PORT-OF-SPAIN – Maybe minor tinkering, but not a total overhaul.
That’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s assessment of Canada’s position on climate change with a pivotal United Nations summit just days away.
The prime minister says Canada’s goal for reducing greenhouse gases is “virtually identical” to targets proposed by the Obama administration.
So he says major changes at this stage would put Canada at a disadvantage with its biggest trading partner.
“We may make some minor adjustments, but that will essentially be our target,” Harper told reporters on the final day of the Commonwealth summit in Trinidad and Tobago.
“We believe it is essential, given the integration of our two economies, that our targets remain in line.”
Climate change has been the dominant issue at these Commonwealth meetings.
Canada and other member states sought to breathe new life into climate talks next month by backing a global deal to reduce greenhouse gases.
But the head of the United Nations warned political will is still lacking with just days to go before a key round of climate-change negotiations begins in Copenhagen.
“The momentum for success in Copenhagen has been growing. We need the political leadership at this time,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a news conference Saturday in Port-of-Spain.
“We have technology. We have financing. We know what science is telling us. The largest lacking part is still the political will. We are united in purpose. We are not yet united in action.”
A day earlier, Ban tried to prod Canada into taking greater action on climate change, saying the Canadian government needs an “ambitious” mid-range target to reduce greenhouse gases – and needs to set one more quickly.
The UN chief said Canada, as the next host of the G8 and G20 meetings, must pick up the pace in setting a mid-range goal to curb emissions. He suggested Canada should be setting an example.
“Many countries, developed and developing countries, have come out with ambitious targets,” Ban said. “And Canada, as one of the leading G8 countries, and G20, Canada is going to soon chair G8.”
“Therefore, it is only natural that Canada should come out with ambitious mid-term targets as soon as possible.”
The Conservative government aims to lower Canada’s greenhouse gases 20 per cent from 2006 levels by 2020. The Tories’ mid-term goal is to get emissions 60 to 70 per cent below 2006 levels by 2050.
But Canada has been criticized for using a later base year than many other countries, particularly the Europeans, many of whom use 1990 – when global emissions were lower – as their benchmark.
But Harper says it’s folly to focus too much on targets alone.
“We’ve been through the exercise in the past decade or so of setting targets that were idealistic or blue sky and no one went out and actually achieved them, or set targets that look great on paper and didn’t actually require any effort,” Harper said.
“So I think modest, achievable targets – particularly in the short term – will get the planet on the right track, which will allow us to make a longer-term transition.”
Harper says the key to dealing with climate change is not setting targets, but developing technologies to meet those goals.
“Just setting targets doesn’t actually achieve anything unless there is a technological plan to get there,” Harper said.
The Commonwealth released a declaration at the summit that stressed the need for countries to commit to a legally-binding agreement to battle climate change.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd characterized the declaration as a bid to kick start the sputtering Copenhagen negotiations, which some leaders feel have “reached an impasse.”
The feeling now is that the best-case scenario in Copenhagen is for leaders to agree on a blueprint that sets guidelines and a rough sketch for an eventual deal.
The Commonwealth is backing the idea of a special fund to help vulnerable and poorer nations cope with the effects of a warming planet.
Many of the Commonwealth countries are smaller, low-lying coastal and island states prone to rising sea levels and other effects of climate change.
The declaration says the Commonwealth leaders support a fund that would begin in 2010 and grow to $10 billion annually by 2012.
The fund would be set up by countries that sign a new deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.