The Canadian Environment Minister’s Cop-out at COP21
Dimitri Lascaris of TRNN, Carol Linnit of DeSmogCanada, and Ashley Renders of Vice News Canada challenge the new minister
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
In Paris COP 21, or what we here at the Real News is now calling COPOUT 21, is on its tenth day now. Today another draft of the agreement was released, and you will find our review of the previous draft with Dimitri on our site under the Global Warning tab. That’s right, Global Warning tab. And today Dimitri’s going to be talking about something quite different, which is Canada. But we will review the latest draft that was released today tomorrow morning with Dimitri, and we’ll have that available for you.
But today with us again is Dimitri Lascaris, and he’s going to take a closer look at Canada’s presence. Dimitri is a good person to do that, because when he’s not doing this he is a [inaud.] class action lawyer with Siskinds in Canada, and he ran as a candidate for the Green Party, and he’s also a serving member of the Real News Network board. Thank you so much for joining us again, Dimitri.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Hi, Sharmini.
PERIES: So Dimitri, the environment minister of Canada, Catherine McKenna, who is the chief negotiator for Canada at COP 21, I understand she held a press conference and you managed to get a question in.
LASCARIS: Yes, it’s been quite a challenge doing that. What I’ve learned the hard way is that, you know, Western countries like to ask, like to take–leaders of Western countries like to take questions from the corporate media, and they tend to be quite, you know, the people who make the decisions as to who’s going to answer what question, or ask questions, tend to be quite close to certain members of the media. And it’s not easy for persons from the independent media to get in a question, but today I was gratified to be given that opportunity.
PERIES: Let’s have a look at that.
LASCARIS: Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News Network. Right here. This is for Minister McKenna. The science is quite clear that in order to avoid warming in excess of 2 degrees Celsius, the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves will have to be left in the ground. Your government has embraced the 1.5 limit, which implies that an even greater proportion of fossil fuel reserves would have to be left in the ground. My question to you, Minister, is how is that, how is the government’s apparent support for the construction of the Energy East pipeline consistent with the scientific reality?
CATHERINE MCKENNA: So as we’ve said before, we’re going to be working with the provinces and territories. We are committed to moving to a low-carbon economy, and we need to look at what that means. But you know, we are doing this with the provinces and territories. In terms of environmental assessments, we are reviewing environmental assessments, and that, you know, that the Energy East pipeline, you know, is part of that.
But I think that you can’t–I don’t like just, you know, looking at one particular development. I think that we are looking at how we are going to make progress to a low-carbon economy. We are going to be working with the provinces and territories. And what’s very encouraging is that we have seen the provinces and territories make many announcements, including here in Paris, about how they want to tackle climate change. So we are going to be looking at a whole range of solutions so that we reduce our emissions, to that we have a, you know, an ambitious pan-Canadian plan to do our part.
PERIES: Dimitri, I understand you didn’t get a followup question, and sadly she didn’t answer your question. What did you make of her answer?
LASCARIS: Well, I think perhaps the most significant part of her answer is what she didn’t say. She did not contest, nor could she do it with, I think, any credibility, but you know, this would not have stopped the predecessor. The Harper government. Credibility was never really an issue with them when it came to climate change. She did not contest the, my characterization of the science. It’s very important.
So you know, she had ample opportunity to do that. She could have said, well, I think the science is ambiguous. It isn’t, by the way. But she could have said that. She could have said, you know, I’m still digesting the literature. I’m, I’m new to my job. I need to be briefed. Which is something that she actually did say to me when I crossed paths with her on the way back from the Climate Welcome. Or she just could have flatly contradicted what I said. She did none of those things. She was completely silent with respect to the scientific proposition that I put to her, which is that the vast majority of the fossil fuels have to be left in the ground, and that if you support the lower temperature threshold of 1.5 degrees as opposed to 2 degrees Celsius, the proportion of fossil fuels that must be left in the ground is even higher.
So this is very important. Now, what is she–what did she say? It was very hard to really take anything concrete from it. It was like a series of ambiguous talking points. But she seems to be saying that, you know, she talked about doing it in a responsible way. I think what she was referring to there was in a way that’s not going to do damage to the Canadian economy, although she didn’t quite use those words. She talked about a range of solutions. She talked about the cooperation of the provinces. Ultimately, however, if you’re not going to contest the science, the oil must remain in the ground if you’re going to actually comply with your stated objective of keeping the temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius. Or, as the government of Canada is now doing, saying it should be below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The only way that you could keep the–that you could keep the temperature below that level, or make your contribution to keeping that temperature below that level, whatever it may be, 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees, while continuing to burn fossil fuels from the tar sands or some other source, is by taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. That’s the only way. The problem is that there–the technologies that are sometimes bandied about as a way of doing that, and in Canada the one that’s talked about the most is carbon capture, are unproven technologies. And in fact, this is something that, you know, Pablo Solon, the former Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations said to me today when I interviewed him.
