On Monday, Environment Minister Peter Kent announced that Canada will withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. When Canada signed the treaty 13 years ago, it was an ill-conceived gesture in political optics. It never made sense for an oil-producing country like Canada to lead the way in reducing carbon emissions without also binding major emitters like the US, China and India to the treaty.
Canada contributes less than 2 per cent of all global emissions. The development of our oil sands is one of the most fantastic economic opportunities in our country today.
But, the backlash from critics has led many Canadians to think that the whole world is shocked and appalled by the government’s decision and that Canada has become an international pariah.
While it isn’t very often that the Canadian government abrogates a treaty that another government had once signed, the suggestion that the whole world is watching these events unfold with disdain just doesn’t hold water.
An analysis of the media coverage of last weekend’s Durban summit suggests that, outside of the Canadian media, the conference was barely covered by international publications. Canadian print media carried more stories than any other country in the world beyond the host country, South Africa. Coverage in Canadian media represented fully one third of all stories reported worldwide. The US and China each accounted for less than 10 per cent of the coverage, while media in the European Union countries, which are supposedly the most concerned about green house gas emissions, followed the conference even less. Analyzing the media coverage by region, including social media and blogs, Canada and South Africa accounted for 2/3 of all the conversation about the conference. The rest of the world simply wasn’t tracking it and is certainly not talking about Canada’s “controversial” position.
So what accounts for the extensive Canadian coverage? Well, the Canadian media is not used to its federal government taking controversial positions that are nakedly in the country’s self interest. Our media seems to be either ashamed or oddly fascinated that this Canadian government puts interests before political optics. The Kyoto withdrawal decision doesn’t seem to fit our traditional image of Canada as the good boy scout or peacekeeper. In the past, we’ve been more interested in idealistic causes than the hard nose realities of self interest.
Contrast our media reaction to the maturity of the British media when PM Cameron pulled out of the EU consensus last week because of concerns that the deal would erode London role as a global financial Hub. There the concept of national interest was not only well understood, but applauded.
Peter Kent’s decision is a sign that Canada is growing up or, at least, that our government is. We have a remarkable opportunity to build ourselves into an energy superpower and pretending that the Kyoto Protocol was in our interest did a disservice to the country’s future.
As Peter Kent put it “It’s now clear that Kyoto is not the path forward for a global solution to climate change. If anything, it’s an impediment.” For me, it is refreshing to see a government willing to put good policy before political optics. Finally we have a government that is ready to stand up for Canada.