Politics

French climate envoy understands Harper government 'resistance'

The French president's special envoy on climate change says he realizes he's not likely to agree with the Harper government on environmental issues. Nicolas Hulot is in Ottawa consulting in advance of the next major international climate summit, set for just after the 2015 federal election.

French President François Hollande's special envoy on climate change in Ottawa for talks Tuesday

Nicolas Hulot, French President Francois Hollande's special envoy for the protection of the planet, is in Ottawa Tuesday for talks in advance of the next major international climate summit in France in 2015. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The French president's special envoy on climate change says he has found an ally in NDP Leader Tom Mulcair in his quest to tackle rising greenhouse gas emissions across the globe.

Nicolas Hulot, who is in Ottawa this week, held a half-hour discussion Tuesday with Mulcair, who told him he wants to use next year's federal election to launch a debate about the environment in Canada.

Hulot's request for a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper drew a brusque dismissal.

"The prime minister will not be meeting Mr. Hulot," Harper spokesman Jason MacDonald said in an email. "The prime minister meets or speaks with his counterparts when there are important issues to discuss."

Hulot wants to consult widely in the run-up to France hosting the next major international climate summit late next year, likely a month or two after the next Canadian general election. He's stressing the need for Canada to join the fight against climate change, which he said is clearly linked to human behaviour.

He realizes that he's not likely to see eye to eye with Harper on the issue, considering how dependent Canada is on traditional forms of energy like Alberta oilsands bitumen.

"I can understand that it is difficult for some economic actors to accept this fact because the consequences of this reality mean we have to leave step by step the carbon economy," Hulot told The Canadian Press in an interview Tuesday at the French embassy, which sits next door to Harper's official residence in Ottawa.

"In a country so dependent on this economy, I can understand the resistance."

Hollande coming in November

Hulot was also laying the groundwork for a planned visit to Ottawa early next month by French President Francois Hollande.

"When the French president visits, there will be a discussion with Mr. Harper and Mr. Hollande. I would have preferred to have this first meeting, but it's not so important."

Harper's office did not immediately reply to a question on whether the prime minister would be meeting with Hulot, who arrived in Ottawa on Sunday and departs Wednesday.

Hulot is a former journalist and well-known French television personality who now carries the title of special envoy to the president of France "for protection of the planet."

Hulot's visit coincided with Tuesday's report by the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, which reaffirmed Canada will most likely miss its Copenhagen Accord target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

The government agreed to the Copenhagen target, in lieu of withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol, to cut greenhouse gas production 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.

The report said that the Harper government "does not have an overall plan that maps out how Canada will achieve this target" and noted that it has not introduced regulations to limit the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the oil and gas sector, the fastest growing emitter.

Envoy says not all Canadians share Harper's point of view

Hulot welcomed the idea of Canadians debating environmental issues during an election campaign, even if there is disagreement on the causes of climate change. He said it's important the issue isn't swept "under the carpet."

"I don't think all Canadian people (hold) the same point of view as the position of Mr. Harper," Hulot said.

"It's an important step in your democratic life, and if your election is still next year, to have this debate two months before Paris."

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq told last month's UN climate summit that Canada is fully committed to a strong and effective global climate agreement next year in Paris.

Harper was criticized for not attending the meeting and for sending Aglukkaq in his place. Harper did take part in a dinner meeting on climate issues hosted by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

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