The Copenhagen summit on climate change begins today. The international talks are intended to establish a framework for a new global warming treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
We are pleased that Meinhard Doelle, an environmental law professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, joined us for an online discussion on Canada's position at the Copenhagen negotiations.
Prof. Doelle is travelling to the Copenhagen summit later this week. He is the associate director of the Marine & Environmental Law Institute and director of the Marine & Environmental Law Programme. From 1996 to 2001, he was executive director of Clean Nova Scotia. He has been involved in the practice of environmental law in Nova Scotia since 1990 and in that capacity served as drafter of the N.S. Environment Act. He is currently environmental counsel to the Atlantic Canada law firm of Stewart McKelvey.
From 2000 to 2006, he was a non-governmental member of the Canadian delegation to the UN climate change negotiations. He was a visiting scholar at the Environmental Law Center of the IUCN in Bonn, Germany, in 2008. Prof. Doelle has written on a variety of environmental law topics, including climate change, energy law, invasive species, environmental assessments, and public participation in environmental decision-making. He is the author of several books, including From Hot Air to Action: Climate Change, Compliance and the Future of International Environmental Law.
Read the full text of the discussion as it happened
9:59 Jill Mahoney: Thank you for joining us, Professor Doelle. This is Jill Mahoney, I'll be moderating our discussion today. Let me open by asking you how Canada's legacy on Kyoto will frame this country's position at the Copenhagen summit?
10:00 Meinhard Doelle: Hi Jill: Canada's legacy on Kyoto is mixed. We took on a relatively tough target and ratified early, but have done little to implement. This will affect our credibility at the negotiations in Copenhagen.
10:02 Jill Mahoney: How does the rest of the world view Canada on this issue?
10:04 Meinhard Doelle: My sense is that the rest of the world is increasingly viewing Canada as a barrier to a strong agreement, mainly because there is a general sense that until developed countries lead by example, we will not have the moral authority to persuade developing countries to reduce emissions in their country, given their lower capacity and responsibility on this issue.
10:06 Jill Mahoney: There's a piece in today's Globe reporting that Canada is looked down upon because of its "dirty" image on emissions reduction. Do you think Canada is feeling international pressure to change its position?
10:09 Meinhard Doelle: I am sure the pressure on Canada during these negotiations will grow and grow. Developing countries will point to Canada as the reason not to act, and developed countries will point to Canada as the reason why they can't be expected to take on the kinds of targets the IPCC suggests are needed to avoid the worst consequences.
10:09 Comment From Guest: Why are we reluctant to use leading edge technologies to fix the problems of GHG and renewable green global energy?
10:12 Meinhard Doelle: In any transition, there are those that will benefit and those who will be hurt. The hard part is to distribute the benefits and costs of the transition fairly. This has proven very difficult in Canada. Unfortunately, the longer we wait, the less benefits there will be to distribute, and the more cost.
10:13 Jill Mahoney: Several of the comments posted in advance of this discussion ask about so-called "Climategate". What do you make of the release of internal e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit in England, and what impact do you think this will this have on the Copenhagen summit?
10:16 Meinhard Doelle: I don't expect that the release of these e-mails will have a significant effect on the negotiations. I am not a scientist, and I have not read the hundreds or thousands of e-mails that were released, but based on what I have heard from credible scientists that have read these e-mails, there is no climategate. Having said this, the critical science question for Copenhagen is what level of action the current state of the science warrants. I would not rely on a few e-mails to adjust my view on the level of action required.
10:17 Jill Mahoney: For anyone who would like to read more about the Climategate story, here's a recent piece from The Globe's Doug Saunders.
10:17 Instant Poll: Have the leaked emails changed your opinion of climate science? Yes (23%) No (73%) Undecided (3%)
10:18 Comment From Michael Dewar: Professor Doelle, considering that Canada seems to have developed the reputation of being a polluter, do you think the contributions our government intends to make to the proposed 10 billion dollar relief fund for developing nations might be better spent cleaning up our own act at home?
