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G8 declaration won't change Canadian climate policy

An otherwise prosaic political declaration from the G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy this week has been gaining attention here in Canada for its endorsement of ambitious climate change goals.

But the Canadian government is now clarifying that the international statements will not change Canada's domestic policies.

The fuss started on the eve of the summit, when the Prime Minister's spokesperson, Dimitri Soudas, confirmed to reporters that Canada would not be opposing a statement recognising “the broad scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not to exceed 2°C.”

The two-degree limit has been endorsed by European politicians for more than a decade, and the European Commission two years ago issued a long-term climate strategy linked to the goal.

But in Canada, the government has previously avoided defining any specific limit of global warming that we should be trying to avoid.

Environmental groups therefore latched on to the statement. The Pembina Institute issued a press release reacting to the news, in which Associate Director Clare Demerse called it a “a welcome statement from Canada.” However, Demerse cautioned that more than just words were needed:

The Prime Minister's language in this statement still does not clearly link the recognition of the science with the action we need to take. There's a big difference between saying 'I recognize the broad medical opinion that healthy eating matters' and 'I'm going on a diet tomorrow.'

The G8 declaration on "Responsible Leadership for a Sustainable Future" also supported a greenhouse-gas emission-reduction goal for developed countries in 2050 of 80 per cent below emissions from 1990 "or later years."

Europe has been promoting 80 per cent below 1990 as the objective, but countries like Canada which saw emissions skyrocket in the past two decades have been using later years as a baseline. Canada's official goal for 2050 is a 60 to 70 per cent emission reduction relative to 2006.

That's equivalent to a 52 to 64 per cent reduction relative to 1990. And a federal advisory body has warned that drastic new policies will be required to reach even that target.

Now, Canada's environment minister has made clear that the government does not even have any intention to upgrade that to 80 per cent below 2006 levels to match the G8 declaration, let alone implement new policies to meet the goal. Canwest News Service quotes Jim Prentice as follows:

"No, we don't need to change our policies,'' Prentice, who described the 80 per cent target as 'aspirational.'"

The G8's Wednesday declaration "really fits together well with the pathway that Canada is on . . . to reduce our emissions by minus 20 per cent by 2020, and then by 2050 to reduce them by as much as 60 to 70 per cent,'' he said.

The G8 summit continues today with more talks about climate change and also world trade. The G5 group of other major economies (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa) will be joining the discussion.

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

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