Here in Ottawa this afternoon, in the Museum of Nature’s mammals gallery, Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced a $5-million study into the feasibility of creating a marine conservation area in Lancaster Sound, the eastern gateway to the Northwest Passage.
I called some Arctic wildlife researchers to ask what the sound is like. They described icy waters and rocky islands astoundingly rich in sea life—bowhead whales and walrus, nesting black-legged kittiwakes and (my new favourite) thick-billed murres that dive so deep, up to 200 metres, in search of fish that sea-bird experts haven’t figured out how they do it.
Given that this is the opening week of the Copenhagen climate change conference, and that global warming is the overarching environmental concern in the Arctic, I took the opportunity to ask Prentice about the linkage. Doesn’t Canada’s stewardship of Far North territory like Lancaster Sound stand embarrassingly at odds with our laggardly position in negotiations toward an international climate change treaty?
Not surprisingly, Prentice rejected my premise that Ottawa’s bargaining stance has been weak. However, he did frame his answer in a way that, I think, usefully crystallizes the Conservatives’ position. For anyone trying to understand where Canada’s government is coming from in Copenhagen, here is some of what Prentice had to say:
“The scientific data supports the fact that the temperature is warming arguably soonest and fastest in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. And so we are a country that is faced with some of the imminent adaptation issues—I agree with that.
“I don’t agree that Canada is not one of the countries at the table that is constructive and is pushing in a determined way to deal with this… We do put forward positions that represent Canada’s interests.
“In the context of this debate about Canada’s progression since Kyoto, we have a perspective that we put forward. In the time since 1990 our country has experienced in excess of 20 per cent population growth. Our economy has expanded over 56 per cent since that time. We have a vast country. It’s cold in the winter. It can be hot in the summers. This is a country that is energy consumptive.”
“Our circumstances cannot be compared to a small European country, for illustration, that has had a flat population for 20 years and has had essentially no economic growth. Our circumstances are quite different. These negotiations need to reflect that perspective if we’re going to protect and advance our national interest.”
“It is very easy for people to toss around targets. But I can tell you that when you then get into the analysis of how a country is going to make the targets, it is an entirely more challenging exercise.
“Our approach as a government is that we want an agreement at Copenhagen—a binding agreement. Countries will be taking on targets that are legally binding with financial consequences. In Canada’s context we need a target that is achievable, practical and that we know our country can reach.”
“So we put forward a target of a 20 per cent reduction by 2020 from a 2006 baseline. It’s virtually identical to what the Americans have put forward. I know there is a process, public policies, by which Canada can achieve that target. We’ve done the analysis. Some of the targets that people are pushing Canada to take on cannot be achieved without inordinate economic costs and our government is not prepared to take those costs on.”