“If the Commonwealth is serious about holding its members to account, then threatening the lives of millions of people in developing countries should lead to the suspension of Canada’s membership immediately”
by Damian Carrington
The Guardian, November 26 2009
Prominent campaigners, politicians and scientists have called for Canada to be suspended from the Commonwealth over its climate change policies.
The coalition’s demand came before this weekend’s Commonwealth heads of government summit in Trinidad and Tobago, at which global warming will top the agenda, and next month’s UN climate conference in Copenhagen. Despite criticism of Canada’s environmental policies, the prime minister, Stephen Harper, is to attend the Copenhagen summit. His spokesman said today: “We will be attending the Copenhagen meeting … a critical mass of world leaders will be attending.”
Canada’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are among the world’s highest and it will not meet the cut required under the Kyoto protocol: by 2007 its emissions were 34% above its reduction target. It is exploiting its vast tar sands reserves to produce oil, a process said to cause at least three times the emissions of conventional oil extraction.
The coalition claims Canada is contributing to droughts, floods and sea level rises in Commonwealth countries such as Bangladesh, the Maldives and Mozambique. Clare Short, the former international development secretary, said: “Countries that fail to help [tackle global warming] should be suspended from membership, as are those that breach human rights.”
The World Development Movement, the Polaris Institute in Canada and Greenpeace are among the organisations supporting the plan. Saleemul Huq, a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said:
“If the Commonwealth is serious about holding its members to account, then threatening the lives of millions of people in developing countries should lead to the suspension of Canada’s membership immediately.”
Canada’s environment department refused to comment on the call for it to be suspended.
The Commonwealth comprises 53 states representing 2 billion people. In the past it has suspended Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and South Africa for electoral or human rights reasons. Speaking earlier this week, its secretary general, Kamalesh Sharma, said: “I would like to think that our definition of serious violations could embrace much more than it does now.”
Comments on this story:
Greenpeace UK Executive Director John Sauven: “Individual countries are rightly suspended from the Commonwealth for human rights abuses, but the Canadian government is contributing to what is arguably the greatest human rights scandal of all time. Extracting millions of barrels of dirty oil from tar sands and abandoning the Kyoto treaty is not the behaviour of a responsible commonwealth member, and Canada should be suspended immediately.”
Saleemul Huq, Senior Fellow on Climate Change and a lead author of the IPCC fourth assessment report: “My country, Bangladesh, is already suffering the effects of climate change. Canada’s complete failure to cut its emissions is making the global situation worse. If the Commonwealth is serious about holding its members to account, then threatening the lives of millions of people in developing countries should lead to the suspension of Canada’s membership immediately.”
Former UK International Development Secretary Clare Short: “It is important that the Commonwealth works to reduce global warming, which will devastate many of its members. Countries that fail to help should be suspended from membership, as are those that breach human rights. A process should now begin to consider suspending Canada.”
Tony Clarke, Director of the Polaris institute in Canada: “The Canadian government’s ongoing support for the Alberta tar sands is giving Canada a black eye on the international stage. Unless our Government is willing to stop blocking international climate negotiations through its continued support for the tar sands, Canada should get out of the way and stop sitting at the Commonwealth table.”
Deborah Doane, director of the World Development Movement, who is Canadian, said:
“I am deeply ashamed of the Canadian government’s appalling record on climate change. Canada consumes far more than its fair share of carbon, and, like all rich nations, owes a debt to developing nations for the impact of its emissions on the climate. Canada’s policy on tar sands extraction means than Canada’s reputation as a leading global citizen promoting social and environmental justice is now completely tarnished.
“People in developing countries of the Commonwealth, like Bangladesh, are right to be angry that Canada is getting away with climate crimes that are destroying their homes and livelihoods. The Commonwealth should hold Canada to a higher standard, and not accept their stance from the sidelines. Just because they’re not using arms, doesn’t mean they’re not causing harm on a grand scale.”