Stephen Harper’s government edited message about taking climate change seriously
BY MIKE DE SOUZA, POSTMEDIA NEWS DECEMBER 30, 2013
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is joined by Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt and Minister of Environment Leona Aglukkaq at a meeting earlier this year.
Photograph by: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press , Postmedia News
OTTAWA — Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq set aside a proposal from her department earlier this year to publicly state that the Harper government recognized scientific evidence that humans were “mostly responsible for climate change” and that it took this threat “seriously.”
Environment Canada proposed that she make these comments in response to a major report released in September by an international panel of scientists, including Canadians, that was created in 1988 to assess the latest peer-reviewed literature about global warming. The federal department’s recommended message was part of a proposedcommunications strategy, obtained by Postmedia News under access to information legislation, to raise awareness about the impacts of the consumption of fossil fuels such as oil and gas and other human activity linked by scientists to global warming.
It proposed that she say that the Canadian government “takes climate change seriously, and recognizes the scientific findings that conclude that human activities are mostly responsible for this change.”
The first part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change‘s 2013 assessment concluded that it was “extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming” over the past few decades.
But while governments from other countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom said the Sept. 27 report highlighted the urgency of immediate action to address global warming, Aglukkaq responded to the IPCC by touting her Conservative government’s actions and suggesting that opposition Liberal and NDP policies were flawed and a threat to Canadian jobs.
“Unlike the previous Liberal government, under whose watch greenhouse gas emissions rose by almost 30 per cent, or the NDP, who want a $21 billion carbon tax, our Government is actually reducing greenhouse gases and standing up for Canadian jobs,” Aglukkaq said in her Sept. 27 statement.
When asked Monday about the communications strategy and the missing parts of the message, Aglukkaq’s office declined to get into the specifics, but defended her approved statement.
“Our government absolutely takes climate change seriously and our actions and results demonstrate this,” wrote Aglukkaq’s spokeswoman Amanda Gordon in an email. “Since we have formed government, Canada’s projected carbon emissions have gone down by close to 130 megatons over what they would have been under the previous government. The statement highlights the important actions of our government so all Canadians can be aware of the work we have undertaken to protect the environment.”
The IPCC was criticized following its fourth assessment report in 2007 mainly because of a mistake that overstated the melting of Himalayan glaciers. Environment Canada Deputy Minister Bob Hamilton told Aglukkaq in a memo that the error prompted the panel to launch anindependent review of its practices and implement major reforms, but that it had been “successful overall in its work to scientifically assess climate change.”
“The release of the… report is an opportunity to communicate the latest findings and common understanding in the science of climate change,” said the communications plan, dated Aug. 26 and prepared by the department in support of the memo to Aglukkaq. “These scientific assessments provide important policy relevant documentation that signifies changes underway in the climate system.”
Environment Canada allowed one of its senior scientists, Greg Flato, togive interviews about the findings of the IPCC report and the government’s contribution after it was released, but opposition parties said that Aglukkaq’s message was counterproductive.
“It was a 100 per cent partisan attack document,” said NDP environment critic Megan Leslie. “It didn’t talk about the issue of climate change.”
Leslie and critics from other parties added that Aglukkaq missed an opportunity to celebrate the work of Canadian scientists and raise awareness about climate change.
“The minister and the government have blinders on because it doesn’t suit their communications strategy,” said Liberal environment critic John McKay. “I don’t think she actually runs the department. I think it is run out of the PMO.”
Green Party leader Elizabeth May said she found it “shocking” since she believed the recommended messages from Environment Canada were “banal” and not even as strong as the language from the IPCC report.
“It was watered down politically, and it’s further indication that Stephen Harper and his cabinet simply don’t understand that the climate crisis is a huge threat to Canada, to our kids, to our economy and we’re running out of time,” said May. “Stephen Harper doesn’t want to actually do anything that by his (opinion) impedes the oil and gas industry.”
Comparison of recommended and approved statements by Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq regarding IPCC report released on Sept. 27, 2013:
On behalf of the Government of Canada, I would like to thank and congratulate the Canadian scientists who worked on the Working Group I contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report.
The Government of Canada takes climate change seriously, and recognizes the scientific findings that conclude that human activities are mostly responsible for this change. As an Arctic nation, Canada profoundly understands the impacts of climate change and is taking action on many fronts to address climate change.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change continues to provide policy-relevant scientific assessments that clearly document the significant changes underway in the climate system. Today’s report builds on the tradition of excellence that earned the IPCC the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
Ten Canadian scientists had lead roles and many others made contributions to this report. Their scientific expertise continues to improve our collective understanding of climate change.
This work once again showcases the world-class science that exists in the Government of Canada and throughout the Canadian scientific community. The Government of Canada takes great pride in the work of all its scientists, who contribute every day to the assessment and advancement of science, both at home and on the international stage.
As an Arctic nation, Canada has been playing a leadership role in addressing climate change. Our Government has already taken action on two of the largest sources of emissions – namely transportation and coal-fired electricity. In fact, we were the first country to phase out traditional coal power generation. These actions are benefiting Canadians and their families.
Unlike the previous Liberal government, under whose watch greenhouse gas emissions rose by almost 30 per cent, or the NDP, who want a $21 billion carbon tax, our Government is actually reducing greenhouse gases and standing up for Canadian jobs.
The Government of Canada takes great pride in the work of all its scientists, who contribute every day to the assessment and advancement of science, both at home and on the international stage.
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