Europe Leads – North America Dawdles

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Which is more important: climate change or the global economic crisis? The answer for Europe is both.

So important is tacking global warming in Europe that leaders have pledged to stick with their carbon cutting agendas, even while dealing with the greatest economic crisis since the great depression.

European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, stated for the record that “We’re not going to let up in the battle against climate change and there’s no question of picking between the financial crisis and climate change. The two go together.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy concurred: “The deadline on climate change is so important that we cannot use the financial and economic crisis as a pretext for dropping it”.

In the UK, they even upped the ante on carbon cuts. Climate Change and Energy Secretary Ed Miliband said the current 60% target of carbon cuts by 2050 would be replaced by a higher goal of 80%.

He added, “In our view it would be quite wrong to row back and those who say we should, misunderstand the relationship between the economic and environmental tasks we face.”

Here in North America, it is a different story. The Canadian election saw little talk of dealing with climate change since stock markets tanked in the final week of the campaign. South of the border, election talk is almost entirely dominated by the economy.

Newly elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper successfully campaigned on a pro-carbon platform of making burning fossil fuels even cheaper. While carbon taxes ore old hat elsewhere in the world, here in Canada Harper managed to portray the idea as “crazy”, “insane”, and something that would “screw everyone across the country” and “wreck” the economy.

It is if North America exists in a transatlantic time machine – back in time that is. While Canadians like to believe that we are a progressive country, we are rapidly lapsing into a political backwater in comparison to many more progressive nations on the other side of the ocean.

Regardless of who wins the US presidential election in November, Canada under Stephen Harper will have a far less credible climate policy than virtually any developed country in the world. Even John McCain is calling for far more stringent carbon cuts than Canada under Harper.

Canada is no longer a world leader – we are a world laggard. The world has moved on climate change. Canada has not, and likely will not for many years to come. Look to Europe to leadership on this critical issue – expect more platitudes and inaction here at home.

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