Aussie expert Tim Flannery questions Stephen Harper's commitment on climate change

The head of Australia's Climate Commission, scientist and author Tim Flannery, says he doesn't want to be seen to be criticizing Canada too much. But in a phone interview from Toronto on a recent visit, he had trouble containing himself when asked about the record of the Stephen Harper government in addressing climate change.

“Canada would have to be one of the worst performers globally in this area,” he stated, adding that this provides excuses for poorer nations not to deal with the problem. “It also corrodes morale and ultimately will lead to censure from the world. It's a profound moral problem. We all have to do our bit in this, you know. It really is sad, actually, to see Canada now becoming quite isolated and potentially quite damaged, I think, by the path it has set.”

He pointed out that Canada hasn't come close to achieving its target in the Kyoto Protocol. At the 1998 signing of the protocol, Canada agreed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 2012 to six percent below the 1990 level. However by 2008, Canada's emissions had increased by 24 percent, according to Environment Canada.

“Now, you have set another set of targets nationally for yourself, which is a 17-percent reduction below 2005 levels by 2020,” Flannery noted, referring to Canada's post-Kyoto Protocol goals for greenhouse-gas emissions. “You've got eight years and eight months to achieve those targets. And yet I see no earnest efforts by the federal government. You don't have the programs in place to honour it.”

As a result, he said, either Canada will become an international “laughing stock” or trust in this country will vanish. “For governments,” he added, “their word is their bond. Trust is the only commodity they trade in—both with the voter and with other governments around the world. If you don't have trust, if your word is not your bond, then you become a laughing stock or an untrustworthy partner. And that is immensely damaging for countries. It is sort of really sad for me, from the outside, to see that pattern emerge. I just don't think any country can afford to do that.”

He acknowledged that the United States has also been an international laggard, but what sets it apart from Canada is the amount of money being invested in renewable energy. “It's probably the biggest initiative they're doing there,” Flannery said. “Hopefully, in time that will lead to significant innovation in that area.”

Flannery suggested that the example of Australia is most relevant to Canada, because the two countries are rich in fossil fuels and have similar economies. Unlike Canada, the Australian government has mandated a target of 20-percent renewable energy by 2020, he said, noting that this is supported by right- and left-wing parties. In addition, there is bipartisan support for a five-percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020—with regulations in place to honour this commitment.

There are key differences in the electoral systems of Canada and Australia. “We have compulsory voting,” he stated. “We have a larger voter turnout. The second is we have proportional representation, which again, I think, has an impact on people valuing their vote.”

In Canada, the prime minister appoints senators. Australia, on the other hand, elects its senators. Flannery described Australia's approach of electing senators and allowing proportional representation as “increasingly standard things that strengthen democracy”. He noted that the United Kingdom is in the process of making the House of Lords more democratic, and is considering proportional representation.

“Sure, Canada is a democracy,” Flannery acknowledged. “It's a wonderful and robust democracy—but it could be improved.”

Related article: Tim Flannery offers a hopeful message in Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet

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Rob Inoz

Apr 21, 2011 at 2:37pm

Here in Oz we are a bit disappointed that you let''our Tim'' leave your great country. We were hoping that he would stay with you. He is an embarassment here, The Flim Flam Man.
Collects lots of govt. money for spewing forth his global warming crap. No qualifications.


Apr 21, 2011 at 2:51pm

Flannery is a 'laughing stock' and I should think most Australians find it deeply embarassing that this loudmouth clown should be allowed offshore.
Maybe the Canadian government is more concerned with the effects on the economy and jobs than ours is.


Apr 21, 2011 at 4:18pm

It's amazing that any online article about global warming I go to, paid spammers pile in the same denier comments. Always the same junk, no info or links to evidence, just the same tired old denier junk.

Geoff Lord

Apr 21, 2011 at 7:04pm

To correct the opening statement, Flannery is Australian but certainly no expert. In Australia he is an employee of the Labor Government which is currently polling at 32% and facing a landslide loss at the next election because of its climatepolicy debacles. Don't look to Australia for guidance we are in the process of fixing the mess started in 2007 when Labor got elected. 60% of Australians are against the Carbon Tax proposed by Labor. Maybe use Australia as an example of what not to do.

Geoff Lord

Apr 21, 2011 at 7:07pm

EmpathicHuman. I work, I pay taxes, I analyse information. Get your head out of the tar sand mate and open your mind. You will find it exhilarating.

heads up

Apr 21, 2011 at 9:04pm

Tim is the opposite of a expert, just do the exact opposite of what he says. Just ask any Australian, I think he is hiding in Canada.


Apr 21, 2011 at 11:05pm

um , oi auzzies read, "The head of Australia's Climate Commission, scientist and author Tim Flannery" so why Not respect his valid points?! Either way both countries need help on our climate justice models.

Geoff Lord

Apr 23, 2011 at 2:32am

Denise. Tim is a flip. He has no vlid points. He is off with the pixies. Just read his material.


Apr 23, 2011 at 6:59pm

Gee Charlie, OzzieBird says he doesn't want to be seen to be criticizing Canada too much, but then he does exactly that. Should have been your first hint he was a publicity bird. The comments from his fellow mates seems to back that up. But then, that wouldn't support your agenda to constantly criticize Stephen Harper. Sorry Charlie, you have no credibility just like this guy.