Given his record as a spoiler, maybe it’s just as well that Stephen Harper didn’t attend Tuesday’s climate-change summit in New York.
The prime minister has never liked meaningful plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Over the years, he has done his best to sabotage them.
He doesn’t portray himself as a climate-change denier. Nor, as he once did, does he dismiss efforts to limit greenhouse gases as “socialist” schemes. Harper is too politically savvy for that.
Instead, he alternates between doing real damage and ragging the puck.
As an opposition politician, Harper had a real hate on for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to control global warming. Had Canada’s then Liberal government been serious about its obligations under this climate-change treaty, wide-open exploitation of the Alberta oil sands — and Harper’s political career — might have been more difficult.
Luckily for Harper and the oil industry, Jean Chrétien’s Liberals were not serious.
That in turn made it easier for Harper, once he became prime minister, to dismiss any kind of international agreement aimed at reducing carbon emissions.
He made an alliance of convenience with Russia, Australia and, at one point, Japan to deep-six any attempt to resurrect Kyoto.
In 2011, Canada became the first country to formally withdraw its ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.
For a while, Harper aligned himself with U.S. President Barack Obama. Canada, the prime minister said, would follow Washington’s lead on the climate-change file.
He gleefully supported Obama’s efforts to replace binding international commitments with voluntary ones.
To that end, Harper solemnly agreed, at the 2009 Copenhagen summit, to reduce Canadian greenhouse gas emissions in lock-step with the Americans.
But the prime minister never delivered. The U.S. under Obama is on track to meet its 2020 targets. Canada, by the federal environment department’s own admission, is not.
When asked about this discrepancy in the Commons, the Conservatives simply change the subject.
For a while, Harper and his ministers talked of introducing, in line with the Americans, a cap-and-trade regulatory system aimed at reducing carbon emissions.
But that pledge disappeared in 2011, after the Conservatives won a majority of seats in the Commons.
Now Harper attacks the New Democrats as job killers for suggesting something similar.
Here at home, the Harper government brags about bringing greenhouse gas emissions down by 5 per cent between 2005 and 2012,
It doesn’t mention that the bulk of those reductions resulted from the slowing economy as well as Ontario’s decision to phase out coal-fired electricity generating plants.
This week, Ottawa also crowed about its decision to adopt stiffer U.S. auto emission standards.
But again it failed to mention two vital facts. One, it had already made that announcement two years ago. Two, the level of integration between the U.S. and Canadian auto industries gave it little choice.
Meanwhile, even China, long a climate-change hold-out, is beginning to understand the seriousness of global warming. News reports this summer indicate that Beijing is, for the first time, considering a cap on its carbon emissions.
Recent weather anomalies have made all but the most stubborn aware of what could happen if the climate shifts irrevocably.
None of this seems to have affected Harper, however. In spite of being in New York, he made a deliberate point of avoiding Tuesday’s special UN summit on climate change there.
He’s been criticized for this by the opposition parties. They should be grateful. For reasons that he alone best understands, Harper is a malevolent presence on the climate-change front.
With luck, other world leaders will ignore him. Under his tutelage, Canada only makes matters worse.