OTTAWA -- Foreign diplomats bombarded Canadian climate-change negotiators with questions Thursday in Bonn, Germany, as they challenged the Harper government's transparency and policies to fight global warming.
In the wake of media coverage highlighting missing and conflicting information in an Environment Canada submission to the United Nations, officials from Australia, China, Lebanon, the United Kingdom and the Philippines questioned government policies regarding fossil fuel subsidies and the Alberta "tarsands," a lack of investment in clean energy and the scientific evidence used to determine its greenhouse-gas emissions target.
The not-so-diplomatic discussion took place during a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiating session. Canada is one of about 200 members of the treaty, which calls on its members to stabilize the concentration of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere to prevent dangerous changes to the earth's climate and ecosystems.
Representatives from other countries pounced on Canada after Michael Keenan, an assistant deputy minister at Environment Canada, delivered a presentation suggesting that the government was showing "significant ambition" in its proposal to crack down on greenhouse gas emissions.
But his presentation appeared to generate more questions than answers.
"I was also struck that the colleague from Canada didn't refer to the tarsands issue or at least only once in passing," said Peter Betts, the lead European Union negotiator and a director at the United Kingdom's Department of Energy and Climate Change, during the session. "This has been an issue featured much in the press, and I know there have been allegations from the press that the emissions from that sector have not been included in Canada's inventory (report submission to the UN)."
His remarks were followed by a delegate from Australia -- traditionally a Canadian ally at climate negotiations ---- who questioned how Canada could increase its "level of ambition" when it was turning away from engaging international markets. Lebanon also jumped in, questioning the pace of a commitment to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels, including the "tarsands," and raising doubts about Canada's intention to harmonize its policies with the U.S. without matching its partner's proportion of investments in clean energy.
China called Canada to task for setting a cap on its greenhouse-gas pollution for 2020 that is still about three per cent above 1990 levels, while the Philippines questioned how this Canadian target would fit in with a commitment that global leaders made at a 2009 conference in Copenhagen to prevent emissions from warming the atmosphere by more than two degrees Celsius.
Keenan defended the government's record in addressing concerns about the oilsands, suggesting the media were to blame for causing the confusion through revelations that Environment Canada was collecting data on oilsands emissions levels but excluded them from an inventory report on greenhouse-gas emissions submitted to the UN last month.
"The emissions from the oilsands are included in our national inventory report to the UNFCCC. They have not been excluded," he said, contradicting recent statements from his department.
"There has been some erroneous reporting out of Canada to that effect, which we've been trying to clear up."
NDP environment critic Megan Leslie said the entire exchange suggests the international community doesn't believe that the Harper government is serious about addressing the threat of climate change.
"The government isn't fooling anyone, least of all our international partners," Leslie said. "It's like they're on to us. They're on to our failures."