Harper defends climate-change efforts amid criticism Canada's lagging

NEW YORK - Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended Canada on Tuesday against accusations from a growing chorus of international critics that the country is lagging behind on climate-change efforts.

NEW YORK - Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended Canada on Tuesday against accusations from a growing chorus of international critics that the country is lagging behind on climate-change efforts.

"Canada's come a long way from where we were," Harper said Tuesday outside New York's City Hall, where he'd paid a courtesy call to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The prime minister was quick to pin the blame for any climate-change foot-dragging on his Liberal predecessors.

"The previous government signed an international climate-change agreement and decided they wouldn't implement it," he said.

Instead, Harper reiterated the Conservative government's repeated stance on the issue: Canada plans to work closely with the White House to tackle climate change. Canada's proximity and economic links to the U.S. demand a similar, integrated approach, he said.

"Our position is very clear: we want to see a new effective international accord, one that includes all the major emitters of greenhouse gases, and of course we're working very closely with the Obama administration on a truly continental approach," Harper said.

President Barack Obama was also in New York on Tuesday, and told the United Nations climate summit taking place in the city: "We are determined to act."

Harper's remarks came a day after the head of a UN scientific panel urged Canada to do more to combat climate change, adding the federal government should ponder shutting down the controversial Alberta oilsands project.

"In the last couple of years, I'm afraid, Canada has not been seen as sitting at the table," Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said in Montreal. "I think Canada should be doing much more."

Pachauri, a Nobel laureate, made a plea to the climate change conference on Tuesday.

"If those in this august gathering do not act on time, all of us would become leaders and citizens of failed states," he said.

Canada has pledged to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 per cent below 2006 levels by 2020, a target many scientific and environmental experts deride as being far too low. The European Union, by contrast, is cutting its emissions by 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Even China, once considered a laggard, outlined ambitious greenhouse-gas goals Tuesday, including planting enough forest to cover an area the size of Norway and generating 15 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources within a decade.

Harper is back in the U.S. this week after his high-profile White House visit last week, this time for a string of international meetings focusing on climate change, trade relations and the economy.

In his Big Apple blitz on Tuesday, the prime minister appeared on CNBC, met with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and attended a dinner on climate change hosted by Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations.

The dinner was part of the high-level UN climate summit. Harper was one of about 25 world leaders invited to discuss environmental issues in the hopes of finding common ground before countries meet in Copenhagen in December to sign a new global climate change treaty.

The prime minister's visit with Bloomberg focused on Canadian trade with the city and state.

For the benefit of cameras, the pair sat down in the mayor's office - an open space known as "the bullpen" in the middle of a bustle of mayoral employees - and made small talk on a number of subjects, including the 2010 Winter Olympics being hosted in British Columbia and skiing in the province.

Harper returns to New York on Thursday for a meeting with other leaders involved in the group Friends of Democratic Pakistan.

The group, established last year to bolster aid and development in Pakistan, includes Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Harper also attends the Group of 20 leaders' summit at the end of the week in Pittsburgh, where leaders will attempt to agree on how much money rich nations should give developing countries to cut their greenhouse gases.

On CNBC, a business cable news network, Harper said economic recovery efforts would obviously be a major topic of discussion at the G20 meeting.

"I hope we continue to see a focus on the economy and a willingness to deliver stimulus, fight protectionism and fix the financial sector," he said.

"Get toxic assets off the balance sheets and provide a system of prudent regulation, good solid domestic regulations with some kind of international peer review that will allow us to have sustainable growth in the future."

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