Country dubbed 'colossal fossil' for climate change intransigence

Lawyer slags Canada for ignoring Arctic warming


Canada has dropped all pretence about caring that Inuit face incredible destruction in the Arctic environment from what is now being called "catastrophic climate change," says Iqaluit lawyer Paul Crowley.

"The Arctic will be destabilized as an ecosystem, with profound implications for the Inuit," Crowley told Nunatsiaq News after attending December's United Nations climate change negotiations in Poznan, Poland.

Crowley, a Nunavut-based human-rights lawyer, pointed out that Canada was given 10 "Fossil of the Day" awards at Poznan for obstructing extension of an international agreement to stop human-caused climate change due to emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

The Climate Action Network International, which has more than 400 non-governmental-organization members around the world, gave Canada the dubious distinctions.

In a media release, the network said Canada consistently blocked progress towards agreement on targets for greenhouse gas reduction, and blocked recognition of indigenous peoples' rights in a proposed statement on deforestation.

"It has always been hard to be a Canadian at climate-change talks," Crowley said. "Even when our government's rhetoric has been good, its performance has been awful."

But at Poznan, he added, Canada dropped even any pretence that it is willing to address Kyoto commitments to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions.

Ultimately, the network named Canada the "Colossal Fossil" for the Poznan gathering.

Canada is not only the highest per-capita producer of greenhouse gases in the world, but in a recent assessment, ranked second last among the world's 57 biggest producers of greenhouse gases, in terms of what it is doing to reduce emissions.

Only Saudi Arabia ranked behind Canada.

The Poznan gathering was a preliminary discussion for meetings in Copenhagen, Denmark, next December, where the Kyoto Protocol is to be renewed and extended.

Canada signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, although it took the Liberal-led Parliament of Jean Chrétien until Dec. 2002 to ratify the agreement.

Under Kyoto's terms, Canada originally committed that by the year 2012, it would reduce its overall greenhouse-gas emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels.

The Liberal government did little towards meeting those goals, but when Stephen Harper's Conservative government took power, it announced it that it could not – and would not even attempt to – meet them.

At Poznan, Crowley said, other countries were proposing new targets for 2020, to reduce emissions to 20 per cent below 1990 levels. Climate scientists are now saying cuts of 25 to 40 per cent are needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.

But Canada's current targets are only three per cent below 1990 levels.

And since 1990, Crowley said, Canada's emissions have continued to rise, so the country would have to cut today's emissions by 30 per cent – nearly one third – just to meet the Kyoto 2012 targets.

"That's still not impossible," Crowley asserts. "But it would require major efforts."

He points to a recent paper issued by the Alberta-based Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation. Called "Deep Reductions, Strong Growth," the paper shows that Canada can still do "its share to prevent dangerous climate change," and even prosper economically in the process.

It also suggests policy changes that would allow the country to cut emissions to 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Crowley said Canada is not showing any interest in making those efforts, and continues to support expansion of the Alberta tar-sands project, which Environmental Defence has called "the most destructive project on earth."

The implications of a melting Arctic are just as profound on the other side of the world as they are for the Inuit, Crowley said.

He went to Poznan representing the U.S.-based Climate Law and Policy Project, and to support a coalition of Arctic coastal communities and small island developing states, including many in the Caribbean and the South Pacific that are threatened with flooding by the melting of polar ice caps.

In the Arctic, "we provide a service to the world by being cold," he explained.

Ice sheets and glaciers in the Arctic (especially Greenland) and Antarctic hold vast amounts of the world's water.

Any significant melting, which could be caused by raising average world temperatures by as little as 2 degrees Celsius, will raise sea levels enough to flood areas where millions of people live – including Bangladesh and world mega cities like New York and London.

The North is warming at two to three times the world average, notes a coalition of Canadian western Arctic Indigenous peoples and environment groups, including the Gwich'in Council International in Inuvik and the Pembina Institute.

Their "Inuvik Declaration on Arctic Climate Change and Global Action" calls for the Canadian government to show leadership in fighting global warming, and to "provide a massive increase in financing to help Northern Canada reduce emissions and adapt to the impact of climate change."

"In many ways," Crowley said, "climate change comes down to rich and poor." The rich produce the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change, while the poor – in the Arctic and on small tropical islands – bear the brunt of the consequences.

Reduced sea ice is threatening Inuit hunting traditions, including the ability to harvest polar bears. The banning of polar bear hide export to the United States, and restrictions in Europe, have ruined the sport-hunting business, an important source of income in many Inuit communities.

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