November 26, 2009 / 5:56 PM / in 8 years

Under pressure, Canada PM to attend climate talks

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government is often criticized for dragging its feet on global warming, will attend U.N. talks next month in Copenhagen designed to find a successor to the Kyoto climate change protocol.

<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa November 25, 2009. REUTERS/Blair Gable</p>

Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas said on Thursday that no date for the prime minister’s visit had yet been set. U.S. President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he would be in Copenhagen for the start of the meeting on December 9.

“We will be attending the Copenhagen meeting ... A critical mass of world leaders will be attending,” Soudas said.

News of Obama’s plans increased the pressure on Harper from opposition legislators and others to attend the talks.

Green groups regularly bestow “fossil of the day” awards on Canada at international climate change meetings on the grounds that it is being obstructionist.

Canada’s Conservative government walked away from the Kyoto climate change pact, saying it could harm the economy. Ottawa has so far given few details about its own plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The main opposition Liberal Party said that almost four years after taking power, the government still has no idea what it is doing about climate change.

“We are entering the most important negotiations ever and our businesses, our provinces and our municipalities have been left to fend for themselves,” Liberal legislator David McGuinty told the House of Commons.

Ottawa says its plans to cut greenhouse gases by 20 percent by 2020 from 2006 levels are actually slightly tougher than Obama’s vow to reduce emissions by roughly 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

This week the House of Commons adopted a nonbinding motion calling on Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels. The government says this kind of reduction would wreck the economy.

“Our domestic policies will be harmonized on a continental basis, integrated with an international treaty,” Environment Minister Jim Prentice said in response to McGuinty.

“One thing the Conservative government will never do is fly over to Copenhagen, pull a target out of the air that is ill-suited to our industrial base, to our geography and agree to damaging the Canadian economy.”

Ottawa says it cannot unveil detailed plans for cuts without ensuring the United States -- by far Canada’s biggest trading partner -- was on board.

Prentice wrote in Thursday’s National Post that “if the U.S. does not make a substantial effort going forward, there is nothing Canada can do and our own mitigation efforts will be futile. If we do more than the U.S., we will suffer economic pain for no real environmental gain”.

On a per capita basis, Canada is one of the most polluting countries in the world, emitting 19.8 tons of greenhouse gases per person annually, second only to the United States.

Some of Canada’s 10 provinces are unhappy with Ottawa’s gradual approach and have launched climate change plans of their own.

The Conservatives point out that the environment is also a difficult issue for the Liberals, since they were in power from 1993 to early 2006 -- a period when emissions surged.

Under the original Kyoto accord, signed by the previous Liberal government, Ottawa committed to cutting emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. Output of greenhouse gases is now around 35 percent higher than 1990 levels.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway

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