Prime minister Stephen Harper defends environmental plan in London

LONDON – Environmental targets must be balanced with economic growth, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said as he tried to sell his plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a London business crowd.

Harper acknowledged economic growth on the planet cannot be sustained without better environmental conservation.

“But it is equally true as the current reaction to high energy prices in Europe is starting to show, that environmental progress will never be achieved unless the economic needs of the population are being met,” Harper told the Canada-United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce.

“So our targets need to be realistic, practical and achievable.”

Canada’s position on climate change has created a legion of critics, starting with environmental groups such as the Sierra Club.

A United Nations official in charge of handling the climate change file for the organization has described the Harper government’s position as hypocritical while Canada has also been at odds with the European Union. Some officials have accused Canada of failing to be a team player on the file.

In the face of critics, Harper maintained big polluters like the United States, India and China must face the same targets for reducing greenhouse gases starting in 2012.

Harper argued that without the participation of emerging economies, the fight to protect the environment will be lost. He used statistics to show the countries that signed the Kyoto Accord only accounted for 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, with the proportion steadily decreasing.

Harper emphasized practical economic realities must be taken into account in the debate.

The rapid recent rise in gasoline prices should encourage green energy rather than discourage states from fighting global warming, Harper said.

Canada wants to move from being an energy superpower toward being a green energy power, the prime minister said.

Aides toHarper suggested the speech was the key to Harper’s 72-hour visit to France, Germany, Italy and finally the UK.

Harper was to meet later Thursday with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Queen.

Harper’s speeches and bilateral meetings with European leaders come in advance of this summer’s G8 summit in Japan where Canada could once again face harsh criticism on its approach to climate change.

The prime minister was to return to Canada Thursday evening.

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