ANALYSIS | Milewski: Princesses! Sharks! CO2! Summit season has it all

The right of ascension for princesses is just one topic facing Commonwealth leaders in Australia — just one of a clutch of summits causing world leaders to jet around the globe. Terry Milewski reports from the air.

PM jets to Australia then back in time to head to G20 in Cannes — and then back to Hawaii

This week, by the shark-infested waters of the South Pacific, the 54 nations of the Commonwealth are to discuss whether princesses should be permitted to ascend to the throne even if they have a little brother.

The consensus is pre-cooked and the answer's easy: yes. Next?

There are many other topics here more thorny than the human rights of princesses. A group of "Eminent Persons" wants the Commonwealth to be more relevant by becoming a beacon unto the world for democracy and human rights — even for commoners.

Ahem. Look to its own membership. How about our host for the next Commonwealth summit, Sri Lanka? Its haste to forget the bloodbath which ended the Tamil rebellion in 2009 so disturbs its fellow members that Canada is threatening to boycott the Sri Lanka summit.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, left, shakes hands with Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa Oct. 26 ahead of the Commonwealth meeting in Perth, Australia. Queen Elizabeth opens the conference on Friday. (Daniel Munoz/Associated Press)
Consensus on rights for non-royals comes slowly. Note that 41 of the 54 members of the Commonwealth still have laws criminalizing homosexuality. In this context, posing as a beacon to the world may be aiming a little high.

Perhaps the leaders will hurry along to a safer topic: global warming. It worked well at the last Commonwealth summit, in Trinidad, where the issue was much discussed with nothing actually being done about it.

That's a problem for many small, low-lying island nations like Trinidad, for whom rising sea levels pose an existential threat. But for fast-growing giants like India, it is slower growth that is a threat. India, the largest member of the Commonwealth, is not excited by the proposal of the "Eminent Persons" to make the group more activist. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is skipping the conference.

Hot air and carbon footprints

Another leader who has never been an activist on the topic of global warming hails from a cold, oil-producing country: Canada. Stephen Harper has long resisted calls for grand, crowd-pleasing and unenforceable pledges of cuts in greenhouse gases. Harper considers that such talk merely adds more hot air because, without China and India, it is futile. We may feel virtuous, Harper believes, but we'll achieve nothing. Kyoto, anyone?

Still, Harper's own carbon footprint in this season of summits is hardly a beacon for the world, either. Consider: it takes 27 hours of flying to reach Perth, which is about as far as you can go from Ottawa without heading back again. A 20-year-old Airbus like Harper's must stop for gas twice — in Honolulu and New Caledonia — in the course of leaving Ottawa on Tuesday to reach Perth on Thursday. Two days later, Harper will make the same epic trek backward in order to be home for Halloween.

Talk about fright night. If the man can hand out candy after 60 hours in a tin tube it'll be a miracle.

But wait! There's more!

The goblins will hardly be gone when an even scarier prospect beckons: the G20.

After barely two days at home, Harper climbs back in the plane for the overnight eight-hour haul to France for the G20 summit in Cannes. This time, Harper will be more the activist, urging his European colleagues to deal decisively with the eurozone debt crisis.

Two days later, Harper will fly back to Ottawa, just in time to repack and ... head for the APEC summit. In Honolulu.

That's another 21 hours in the air, there and back.

Is it worth all the fuel? Does anything really get done at these summits? And why couldn't Harper skip the schlep back to Ottawa and just fly from Australia to Cannes? The prices there are scary enough for Halloween and he'd have time for a business stop somewhere on the way.

Good idea — and the PMO thought of it. A stop in Bangkok was suggested, but it fell through — a victim of ruinous floods in Thailand. When they're busy shooting crocodiles in the streets, it's not a good time to drop in. And it's too late now to line up an alternative, so it's back to Ottawa because, well, we have nowhere else to go.

But still. Multiply Harper's time in the air by all those other leaders jetting around the world, and you have to wonder what we could do for global warming if we just had a moratorium on summits....