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Why John Baird’s climate call makes sense

John Baird's pre-Cancun comments as reported by Shawn McCarthy will draw heavy fire from the usual quarters, I'm sure. But in terms of the domestic politics of what he's saying about the role of developing countries in reducing greenhouse gases, he's on pretty solid ground.

I've done a lot of polling on the issue of climate change over the years, going back to the time of the debate about the Kyoto accord. Back then, the argument that China and Brazil (among other countries) needed to join developed nations and accept binding reduction targets was attacked as unfeeling, impractical, and ill-intentioned.

It was easy for critics of this position to suggest it was little more than a veneered argument for doing nothing, since developing nations would never accept these conditions, and the bulk of UN members would never impose them. Most Canadians also felt that it made sense that "rich" countries should be asked to do more than poor ones, since we had caused more of greenhouse gas build up to that point, and could afford change more easily.

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But a fair bit has changed since then, to say the least. China has emerged as the beating heart of the global economy. It is no longer an emerging power but a behemoth that G8 nations look to as a vital market for their products and their debt, often both. The BRIC countries are hardly those that seem most fragile in today's economy.

So when the Environment Minister says Canada will be pressing for an approach that leaves no one out, that demands all "oars in the water," my sense is that the change in global economic context will mean his message will resonate a lot better than would have been the case a few years ago.

For voters who care a lot about achieving reductions in GHGs it will be harder to ignore the reality of the important impact that China is having on emissions, and they too may wonder about the wisdom of a plan which exempts too many of the fastest growing developing economies.

At the other end of the spectrum, among those for whom climate change is a lesser priority, they will find that when they use the "all oars in the water" argument in polite company, the reaction will be fairly different from that experienced in the Kyoto round.

One more reason why the risk for the Conservatives around a global climate treaty are receding, even as their position remains mostly consistent.

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About the Author
Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson is the chairman of polling firm Abacus Data, a regular member of the At Issue panel on CBC’s The National and a founding partner of i2 Ideas and Issues Advertising. He has done polls for Liberal and Conservative politicians but no longer does any partisan work. More

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