Canada: Opposition critics offered a seat at next week’s climate conference

BILL CURRY AND MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT | The Globe and Mail

OTTAWA AND TORONTO — Through a series of casual chats on Parliament Hill, Environment Minister Jim Prentice has personally invited his opposition critics to join him at the UN’s global climate-change talks taking place next week in Poland.

It is a small but symbolic gesture that signals a clear change in tone on the environment file from the Harper government.

This time last year, opposition environment critics were furious at then-environment-minister John Baird, who broke from established practice in refusing to bring them as part of the Canadian delegation.

Known as the Convention on Climate Change, the annual gathering allows countries to share ideas and negotiate new targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

This round of talks – being held in the western Polish city of Poznan – comes at a crucial moment. Time is running out for the countries to negotiate an extension to the Kyoto Protocol before it expires in 2012.

World leaders have to make progress in Poland on drafting terms for the extension, which must be approved at the next United Nations summit just 11 months from now in Copenhagen, if it is to have any hope of being implemented.

Having already pledged to work closely with U.S. president-elect Barack Obama on global warming, Canada’s new Environment Minister appears to be softening his government’s partisan edge.

“I think there’s a growing understanding and growing sophistication,” said John Drexhage, director of the International Institute for Sustainable Development. “I see a change in tone on the part of the Harper government.”

In an interview, Mr. Prentice said countries will be focused on meeting that looming deadline of next year when they gather in Poznan.

“In Copenhagen, the world will essentially turn the page in one way or another on Kyoto and hopefully conclude a new international protocol,” he said.

The minister predicts the talks in Poznan will be affected by three main factors: the global economic downturn; a growing internal debate in Europe over emission reduction targets; and the election of Mr. Obama, who has vowed to re-engage the United States in the UN climate-change process.

“Poznan is an extremely important stock-taking conference,” Mr. Prentice said. “This will be first chance for the international community to come together to talk about the way forward in light of those realities.”

The minister is also planning a visit to Washington in the near future to gather information on how Canada could work with Mr. Obama on climate change.

Mr. Prentice’s critics say that while the shift in tone is welcome, they will be looking for significant changes in Canada’s approach at these UN talks.

Read on here.

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