Rio+20: Canada shielding fossil fuel subsidies at Earth Summit

By Mike De Souza

Postmedia News
June 16, 2012

An indigenous man from the Tsleil-Waututh nation of Canada, prays to sacred fire during a ceremony of the “ancient indigenous fire lighting” ceremony at Kari-Oca village in Rio de Janeiro June 13, 2012. Indigenous people from many countries have gathered in the village for the “Rio +20″ United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, that will be held from June 20 to 22.Photograph by: Ricardo Moraes , Reuters

Canada is making waves heading into the global Rio+20 Earth Summit by trying to prevent the conference from adopting commitments requiring an end to public fossil fuel subsidies.

Environment Minister Peter Kent was unable to explain why Canadian negotiators were trying to ask the conference to “consider” eliminating the subsidies instead of supporting the positions of others, such as the European Union, who are calling for a firm commitment for a full phase-out.

The details of the Canadian government negotiating tactics have emerged through a leaked draft text obtained by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

“There was a lot of hope around the world that this (Rio+20 Summit) could have been a moment of change and in a lot of ways it’s really sad,” said Aleksandra Nasteska, co-founder of We Canada, an initiative launched by a coalition of volunteers and Canadian organizations promoting sustainable development, reached by phone in Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s been a long process and (the leaked text) is quite heartbreaking to see.”

David Sawyer, an environmental economist and director of climate change and energy at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, has estimated the federal government could save more than $1.3 billion per year if it phases out all of the existing subsidies for the oil and gas industries.

Former Conservative environment minister Jim Prentice, who left politics in November 2010 to accept an executive position at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, had previously urged Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in a memorandum to phase out the oil and gas subsidies, honouring a commitment made by Canada with the G20 countries. But Flaherty has protected many of the existing tax incentive programs for oil and gas exploration and development.

An industry lobby group has argued that it doesn’t get any preferential treatment, citing a research paper that was co-authored by a board member of Imperial Oil.

But Kent, who is leading Canada’s delegation at the Rio Summit, which marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit that resulted in major international environmental agreements, declined to answer questions from Postmedia News about the government’s position.

Regarding Canada’s opposition to recognizing a historic principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities, Kent’s spokesman, Adam Sweet, acknowledged that Canada doesn’t support the “one size fits all” approach that suggests the richest countries of the world should take on a greater burden than developing countries to promote sustainable development.

But Canada has recognized in its official submission to the conference that “particular attention should be given to assisting countries that face significant capacity challenges.”

Canada has also stated it “believes that countries need to focus and strengthen efforts on the management of their natural resources in a sustainable and socially responsible manner.”

It said that these efforts should include policies to improve natural resource management, environmental sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Sweet said Canada’s delegation is made up of federal and provincial government officials, led by Keith Christie, an assistant deputy minister from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. But he was not aware whether any of the governments had included representatives of Canadian youth on their delegations.

Christie has been involved in Canada’s diplomatic efforts to promote the oilsands industry and jokingly referred to the exercise as “doing God’s work,” in an internal e-mail from June 2010 obtained by Postmedia News.
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