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PM stands firm on 'modest' emissions cuts despite UN plea

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sidestepped the UN Secretary-General's plea that Canada offer deeper targets for cutting greenhouse gases, saying Canada plans only "minor adjustments" to its commitments heading into major climate-change talks in Copenhagen.

Mr. Harper, speaking at the conclusion of a Commonwealth leaders' summit that helped restore momentum to the Copenhagen talks, said in his opinion what really matters is the shorter-term commitment period to 2020 - not the longer commitment horizon for which Ban Ki-moon called for greater reductions by Canada.

Over the period to 2020, Mr. Harper says, Canada will essentially match greenhouse gas reduction commitments for the United States laid out by President Barack Obama.

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"I noticed the United States has come out with a target of 17 per cent over 2005 levels from now to 2020. That's virtually identical to Canada's own target," the Prime Minister said as Commonwealth talks wrapped up in Trinidad.

"I think modest achievable targets, particularly in the short term, will get the planet on the right track which will allow us to make a longer term transition."

Earlier, Mr. Ban called on Ottawa to set more aggressive targets for cutting greenhouse gases in the mid-term, meaning by 2050.

"Many countries, developed and developing countries, have come out with ambitious targets," Mr. Ban said Friday. "Canada is going to soon chair the G8 and therefore it is only natural that Canada should come out with ambitious mid-term targets," he said.

Mr. Harper said it is crucial for Ottawa and Washington to synchronize their short-term greenhouse gas reduction targets so that Canada doesn't drive away business investment by assuming a greater emission-cut burden than the United States.

Leaders of Commonwealth nations, who represent nearly two billion people, threw their weight behind a declaration in Trinidad Saturday calling for an "operationally binding" pact on greenhouse gas reductions in Copenhagen. The United Nations summit starts Dec. 7 and runs through Dec. 18.

Mr. Harper, who had originally planned to skip Copenhagen, reversed himself last Thursday as he face of a revived international push for a deal.

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In Trinidad, Canada along with other wealthy industrialized nations agreed to contribute to a $10-billion (U.S.) fund that will help developing countries cope with the adverse impacts of climate instability, including flooding in low-lying areas. The fact that developed countries agreed to finance the fund likely encouraged many of the poorer Commonwealth countries to back the 60-year-old group's statement of support for Copenhagen.

Canada has committed to cutting greenhouse gas reductions by 20 per cent below 2006 levels by 2020 and between 60 and 70 per cent below 2006 rates by 2050. The Obama administration is pledging to commit the U.S. to a 17 per cent reduction below 2005 levels by 2020 and an 80 per cent cut below 2005 rates by 2050.

In a dig at Canada's former Liberal government and others, Mr. Harper decried earlier climate- change pacts that committed to big emission-reduction targets and then failed to take action to reach these goals.

"We've been through the exercise in the past decade or so in setting targets that were idealistic or blue sky and no one went out and actually achieved them."

Offering more insight into his views on climate change talks, Mr. Harper said the key in Copenhagen will be to ensure everyone shares the pain. Past climate-change deals saw some big emitters granted an exemption from reduction efforts.

"If everybody is participating, the relative costs for any one country are actually quite modest," Mr. Harper said.

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"The costs go up astronomically when there are those who don't have to reduce their emissions or in fact are radically increasing their emissions."

He dismissed the focus on reduction targets by themselves.

"The key to all this is not the setting of targets. It's actually the development and implementation of the technology that over time will make significant targets possible."

"Just setting targets doesn't actually achieve anything unless there is a technological plan to get there."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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