And many others have said it, and scientists have said it repeatedly. And I think the Canadian government, if they’re pushed, they’ll have to say the same thing. These technologies for removing CO2 from the atmosphere are unproven. As long as they are unproven, and they cannot be done on a [large] scale, then you’ve got to keep the fossil fuels in the ground to maintain that target. You can talk about range of solutions all you want, and cooperation from the provinces all you want. But you can’t escape that reality.
And she didn’t–and she really has no answer for the science. That was what was painfully clear from what she had to say. And sooner or later it’s going to be come to Jesus time. You know, now people I think are cutting her some slack because the government came to power November 9. you know, some four weeks later they’re having to make these decisions at COP 21, a decisive climate conference. They keep saying we’re going to go home and we’re going to work with the provinces and indigenous peoples to come up with a pan-Canadian solution, as she did. Well, you know, sooner or later it’s going to become apparent that there is no way. There is no way for this government to respect its stated commitment to keeping the temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius without keeping the fossil fuels in the ground. And it’s just a matter of time before that reality becomes painfully apparent.
PERIES: Dimitri, I know that some of your colleagues in the room also got to ask a few questions that you thought was worthy of our audience. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to break now, and we’re going to come back with those questions that two other media outlets posed to her, and what her answers are. We’ll be right back.
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back. We’re speaking with Dimitri Lascaris in Paris. He’s at COP 21. And he was just at a press conference today with the Canadian environment minister. She’s newly minted as such. And if you watch our first segment you’ll see Dimitri’s question and answer she gives. But now we’re going to continue with two other colleagues of ours who were there. One of them is Carol Linnitt of DeSmog Canada, who is a guest of the Real News Network and got to pose a question to the minister, Catherine McKenna. Here she is.
CAROL LINNITT: Hi. Carol Linnitt from DeSmog Canada. I’m wondering if Canada has any intention of joining the high ambition coalition with the U.S. and the EU that was announced yesterday.
CATHERINE MCKENNA: Sorry–.
SPEAKER: Can you be a little bit more explicit?
LINNITT: Yeah. I think it’s news to a lot of us. Just yesterday in the UK there was a story about a high ambition coalition, Pacific countries, Caribbean, more than 79 countries including in the EU and the U.S. had announced eight goals that they’ll be working towards. And apparently it was a secret, sort of, group that had been forming. And I wondered if Canada, yeah. Was playing a role in that conversation.
MCKENNA: Well, I would need to find out more about it, so unfortunately I can’t answer right now. But I can get back to you.
PERIES: And Dimitri, what did you make of that?
LASCARIS: I thought it was quite an interesting answer. So some background, here. Today a coalition of countries, I suppose you could call it a coalition. It’s not much of one. But which encompasses African nations and other developing nations, I think there are some 79 nations from the developing world in this coalition, and the EU, and critically, here, the United States, announced with great fanfare that they had–and they constitute, by the way, over 100 countries, which would be a majority of the 195 countries at the COP. That they have for six months in secret been working together to achieve a, quote-unquote, ambitious, a high-ambition climate agreement.
And I’m trying not to laugh here, I’m sorry. You know, their notion of a high-ambition climate agreement is one, as we’ve said repeatedly, does not include legally binding emission reduction targets. It doesn’t include a legally binding temperature increase limit, whether 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius. It does not include a legally binding obligation on the part of the wealthy countries of this world to fund climate adaptation, climate change adaptation, and renewable energy conversion in the developing world. The only really legally binding thing that the United States is willing to countenance is legally binding revisions with respect to transparency and verification.
So this is the so-called high ambition coalition. Now, within that coalition there are certainly countries that do have high ambitions. But if you’re going to make the United States a part of that coalition you can’t possibly have a high ambition coalition, giving the stated limits of the US’s position.
So this announcement was made today. And they even went so far as to say, well, we timed the revelation that we have this coalition to make maximum effect. You know, right when we reach the crunch time in the negotiations at COP21. And Carol Linnitt asks a perfectly fair question to the environment minister of Canada. You know, we all found out about this today. Is Canada–because the reports were not clear about this. I myself was wondering whether Canada was part of the coalition based upon these ambiguous reports. And it appears that Catherine McKenna doesn’t even know of the existence of the coalition, even though its announcement, its existence was publicly announced today.
So I think we can at least infer this much, that Canada is not part of that coalition. And I said, as I’ve tried to explain, it’s a minimalist coalition. And so if Canada’s not even part of that minimalist coalition, it’s hard to believe that Canada is going to be taking the lead in terms of fighting the good fight against climate change.
PERIES: And Dimitri, you also noted that another good question came from Ashley Renders of Vice News Canada. Let’s look at a, a clip of that question.
