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Anti-Climate World Leaders Keep Losing Their Jobs

Canada's Stephen Harper is out, clearing a roadblock for the Paris talks

Outgoing Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (right) with co-climate "villain," ousted Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. (Photo: Prime Minister's Office)

Until Prime Minister Stephen Harper lost his job in Canada's elections on Monday, he was part of a dwindling group of world leaders who've actively worked against climate progress on an international stage. With the Liberal Party's Justin Trudeau becoming the next prime minister, a significant roadblock to an international climate agreement in Paris in December is now clear.

Harper, the outgoing leader of the Conservative Party, may not have been as vocally opposed to climate action as, say, U.S. Republicans, but he’s repeatedly tried to undermine international progress in more subtle ways. He was one-half of the world’s most powerful anti-climate duo, which broke apart only last month when his partner—ex-prime minister Tony Abbott—lost his job in Australia's elections. He withdrew Canada from the Kyoto Treaty in 2011, just as major polluters (including the U.S. and China) began to rethink their approach to fossil fuels. He and Abbott planned to complicate negotiations on limiting global greenhouse gas emissions, and Harper congratulated his peer on his progress in scuttling domestic climate initiatives. “You’ve used this international platform to encourage our counterparts in the major economies and beyond to boost economic growth, to lower taxes when possible and to eliminate harmful ones, most notably the job-killing carbon tax,” Harper told Abbott when the latter visited Canada in summer of 2014In the last year, he's snubbed United Nations climate summits and his officials reportedly tried to weaken language from an official G7 text that pledged serious long-term cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. 

As Canada's elections drew near, Harper took half-hearted steps to pretend Canada was not so out-of-step as the rest of the world on climate change as it seemed, pledging funds for green finance and proposing cuts to carbon emissions. The government committed to 30 percent cuts by 2030, but said nothing about how it would address the tar sands, the fastest growing source of the nation’s emissions. Nothing in Harper's record, meanwhile, suggested he had any intention of meeting this goal. Canada already will miss its 2020 climate target, even though the United States has proved it's possible to meet the same goal. “In climate policy, the Canadian government has done virtually nothing to keep its 2020 and 2050 emission reduction promises,” wrote Mark Jaccard, a professor with Simon Fraser University's School of Resource and Environmental Management, in an October report card on the country’s climate policies. He gave Harper’s administration a “failing grade.”


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On a domestic level, Harper's offered Canada’s oil and tar sands industry his unconditional support. He went beyond simply advocating for the Keystone XL pipeline, secretly devoting $30 million of taxpayer dollars to public advocacy. His administration has stifled climate scientists’ ability to talk to press, and is accused of muzzling environmental nonprofits by ordering extensive audits.

But as Harper has learned, tying his fate to the oil industry also has its risks. Canada’s tar sands industry has faltered as oil prices collapse, and Harper's own fortunes plunged along with it.

Continue reading at New Republic.

Rebecca Leber

Rebecca Leber is a staff writer for The New Republic.

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