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British envoy to set new tone in climate change talks with Canada

British High Commissioner to Canada Andrew Pocock takes in the view at Earnscliffe, his official residence in Ottawa, on Feb. 11, 2011.

Dave Chan/dave chan The Globe and Mail

Britain's new envoy to Canada, Andrew Pocock, is signalling something of a reset in relations on the thorny issue of climate change.

His predecessor, Anthony Cary, was tasked by Britain's former Labour government with conducting a public diplomacy campaign on climate change, but sometimes ticked off the Conservative government in Ottawa with his calls for Canada to do more.

Now Mr. Pocock, who formally took over last Thursday, is striving to set a different tone on the issue that "sheds more light than heat."

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The Trinidadian-born career diplomat has faced real confrontation with his hosts before, as Britain's ambassador to Zimbabwe from 2006 to 2009, when President Robert Mugabe rigged two elections and routinely cast the former colonial power as what Mr. Pocock calls "the villain of the piece."

But now in Ottawa, he hopes to cement a close political alliance in global affairs between Britain and Canada - and to promote Britain's more active climate-change position without raising hackles.

"That is an agenda I will speak to. But we've had a debate on, for instance, oil sands, which, you know, has been a little difficult at times. What we're doing in London at the moment is thinking through how we keep engaged on that," he said.

"We will keep engaged on that. But perhaps more of a discussion among partners than an attempt to tell either the Canadian federal government or provincial governments or anybody else what to do on this issue."

Mr. Pocock said that pressing for international action is still a big part of his job, but he will work to find the right "tone of voice."

"It's to talk, with partners, rather than attempt to lecture anybody, or indeed be lectured in return," he said.

The debate on climate change in Canada, and on the oil sands, is more complex than it first appears, involving provinces and business as well as the federal government, he said. And when questions of energy security "rear their heads," the world may be grateful for Canada's enormous resource.

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Most European ambassadors in Ottawa are charged with pressing for more action on climate change, and some privately express frustration. Mr. Pocock noted that new Environment Minister Peter Kent recently referred to climate change as a one of the great challenges facing the world, and argued that's a basis to build on.

"If we start from that premise, surely among friends and colleagues there is a chance to discuss the more difficult detail, political, technological, economic, in a way that sheds more light than heat," he said.

The new envoy stressed that he sees his agenda as far broader than one issue, emphasizing the extensive trade and investment ties that link Canadian and British business, and insisting that Britain sees value in joining forces with Canada in global affairs.

The two countries are members of many of the same international organizations, and can ally together in them, he noted. Canada did not win a seat on the UN Security Council, but has standing, and Britain is interested in reforms there; Britain is also interested in NATO reforms, and Canada has a "particularly strong voice in NATO at the moment" because of its military missions in Afghanistan.

Both countries have limited resources to spend on international efforts, and teaming up their influence can benefit both, "not simply in formal alliance ways - although when we have formal alliances, we use them - but as cultural and political multipliers," he said.

"Canada has had a famously internationalist position for many years. It is a country that is moderate, which is a tolerant, opening, welcoming society. It has a moral position in the world which it can and should deploy in an effective way."

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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