Technology & Science

Cancun climate talks to hear Canada's message

Environment Minister John Baird is heading to international climate change negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, bringing Canada's demands with him to the table.

Environment Minister John Baird is heading to international climate change negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, Tuesday, bringing Canada's demands with him to the table.

World political leaders at the United Nations conference are trying to hammer out a new deal on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

Baird says he wants a new, international binding agreement that will see emissions stabilize and then decline, but he wants it to apply to all emitters, even developing nations. Many less developed countries such as China, South Africa, India and Brazil were not required to limit their emissions under the Kyoto protocol.

The United Nations is creating a $100 billion fund to help poorer countries lower their emissions and deal with the effects of climate change.

Baird wants that fund to be run by the World Bank, with input from both developed and developing countries.

"It is not just important to get that off on a good start — it's essential," he said. "If it becomes a boondoggle, the whole thing will fall apart and there will be no support from taxpayers to get it going and helping other countries."

Canada's influence limited: think-tank

Matthew Bramley, director of climate change at the Pembina Insitute, an environmental think-tank based in Ottawa, said he doesn't think Canada holds much sway at the Cancun talks.

"If we were being proactive, if we were being ambitious, if we were actually doing things to seriously bend our emissions curve here at home, then we could come to these international meetings and be taken seriously and have some real influence," he added.

"Unfortunately that's really not the case right now."

Bramley said Canada has marginalized itself by tying its plan so closely to the actions of the United States, which looks from abroad like "an excuse for inaction."

"We're actually seeing Canada, in practice, falling behind the U.S.," Bramley said.

In a ranking released Tuesday by the research organization Germanwatch, Canada ranked 54th out of 57 countries in its performance in halting climate change. The U.S. ranked 51st.

Bramley noted that the U.S. will start regulating industrial greenhouse gas emissions next month — something Canada has been promising to do since 2007.

Guy St-Jacques, Canada's lead negotiator at Cancun, said he can understand that some people are cynical.

"I can tell you that it's a frustrating process," he said. "At the same time, there is political will. Ministers have said they want to make progress. And that's why we are going there with an open mind."