The Copenhagen climate-change summit is finally here. The two weeks that activists, economists, politicians and journalists have been preparing for are now upon us. Thousands will descend on the Danish capital in the coming weeks, but one Canadian in particular will hold the key to navigating the difficult path to a safe climate future.
Who is this all-important lynchpin?
It’s Michael Martin, Canada’s chief negotiator and ambassador for climate change since May 2008. Over the past year and a half Martin has been on the front lines representing Canada at every international climate summit. In other words, he has been responsible for implementing the Conservative government’s plan to derail strong binding action on climate change internationally.
Though Martin is leading Canada’s international policy on one of the most pressing issues of our time, he has little to no training on the subject. His bachelor’s degree in Asian studies from the University of Victoria and a graduate fellowship in East Asian language and literature from Yale and a stint working for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade could not have prepared him for so monumental a task as the fight against climate change. Martin did not begin working in environmental issues until 2006 after being appointed assistant deputy minister for strategic policy at Canada’s environment ministry. That was 16 years after the first scientific report on the danger of climate change was released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Canada’s currently planned emissions cuts would get us to around three per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, just over half the level agreed to in the Kyoto protocols and at least 22 per cent below the bottom line targets that a majority of scientists have agreed are necessary to delay catastrophic climate change.
According to Martin and Environment Minister Jim Prentice this approach is “leading Canada’s active and constructive participation in international negotiations on climate change.” Developing nations, environmentalists and the majority of Canadians, on the other hand, see it as reprehensible. In Bangkok this October, at one of the UN framework sessions in the lead up to Copenhagen, developing nations walked out in protest of Canada’s position. More recently, British journalist George Monbiot called Canada an “urgent threat to world peace” and accused us of becoming a “corrupt petrostate.”
The majority of Canadians, 77 per cent to be precise, have called our government’s action an embarrassment according to a poll by Hoggan and Associates, released in November &- Stephen Harper and the Conservatives only received 37.7 per cent of the popular vote in the 2008 election. With an Asian Studies major as our chief negotiator and a lawyer as our Minister of the Environment, both laughing in the face of scientific research, the question begs to be asked, whose interests are really being represented in Copenhagen?