Harper missing in action at UN climate summit | National Union of Public and General Employees

Harper missing in action at UN climate summit

Environment Minister Jim Prentice represents Canada while Harper skips out to pay a courtesy call on New York Mayor Bloomberg

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and New York Mayor Michael BloombergNew York (23 Sept. 2009) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper was no where to be found this week at the special United Nations summit on climate change, opting instead to pay a courtesy call on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Harper sent Environment Minister Jim Prentice to the UN in his place while he spent half an hour at the mayor's office, ignoring the urgency of climate change to talk with the mayor about economic and energy issues - and skiing. "I've been skiing in British Columbia several times," the mayor told him.

The official line from Ottawa was that Harper skipped out to protest the presence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In doing so, however, the Canadian prime minister was conspicuous by his absence at an event that drew the focus of the world.

Unlike Harper, many of the world's best known leaders showed their concern for climate change by attending. The list of global leaders present included U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

James Clancy, president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) wrote to Harper only last week, expressing concern over Canada's lack of leadership on global climate issues.

The gathering Wednesday in New York was not a negotiating session but a diplomatic testing-of-the-waters for the UN Climate Change Conference Dec. 7-18, 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark. 

Urgency stressed

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the urgency and importance of a treaty in Copenhagen, and sought to bring together the world's two major polluting nations - China and the U.S.

With only 75 days until Copenhagen, and just two more UN sessions before then (Bangkok Sept. 28-Oct.9, and Barcelona, Nov.2-6), the New York meeting was an important attempt to "set the stage" for progress. 

The new Japanese president committed to science-based targets for emission reductions and new funding for the developing world.

China's president also made an announcement of sorts.

"We will endeavour to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level," Hu tJinato old the delegates. Beyond this vague promise, he also talked of significant progress in moving forward on renewable energy installations.

President Obama also spoke with passion and conviction, calling on world leaders to work together on climate change issues, but he announced little in the way of details.

Inaction greatest threat

Dale Marshall, a climate change analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation, said climate change is a serious threat to prosperity and the future.

"But the greatest threat is inaction. Our country is falling behind in achieving the targets scientists tell us we need to reach to avoid runaway climate change.... Canada's performance in New York was a missed opportunity."

David Martin of Greenpeace Canada says "two of the strongest voices" on climate change are the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the group of Least Developed Countries (LCDs).

These two groups have now called for a 1.5°C limit to temperature increase and emission cuts from the industrialized world of 45% per cent from 1990 levels. "For many of those nations this could be the difference between survival and destruction," Martin said.


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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