ASHLEY RENDERS: Hi. Ashley Renders, Vice News Canada. I think a lot of Canadians are excited to see Canada endorsing the 1.5 degree warming ceiling, and pushing for the inclusion of indigenous rights in the text. But without even new emissions targets, a lot of people are wondering how this will play out on the ground, specifically in new policy around the oil sands pipelines and respecting indigenous rights to say no to extraction on their lands. Could you say anything about how this will play out after the negotiations?
MCKENNA: Sure. So I mean, obviously this is, this is really critical, to have an international framework. And Canada is playing a role here, but it also will play out, you know, we were going to go home and then have to do a lot of hard work. We have said that, you know, that we are, we understand we need to be working with our indigenous peoples. We will be working with our indigenous peoples. We will be working with the provinces and territories. And we’ll be sitting down and figuring out this Canadian framework. And so the same principles that we are promoting here, when it comes to indigenous rights, when it comes to recognition of the role of the provinces and territories, will play out at home.
You know, as soon as we get home–I mean, I’m already having discussions here. I’ve had many, many discussions with indigenous leaders, including this morning. And we are pushing language in the text, and we–I had a breakfast this morning with, with premiers to talk about, you know, exactly these issues. What are we going to do, how are we going to make progress when we go home? But what’s really important, and I can’t emphasize this enough, that it’s not just about having a target, it’s about having a plan and concrete actions to get there. And we owe it to Canadians to do it in a proper way, which means sitting down with the provinces and territories, with indigenous leaders, to look at how we’re going to make progress.
And we’ve been clear we were going to, you know, have a price on carbon. We are, you know, going to reduce our emissions. We are looking at how infrastructure–we have a green infrastructure plan. How all these pieces come together. Because we will go back and we will do the hard work to ensure that Canada does its share to move to a low-carbon economy.
PERIES: Well, Dimitri, I think she’s had a lot of media training on what not to say. I don’t quite understand or could decipher what she exactly said there. Can you?
LASCARIS: Well, let me say something about Ashley’s question. Ashley, I think, was asking a question, essentially the same question I was asking, but from a different angle. Both of us were trying to confront the minister on the contradiction, the obvious contradiction between the rhetoric of the government and its commitment to expand the tar sands and build pipelines to facilitate that expansion. There’s a clear and undeniable contradiction here. You can’t reconcile it with the science. Ashley’s question came at it from the angle of indigenous rights. I came at it from the angle of the scientific literature that shows that we have to leave the majority of the fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
But ultimately we were asking a similar question, and the answer was remarkably similar. And I, I had the sense, when I heard the answer to those questions, that Catherine McKenna, frankly, has a series of talking points and she’s going to regurgitate those talking points whenever she’s asked about this contradiction. The contradiction between the government’s commitment to the tar sands expansion, and its stated commitment to be a leader in the fight against climate change.
And one thing that I found particularly interesting in the similarities between the two answers that she gave to my question and to Ashley’s question, the minister, is she kept talking about a low-carbon economy. We don’t need a low-carbon economy. We need a no-carbon economy. And we need it by 2050. And this government has shown no indication whatsoever that it is committing or will ever commit to a, a no-carbon economy by 2050, because that would mean exactly what the government apparently doesn’t want, which is you’re going to have to scale down the tar sands real fast.
You can’t be supporting the construction of pipeline infrastructure and, you know, the expansion of the tar sands facilitated by that pipeline infrastructure, when you’re trying to get the country to a no-carbon economy within the next 35 years. Can’t do it, ain’t going to happen. And that’s the contradiction that this government can’t explain or resolve away, or you know, the talking points are simply not going to make that contradiction disappear, unfortunately.
PERIES: And yet, Dimitri, it was in the media, and it really took off like wildfire in Canada, that the Canadians are now supporting a 1.5 degree Celsius cap in terms of emissions. What’s the contradictions here?
LASCARIS: The expectations of Canadians have been so beaten down by Stephen Harper that it doesn’t take much to get them excited on the climate front. And not just on the climate front. There are other fronts, as well, where, you know, this government is benefiting, in a sense, the new government, from the low expectations that have been created.
You have to pay very careful attention to what this government is saying. And I think people just need to put Stephen Harper out of their mind at this stage. The standard should not be how does the current government compare to Stephen Harper. Because if that’s the standard, we are in big trouble. Stephen Harper, on the climate issue in particular, was a complete and utter disaster. The standard should be, how do the aspirations of this government compare to the scientific demands? That’s the standard. Whatever Stephen Harper did at this stage is a complete and utter irrelevancy. It’s a historical fact that has no bearing upon what we ought to do now, other than he has basically dug the hole so deep that we need to take really dramatic action really fast.
And if you measure this government’s actions, its actual actions and policies, against the demands of the science, it’s scoring very poorly, in my view. There’s no other conclusion you can come to. And the media needs to be doing a better job in Canada of exposing that reality, because we just don’t have a lot of time here.
PERIES: All right, Dimitri. We look forward to your report tomorrow. We’ll try to unpack the latest draft.
LASCARIS: Thanks very much, Sharmini.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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