10:21 Meinhard Doelle: I think the critical issue is that the combination of our domestic effort, our contribution to emission reduction efforts in developing countries and our assistance with adaptation has to be adequate. I personally would like us to take as much leadership at home as possible, but we are well past the point where the choice is an either/or. No matter what principle you use to determine what our responsibility is on this issue globally, we will have to offer a helping hand to developing countries, even just from a self interest perspective.
10:22 Comment From fredstrong: What might be an accurate ratio within the scientific community between those scientists that are on board with the science as proposed by IPCC and those that are still holding out, whether declared skeptics, deniers or just out-and-out destroyers. I have heard 90:10 and understand these terms are a bit loaded. There must be a number that is meaningful. On a related issue, why have scientists like Lawrence Solomon, who uses skeptic and denier interchangeably, not been called out for what would seem to be clear misuse of scientific method - which formally requires skepticism? This question would not be of quite as much moment if the little cabal over at one of the Globe's print competitors did not have as much influence, if not an unseemly degree of control, over current Canadian government policy.
10:25 Jill Mahoney: The Globe has launched a climate change page, featuring video from a recent debate in Toronto with experts on both side of this issue and articles from Globe journalists. Click here to go to the page.
10:27 Meinhard Doelle: I think this is a difficult question to answer, because so much depends on your definition of a sceptic. I would hope that all scientists are sceptics in the sense that they will continue to challenge the current state of our understanding, and that our understanding of this incredible complex will continue to evolve. There is ongoing research that changes our understanding of the issue on an ongoing basis. My understanding, however, is that there has been almost no peer reviewed literature that has challenged the basic science for quite some time. The scientists that generally agree with the IPCC are in the thousands, the scientists that have serious questions about it are few and far between. Those that do have legitimate scientific differences are often focussed on very small pieces of the puzzle, rather than an overall disagreement with the basic message
10:27 Comment From Albin: Most of us are used to the idea that summit meetinngs are largely ceremonial celebrations of heavy work for months or years in advance, where leaders turn up for grand speeches and photos with each other and maybe a few tweaks to the agreement. What went wrong with the advance legwork here, where some of the attendees are talking from all over the spectrum of disbelief and disagreement?
10:30 Meinhard Doelle: I think the fundamental challenge this time around was that the US did not engage seriously in the negotiations until this spring. It was really in the April to June period that most of the world began to understand the US position. This left very little time to work out the very long list of complex issues to be negotiated, from targets to reporting to the use of sinks, and assistance to developing countries.
10:31 Comment From John: I was wondering about your opinion is about using a wide range of solutions as suggested using stabilization wedges where each solution contributes to reducing CO2 emissions. Specifically I am interested in your opinion on carbon capture and storage where emissions are captured from power plants and stored several kms down in the Earth's crust, in relation to other options
10:34 Meinhard Doelle: My personal view is that we should give priority to what I would call integrated solutions, meaning solutions to climate change that have other benefits and ideally no other risks or costs. Improving energy efficiency would be the best example perhaps. Having said this, it is clearly too late in the game to rely only on such integrated solutions. In my view, carbon capture and storage will likely have a place, but it should not displace more integrated measures, rather it should add to those. Finally, timing will be important, there is every indication that Carbon Caputure and Storage will not make a significant contribution by 2020, so it is a longer term tool
10:34 Comment From Patrick Forest: What role do you expect the Canadian provinces to play at Copenhaguen? Can they undermine the position of the federal government?
10:34 Instant Poll: Do you think Canada should do more to further reduce its greenhouse gas emissions? Yes (86%) No (14%) Undecided (0%)
10:36 Meinhard Doelle: We have moved from a situation in Canada where the provinces were reluctant where now most of the provinces are well ahead of the federal government on this issue. Many provinces have firm targets in place and have taken serious steps to implement them. This alone will give Canada the space to accept tougher targets than it otherwise could. Some provinces are well positions to take advantage of economic opportunities, so I expect that they will pressure the delegation to take a stronger position.
10:38 Comment From JJ: Seeing that we have one of the highest per capita pollution in the world, I believe at one point we were number one at this sport, what kind of policy you see our government taking to maintain our ability to engage in conversations on pollution and climate change with other countries in the world. How, do you think that our government will be able to approach countries like China and India, which have a much lower per capita pollution than we do? What strategy should our government use to bring up this topic and address their concerns with these countries without being stuffed back?
