Prime Minister Stephen Harper is facing heavy political pressure to agreeto binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions as Commonwealth summit delegates in Uganda attempt to form a strong, united front in the fight against climate change.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper listens to the Queen's speech at the opening ceremonies of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Kampala, Uganda, on Friday. ((Tom Hanson/Canadian Press))

Other than Australia, whose leader is not at the summit, Canada is the only member of the 53-nation grouping that has not fallen in line with the wording in a climate change resolution calling for binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

The three-day conference is trying to reach a consensus beforeDecember's United Nations meeting in Bali, Indonesia, where more than 190 nations will discuss the future of the Kyoto protocol.

"One of the biggest challenges we all face [is] climate change," Malta's Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said Friday in a speech in the Ugandan capital,Kampala. "The challenge of climate change not only requires a united front, but an unprecedented level of co-operation and firm action."

But the small island nation's drivefor environmental unityfaces challenges from Canada's Conservative government, which does not support binding reductions.

Harper lone opponent of binding targets

In Kampala, Harper stands alone in opposition to the binding targets, as his Australian counterpart, John Howard, is not attending the meetings. Instead,Howard is at home preparing for his country's federal election.

Other than the small island nations such as Malta, which fear rising sea levels could bring mass flooding, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also stated his commitment to reducing greenhouse gases.

Diplomats have reportedly suggested Brown will attempt to persuade Harper to sign on to the agreement.

Unless the other leaders are able to win over Canada with the idea of binding targets, the nations will likely emerge from meetings with a slightly watered-down statement.

Before the climate change talks topped the agenda on Friday, the Commonwealth's suspension of Pakistan overshadowed the summit.

On Thursday, a committee of foreign ministers, including Canada's Junior Foreign Minister Helena Guergis, agreed to suspend Pakistan over President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's failure to lift a state of emergency and restore civilian rule.

The Commonwealth leaders agreed on Friday to endorse the suspension decision, made by a nine-nation Ministerial Action Group.