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  November 27, 2009

Obama, Harper and Copenhagen

Tzeporah Berman: Canada far behind even the US when it comes to renewable energy
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Tzeporah Berman is the Executive Director and one of the Co-founders of PowerUp Canada. Tzeporah is also known for her work in the early nineties coordinating the largest civil disobedience protest in Canada’s history in Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

United Nations Environment Programme link to study quoted


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network, coming to you today from our studio in Toronto. Copenhagen draws nearer. What will Canada do? We're going to find out. We're going to talk to Tzeporah Berman. She's the executive director of PowerUP Canada, and she blogs at Thanks for joining us, Tzeporah.


JAY: So let's start with the big picture of Copenhagen. Some year or two back there was great hope we would be heading towards binding agreements in Copenhagen. And then we had this meeting just a few weeks ago in Asia, where the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) met, and Asian leaders came out, and everyone said, "Okay, Copenhagen's not going to work now. There's not going to be a binding agreement." What are you expecting out of Copenhagen?

BERMAN: There's no question that the announcement that we wouldn't be receiving a legally binding agreement coming out of Copenhagen was disappointing, especially given the urgency of addressing global warming. But at the same time, I wouldn't say that Copenhagen is not going to work. I think we can expect some serious movement towards agreements, and we're going to see more bilateral agreements coming out of Copenhagen. We're going to see a lot of movement towards countries getting serious in addressing this problem. Obama announced today that he's going. I don't think people are not going to take Copenhagen seriously. We're not going to reach a legally binding agreement, but I think we're going to get huge steps towards that end.

JAY: Do you get—you're meeting, I know, with Canadian officials at various levels of government. You've traveled internationally. Underlying a lot of this lack of, you can say, sense of urgency to get the binding agreement in Copenhagen seems to be a general lack of sense of urgency, period. I mean, how long can the US and Canada say, "We'll do it when China/India does," and China/India can say, "Well, we'll do it when they do?” And it's a lovely game. In theory, they can play for quite some time. Underlying that seems to be there's no real sense of urgency on the part of these leaders. Do you see something other than that?

BERMAN: I think that's definitely true of the Harper government. It's very disappointing to see that not only is the Canadian government not successfully reducing global warming pollution, but they're not even trying. This is a government that is very defeatist about Copenhagen and, quite frankly, underestimating the capacity of Canadians to rise to this challenge. Yes, we're a large country. Yes, we're a cold country. And yes, we have oil sands. But that does not mean that we cannot make huge strides towards addressing climate change. And, in fact, Canadians want to. I don't think it's really fair, though, to put Harper and Obama in the same box, because the fact is Obama, every day of the Obama administration since they came into office, they have been working towards bilateral agreements with China, for example, that will do so much towards addressing the global warming challenge.

JAY: Get concrete about that, because the critique of this is that there's been a lot of rhetoric, but the Americans don't deal with the Chinese fundamental claim or objection is that the West is far advanced in how much emissions there have been—the per capita argument—and that the US has to get serious themselves before China does. But when you look at what's making its way through US Congress right now is an even bigger commitment to coal.

BERMAN: There is no question that the Obama administration's aspirations are being very hampered by what can get through Congress. But what we need to do is look at the way he's doing an end-run around that. So what Obama has done last week with China is sign agreements for technology transfer. Sign agreements for clean-energy coordination. Both countries are committing now to scale up renewable and clean energies faster than anyone ever thought possible. And those bilateral agreements will have a huge impact on both economies, and a huge impact on our capacity to build a low-carbon future.

JAY: Well, what specific things came out of the agreements?

BERMAN: So what specific things came out is a technology transfer agreement, which is huge. So instead of this being a "Who's going to get there first?" you know, "Who's going to get to the moon first?" we're sharing the technologies now in between both countries in a way that didn't happen before. There are agreements to help stimulate different sectors of the renewable economy in those agreements. You know, I would say the best analysis I've seen so far is Joe Romm's on Climate Progress. He goes through the deal and says, you know, this is what's happening. And I agree with him. He says this is going to have a bigger effect than almost anything we've ever seen.

JAY: But the energy bill working its way through Congress is—

BERMAN: Is too weak. You're right.

JAY: —is pathetic, and there's not much political capital coming from the White House to try to make it stronger.

BERMAN: I don't know if I would agree with that. You know, I think the fact that Obama says he's going to Copenhagen, I think the fact that he has empowered the EPA to do legal challenges against refinery upgrades to processed tar-sands oil, against coal plants, you know, those things are having a significant impact both on the culture and on the economics of these issues as we move forward. You know, we have to walk into Copenhagen with hope. And this is the first year in human history where the new investment in solar, in wind, in renewables, was greater than the combined investment of oil, gas, and nuclear combined. We are at a tipping point right now, and I would argue that Obama and China are doing more right now, in the last two months, to ensure—.

JAY: Back up, 'cause that's a startling fact. Say it again, and then where does it come from.

BERMAN: The new investment into renewable power, so into wind, solar, tidal, hydro, microhydro, is exceeded this year, for the first time ever in human history, the new, combined investment in oil, gas, and nuclear.

JAY: So this would be comparing the search for new oil fields or new coal. We're not talking about total investment of production, obviously, but you're talking about—.

BERMAN: Any investment dollars this year, any new investment dollars this year. So it's not just new searches. No. It's any new facilities. It's any new investment dollars.

JAY: That's significant. Where's the data come from?

BERMAN: It's an international, audited report that comes out of—it's been reported by the World Bank.

JAY: Okay. So that's significant. The issue of the Harper government of Canada, let's start digging into a little bit of their position.


JAY: You're saying it's different than the Obama position. How?

BERMAN: Let's just look at clean energy. This year in the budget, Obama is outspending Canada 14 to 1 per capita on green stimulus, 6 to 1 if you just look specifically at new investment into clean energy. And the result is Canada is bleeding jobs, good investment, and good renewable companies to the US. We are missing the boat on developing the low-carbon economy and creating an alternative to the oil and gas money that's flowing into Ottawa. So there's two issues that we need to look at on what any government is doing to address this challenge. One is: how quickly are they reducing global-warming pollution, and what policy mechanisms are they putting into place to do that? And how quickly are they scaling up the alternative in clean energy? And the Harper government's doing neither. So there is not a single policy in place to reduce global warming pollution since they came into power. Not a single policy. So they've talked about cap-and-trade, but we have nothing on the books. They're just waiting, waiting, waiting. And Canada's emissions are going up, not down. We're one of the top ten polluters in the world. And we're one of the only countries—in fact, the worst record of any G8 country in terms of how fast our global warming pollution is going up.

JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview, let's dig into what's happening in Canadian politics and climate change. And it's not just Tzeporah Berman who's saying Canadian government's not doing anything; it's also the governments of Quebec, British Columbia, and Ontario who are making the same criticism. So let's get into what's been happening in this kind of break that's happening between the provinces and the federal government. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Tzeporah Berman.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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