UPDATE June 22: The criticism of Canada continued at Rio+20 as the conference draws to a close Friday.
Virgin Airlines owner Richard Branson said Canada is "hand-in-hand" with the U.S. at Rio+20. (Silvia Izquierdo/AP)On Thursday, Virgin Airlines owner Richard Branson spoke out against Canada's role in the fight over Arctic sovereignty and oil rights.
"Canada, it's just sad to see it's sort of hand-in-hand with the U.S.A. on all these issues," he said. "It would just be wonderful to really see it back to being a country the rest of the world can admire."
Greenpeace said Canada is losing its international stature on the world stage.
"Canada is unrecognizable to us," said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo. "Who has seen Canada as a bastion of human rights, of environmental protection and so on, in the past?"
Environment Minister Peter Kent begged to differ, saying Canada isn't accepting a role as a villain, but is simply being realistic.
"Canada has come in good faith to participate, to debate, and to negotiate an outcome document which fairly reflects where we're coming from and where we're going," Kent said.
Original post June 20:
Canada taking a beating from all sides at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro this week, but Environment Minister Peter Kent says the criticism is "unwarranted."
Environment Minister Peter Kent will lead the Canadian delegation at Rio+20. (Schalk van Zuydam/AP) The conference, dubbed Rio+20 as it takes place 20 years after the original Rio Earth Summit in 1992, will include 50,000 delegates and activists, as well as more than 130 world leaders. Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not attend.
Kent will lead the Canadian delegation. U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron are among other world leaders not attending Rio+20.
The summit is being panned before it even starts by environmentalists who say that its draft blueprint for sustainable development has no firm timelines or commitments, and they are pointing fingers at Canada for that weakness.
"Canada's role has been at its best not engaging in the process, and at worst acting to weaken ambitious language and delete commitments," said Cameron Fenton, director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, in an email to the Canadian Press.
Critics also say that Canada played a part in weakening a new agreement aimed at protecting ocean biodiversity.
"It's a big failure of Rio, especially since this was talked about as the 'summit of the seas,"' said Susanna Fuller, marine conservation co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.
On CBC Radio's Quirks and Quarks, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said that Canada's role at Rio+20 stands in sharp contrast to the leading role it took under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1992. May was an environmental lawyer, activist, and advisor to the Canadian delegation then. Now, she says, she can't get on a government delegation.
"What Stephen Harper's doing right now is going to destroy Canada's reputation. The world community sees us for what Canada is right now: a country that's gone rogue on its environmental commitments," she said.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest, who was Canada's environment minister at the 1992 Earth Summit, says that Canada must show more leadership at Rio+20.
"If we don't make that demonstration to the rest of the world," he said, "we put ourselves in a position where we're vulnerable to markets, where the perception of our products can be criticized."
But Kent says the criticism is "unwarranted" and "trivializes" the amount of work and negotiation that will happen at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.
Kent said that Rio+20 is intended to initiate discussion for later action, not to make "snap" agreements. "These are beginnings, not completions," he said.
Agreements on development can have unintended consequences on sovereignty and domestic policy if they aren't properly debated, said Kent.
Do you agree with Canada plan for Rio+20? Has Canada's role in leading environmental policy changed since the original Earth Summit? Let us know what you think.
With files from the Canadian Press.
(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' responses.)
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