Quitting Kyoto: Un-Canadian

Caring and compassionate Canada has morphed overnight into Canada the selfish, says Hancock.
By: /
December 13, 2011
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It is particularly disturbing when nice countries do bad things. When “peaceful" Norway slaughters whales. Or when "neutral" Switzerland exports arms. Or when "liberal" Australia interns refugees on a remote Pacific island reminiscent of a 19th century penal colony.

"Internationalist" Canada's decision to pull out of the Kyoto Treaty on global warming is much worse. At a minimum, it has seriously damaged Canada's reputation abroad, which only a month ago, was ranked the "best country brand" in the world. The lead story on CNN and BBC today is how Canada has "quit" the global climate change agreement – just hours after the rest of the world reached a last-minute deal in Durban, South Africa at the climate change conference. This news may play well in Calgary, but it plays disastrously everywhere else. Caring and compassionate Canada has morphed overnight into Canada the selfish and belligerent.

More serious is the damage to our international role. Several years ago, Jennifer Welsh insightfully argued that Canada's big contribution to world affairs was being a "model international citizen." At a time when too many countries placed their immediate and narrow national interests ahead of the collective good, Canada consistently – and almost uniquely – sought constructive global solutions to increasingly global problems. From aid to trade, apartheid to land mines, Canada took the high road, playing an indispensable global leadership role as a result. That "global citizen" role has just been clumsily squandered, Environment Minister Peter Kent explains, in exchange for “jobs” at home – and to avoid paying $14 billion in penalties for Canada’s failure to meet its Kyoto targets. 



Most serious is the damage to global climate change policy and international co-operation in general. That the science is tentative, complex, and controversial does not alter the fact that the overwhelming weight of evidence points to man-made pollution being a major factor behind our fast-warming planet. The radical anti-climate change lobby argues that we should not take a chance with the economy on the "possibility" that global warming is real. Surely, they've got that backwards – we should not take a chance with the planet on the "possibility" that global warming is wrong. Even a skeptical government should adopt a precautionary approach – as we do in every other aspect of national defence and security – protecting ourselves against this risk, while devoting even more resources to clarifying the threat. Instead, the current policy amounts to "rolling the dice."

The international order was destroyed in the 1930s because global-wreckers like Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany brazenly flouted their treaty obligations and turned their backs on international co-operation. As this government breezily reneges on Canada's previous promises – and risks unravelling the world's most important environmental treaty – it should reflect on what it feels like to suddenly be in the wreckers club. And ponder the long-term costs of undermining our moral authority to seek international co-operation across a range of issues, not just the environment. 

There's always been a suspicion that the Canadian government's more nationalist and unilateralist foreign policy was lifted straight out of the Bush playbook. Giving the finger to the rest of the world over Kyoto is not only spectacularly parochial, myopic, and selfish, it's also deeply un-Canadian. 

Photo courtesy Reuters.