadians need to hear the global perspective on what our responsibilities are in regards to climate-change policies, and we need to be hearing that from the G8.”

      Erin Baines
      Assistant professor, Liu Institute for Global Issues

      “Canada is an incredibly privileged place, and our leaders should be setting an example for the next generation that we need to share that wealth. I think Canada has shit the bed when it comes to foreign policy”¦ and it has been a self-interested policy about how Canada can make more money and do better.”¦So we need to begin to go back and redress our engagement with Africa and other countries that are failing.”

      Scott Andrews
      Vancouver campaign coordinator, Make Poverty History

      “I think, unfortunately, the first message”¦is that the leaders in Canada aren’t representative of Canadian public opinion. I would say that Canadians are very aware that we’re not living up to the leadership responsibilities that we used to have on peacekeeping, environmental stewardship, and even corporate social responsibility.”¦We want to show the world that Canada does care, as much as we have a bit of a broken political system that doesn’t allow Canadian public opinion to shine through.”

      Bijan Ahmadian
      President, Alma Mater Society of UBC Vancouver

      “I personally think our focus on our carbon footprint is something that my generation and my peers care a lot about. The other thing that needs to be discussed is an increase in funding for research and for student financial aid. And as cheesy as it sounds, the other thing that I think is on our radar is world peace, like the war in Afghanistan and all the ways we are still involved. We need to voice that people want to see an end to these wars and Canada’s participation in them.”

      You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at

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      Government of Alberta

      Jun 24, 2010 at 6:13am

      If this report is accurate, welcome to Alberta, Mr. Naidoo. If you have any questions that your Greenpeace briefing package does not cover to your satisfaction, please feel free to contact us.
      - David Sands, Government of Alberta


      Jun 24, 2010 at 11:29am

      re: “Canada is an incredibly privileged place, and our leaders should be setting an example for the next generation that we need to share that wealth." -Erin Baines

      Great let's start with YOUR wealth. Come on, set the example. I'm broke, gimme your money.

      Canada is HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS of dollars in debt. We pay over $160 MILLION in interest alone EVERY DAY. Time to stop printing money like crazy and giving it to anyone with their hand out, assuming future generations will pay it. Why don't you go ask China or Brazil to "share the wealth"?


      Jun 24, 2010 at 11:34am

      In an interview with Peter Mansbridge in early May, Marvin Odum, Pres of Shell Oil Co. and Director of Upstream Americas Operations stated that the GHG profile for the tar sands was about 15% higher than that of conventional oil. Or roughly speaking, that's what he said.

      There's quite a difference between a 15% higher output of GHG's and the figure of "three to five times more greenhouse gases" claimed in this article.

      Rod Smelser

      Robert Stevens

      Jun 24, 2010 at 6:31pm

      "shit the bed on foreign policy" Wow Erin, with professional comportment and sound arguments like that I can see how you would enjoy a job as assistant professor. I feel sorry for your students.

      Josh Meter

      Jun 24, 2010 at 8:31pm

      "So we need to begin to go back and redress our engagement with Africa and other countries that are failing.” Uhhh, Africa is a continent, not a country. This person is a professor at the Institute for Global Studies? Looks like the SFSS president should be doing Erin's job instead...

      Scott Andrews

      Jun 25, 2010 at 8:56am

      I'll stand by Erin here - Canadian activists have been far too polite, it's high time to spice things up a bit. Our foreign policy is in the toilet. From the tar sands to our mining companies in the DRC and our contributions to ISAF in Afghanistan, Canada is an embarrassment.

      For some perspective, Canada's GDP is $1.281 trillion. With the same population, Uganda's GDP is $39.686 billion. It's important us to consider, it is us that is changing the climate and drying up the rural Ugandan bean farmer's crops. It's a matter of priorities. Canada can afford to help marginalized communities deal with the devastating impact of Climate Change.

      Scott Andrews
      Oxfam Canada Volunteer/Make Poverty History Coordinator


      Jun 25, 2010 at 11:03am

      Surprise the elite don't give a damn about you plebs - it's about the money people.

      glen p robbins

      Jun 25, 2010 at 2:51pm

      For one billion dollars -- I want a deal on the economy---a plan -- I want the Chinese to become flexible with their currency. I want all governments involved to be tough on white collar and government crime--as tough as they are at locking up -- the dangerous, the destitute--the drug dealers and the mentally ill--

      I want a deal on the environment -- I want it all done---

      And I don't know why Prime Minister Stephen Harper would not have had Stephen Lewis there----Mr. Lewis IS - A Canadian in Africa.

      You cannot spend a billion dollars -- on a public relations exercise only--it really damages confidence. You also cannot leave out two-thirds of the subject matter--.


      Jun 27, 2010 at 2:36am

      Lets help all the poverty stricken countries.The first thing we will do is educate them to control their birth rates. After that we won't "give" them anything, we will teach them how to develop businesses, find water, grow sustainable products. Throwing bags of food off a truck or giving their corrupt governments money isn't working. Send used household goods that are abundant here so that they can open second hand stores. There's so much stuff here going to the landfills that should be recycled to other countries.

      Scott Andrews

      Jul 2, 2010 at 10:58am

      To Sad:

      Birth rates are extraordinarily complicated. The best way to decrease birth rates is to increase life expectancy.