OTTAWA – Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq arrived at a climate change conference in Warsaw late Monday amid exceedingly low expectations.
A European report released to coincide with the United Nations conference ranks Canada 55th of 58 countries in terms of tackling greenhouse gas emissions, ahead of only Iran, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.
A Washington-based group, the Center for Global Development, issued a separate report Monday that ranked Canada 27th on the environment out of the world’s wealthiest 27 countries.
And a new national Environics Institute telephone poll in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation suggests public confidence in government as the lead actor in addressing climate change has slumped considerably — down six percentage points from the 59 per cent recorded a year ago.
The annual UN climate conference is in its second week of talks as negotiators in Warsaw move toward developing a post-2020 international climate change regime. The goal is to deliver a new model at the 2015 summit in Paris.
“Canada is taking a leadership role in international climate change efforts by focusing on delivering significant environmental and economic benefits for all Canadians,” Aglukkaq said in a government press release marking her departure for Warsaw.
“The government of Canada is committed to establishing a fair and effective climate change agreement that includes commitments by all major emitters.”
According to the latest annual report by the Climate Action Network Europe and Germanwatch, Canada is starting from the back of the pack.
“As in the previous year, Canada still shows no intention of moving forward with climate policy and therefore remains the worst performer of all industrialized countries,” states the report, released Monday in Warsaw.
The comparative report, which has been compiled annually by environmental activists since 2005, shows Canada at the bottom of the industrialized world in terms of emissions per capita, development of renewable energy and international climate policy.
However the report’s heavy weighting on policy direction will provide plenty of fuel for skeptics.
China, the subject of international attention this year over deadly air pollution, “improved its performance compared to the previous year and climbed up to rank 46,” said the study, despite China being the biggest emitter of CO2 on the planet.
China was actually 43rd among 58 countries ranked, but the group leaves the first three spots empty to reflect room for improvement from even the top-ranked country, Denmark.
A chart in the study showed that China, with almost 19.5 per cent of the global population, was responsible for almost 23 per cent of global emissions. Canada, with 0.5 per cent of global population, emitted 1.6 per cent of global GHG emissions.
Last month, Environment Canada’s own analysis showed Canada slipped further away over the past year from meeting its 2020 greenhouse emissions targets.
Under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed to cutting emissions 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. Canada is on pace to get only halfway there.
Even if long-overdue government regulations on the oil and gas sector are imposed, Environment Canada does not foresee a scenario where the 2020 target will be met.
The highly polarized debate, in which the Canadian government claims “significant” environmental benefits while Canada gets trashed by international climate change activists, appears to have taken its toll on public opinion.
Environics surveyed 2,003 respondents between Oct. 1-17 this fall and found that belief in the science on climate change still isn’t back where it was in 2007 “when climate change was the hot new issue.”
Six in 10 respondents said they believe that climate change is real and caused by human activity, a marginal increase over 2012 in the annual poll, but still well back of the 65 per cent who said they believed in 2007.
The poll is considered accurate within 2.2 percentage points, 19 times in 20.
And while government — rather than voluntary actions by industry or consumer — is still seen as the most significant component in tackling climate change, the percentage of respondents who believe government is essential to the fight is down to 53 per cent this year, from 59 per cent in 2012.
“It’s clear they’re starting to lose trust in the federal government,” Ian Bruce of the Suzuki Foundation said in an interview.
“The government has not backed up its talk with action.”
Bruce said the good news is that provinces and municipalities are taking the lead on tackling climate change.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had Canada ranked 58th out of 61 countries.