10:40 Meinhard Doelle: Canada is close to the highest on a per capita basis, so this does make it more difficult to persuade other countries to take action. It is important to recognize that per capita does not tell you the full story, though. It does point to a real problem for Canada though, and this is one of the reasons why a combination of meaningful action at home and offer of assistance to developing countries will be essential to an effective agreement in Copehagen.
10:40 Comment From Guest: What can we do right now to best influence those that represent us in Copenhagen?
10:42 Meinhard Doelle: A good starting point would be to make sure your elected officials provincially and federally know how you feel about this issue. Keep in mind that many provinces have sent or are sending senior officials.
10:42 Comment From John: Whether or not any targets are agreed upon in Copenhagen, what are the steps following the Copenhagen summit with respect to getting thing put into law or holding further negotiations?
10:44 Meinhard Doelle: It seems likely that Copenhagen will result in some kind of political agreement by the parties at best. This means they will agree to the extent they can on the substance and the intended form of a new deal on climate change, and would also have to agree on a process for completing this. Something similar was done with the Kyoto Protocol, which was followed by four years of negotiations leading to an agreement on the detailed rules and its entry into force.
10:44 Comment From Alison Fletcher: Who REALLY brings about global change - it doesn't appear to be the scientists raising alarms and it doesn't appear to be the global citizens who fear for the planet's future. Is the roadblock all the politicians who may have hidden agendas (corporate donors)? Also, can any climate law ever really be enforced and if so, should it not be the role of the UN to enforce and sanction for failure to comply?
10:46 Meinhard Doelle: I think the answer is that a combination of millions of individual efforts, from scientists to citizens is what brings about change. Hard to say afterward what the tipping point was, and much harder to predict ahead of time. Sometimes it is leadership, sometimes it is a scientific finding, sometimes it is an event that galvanizes action.
10:47 Comment From Carl (Globalwarming ROX!): Skeptics have argued that Canada has a lot to gain from a warmer global climate. Do you think this possibility has in part somewhat reduced the incentive to act upon a changing climate?
10:49 Meinhard Doelle: The level of climate change at which Canada may expect a net gain is the level of change that we are already committed to. Much also depends on how you define gains. How much additional agricultural land are you willing to trade off against coastal erosion, droughts and species loss? What Copenhagen is trying to avoid are the scenarios that are well past the point where anyone will experience net gains.
10:49 Comment From Kieran: Why has no country yet distinguished itself as a leader in renewable energy and reduction of CO2 emissions? Countries raced to meet the colossal challenge of putting a human on the moon 4 decades ago, yet now an issue of our immediate survival is treated as a nuisance.
10:52 Meinhard Doelle: I think there are countries that have done this, Germany, Denmark, and Spain come to mind, certainly with respect to renewable energy. One of the challenges of climate change is that it is complex, it requires different solutions in different parts of the world, and it requires a range of solutions, not just one. I do think though there there are good examples to follow, and examples that demonstrate that you can have a strong economy while addressing this issue. It is all about managing change, something that does not come naturally to us.
10:52 Comment From Michael Dewar: I look at the poll statistic that 17% of respondants have been swayed by leaked e-mails taken out of context and worry about what a more substantial embarassment might lead to at this point. If the summit fails to reach certain goals or if it fails to lead to change in the end, do you think the environmental movement will suffer a loss of support or will it be galvanized?
10:54 Meinhard Doelle: I am not sure, but if the negotiations fail, the issue is not going to go away.
10:54 Jill Mahoney: Thank you so much for all your questions. Our apologies for not getting to them all today. Prof. Doelle, do you have any final comments you'd like to leave us with?
10:55 Meinhard Doelle: The next two weeks will be critical and fascinating.
10:56 Jill Mahoney: We've got a lot to think about. The next two weeks should be interesting to follow. For the latest coverage, check out our climate change page.
10:57 Meinhard Doelle: Enjoyed the discussion
Replay the discussion here: