COPENHAGEN, Denmark – “Canada is ‘red-faced’!” (Globe and Mail) “Copenhagen spoof shames Canada!” (Guardian) “Hoax slices through Canadian spin on warming!” (The Toronto Star) “A childish prank!” (Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada)
What at first looked like the flip-flop of the century has been revealed as a sophisticated ruse by a coalition of African, North American, and European activists. The purpose: to highlight the most powerful nations’ obstruction of meaningful progress in Copenhagen, to push for just climate debt reparations, and to call out Canada in particular for its terrible climate policy.
The elaborate intercontinental operation was spearheaded by a group of concerned Canadian citizens, the “Climate Debt Agents” from ActionAid, and The Yes Men. It involved the creation of a best-case scenario in which Canadian government representatives unleashed a bold new initiative to curb emissions and spearhead a “Climate Debt Mechanism” for the developing world.
The ruse started at 2:00 PM Monday, when journalists around the world were surprised to receive a press release from “Environment Canada” (enviro-canada.com, a copy of ec.gc.ca) that claimed Canada was reversing its position on climate change.
In the release, Canada’s Environment Minister, Jim Prentice, waxed lyrical. “Canada is taking the long view on the world economy,” said Prentice. “Nobody benefits from a world in peril. Contributing to the development of other nations and taking full responsibilities for our emissions is simple Canadian good sense.”
Thirty minutes later, the same “Environment Canada” sent out another press release, congratulating itself on Uganda’s excited response to the earlier fake announcement. A video featuring an impassioned response by “Margaret Matembe,” supposedly a COP15 delegate from Uganda, was embedded in a fake COP15 website. “Canada, until now you have blocked climate negotiations and refused to reduce emissions,” said “Matembe.” “Of course, you do sit on the world’s second-largest oil reserve. But for us it isn’t a mere economic issue – it’s about drought, famine, and disease.”
(The video was shot in a replica of the Bella Center’s briefing room, at Frederiksholms Kanal 4, in the center of Copenhagen. Matembe was actually Kodili Chandia, a “Climate Debt Agent” from ActionAid, a collective of activists that push for rich countries to help those most affected by climate change for adaptation and mitigation projects. The “Climate Debt Agents,” with their signature bright red suits, have been a ubiquitous presence in Copenhagen during the climate summit.)
Then it was time for Canada to react. One hour later, another “Environment Canada” (this one at ec-gc.ca) released a bombastic response to the original release. This one quot
ed Jim Prentice, Canada’s Minister for the Environment, decrying the original announcement: “It is the height of cruelty, hypocrisy, and immorality to infuse with false hopes the spirit of people who are already, and will additionally, bear the brunt of climate change’s terrible human effects. Canada deplores this moral misfire.”
Meanwhile, in the real world
The real Canadian government’s reactions were almost as strange as the fake ones in the release. Dimitri Soudas, a spokesperson for the Canadian Prime Minister, emailed reporters and blamed Steven Guilbeault, cofounder of Quebec-based Equiterre. “More time should be dedicated to playing a constructive role instead of childish pranks,” said Soudas in a first email, while misspelling Guilbeault’s name.
Guilbeault demanded an apology. “A better way to use his time would probably be to advise the Canadian government to change its deeply flawed position on climate,” said Guilbeault.
Soudas and Guilbeault were seen exchanging angry words in the hallway outside of Canada’s 3:30pm press conference, which did not start until 4:30pm, and at which the Canadians refused to answer any questions about the flurry of false releases.
More raised voices were heard when Stephen Chu, the US Secretary of Energy, refused to pose for a photo with his Canadian counterpart, Jim Prentice. After Steve Kelly, Prentice’s chief of staff, begged for 10 minutes, the US guy finally asked why a photo was so important. Kelly replied that “we were carpetbagged this morning by [environmental non-governmental organizations] with a false press release. I gotta change the story.”
Why Blame Canada?
The only country in the world to have abandoned the Kyoto Protocol’s emissions and climate debt targets, Canada also has the most energy-intensive, destructive and polluting oil reserves in the world. The Alberta tar sands, according to The Economist, are in fact the world’s biggest single industrial source of carbon emissions.
“By not agreeing to emissions reductions, Canada is holding a loaded gun to our heads, and seems ready to pull the trigger on millions of us around the globe, ” said Margaret Matembe aka Kodili Chandia of the “Climate Debt Agents.” “They leave us no choice but to see them as criminal.”
At last year’s climate summit in Poznan, Poland, over 400 civil society organizations voted Canada worst of all nations in blocking progress towards a binding climate treaty. Will Canada take the dubious prize again this year in Copenhagen?
“The Canadian government is not listening to its citizens,” says Sarah Ramsey, a resident of Alberta who has seen the destruction of the tar sands firsthand. Ramsey traveled to Copenhagen to give voice to a generation of young Canadians. “We are discouraged and demoralized by our government’s position on climate change. We decided to lend our government a hand, and show them what good leadership looks like.”
In solidarity with the delegates from the G77 Bloc of nations, today’s intervention was also meant to highlight an issue at the heart of the ongoing talks—the issue of climate justice, and the climate debt that the developed world owes the developing world. Seventy-five percent of the historical emissions that created the climate crisis came from 20% of the world’s population in developed countries, according to the UN, yet up to 80% of the impacts of the climate crisis are experienced in the developing world, according to the World Bank.
“I meant every word I said,” says Kodili Chandia, a spokesperson for the Climate Debt Agents, who spoke out as a member of the Ugandan delegation. “This debate isn’t just about facts and figures and abstract concepts of fairness—the drought we are seeing right now in East Africa is directly threatening the lives of millions of people, including farmers in my own family. We have not created this problem but we are living with the consequences. That’s why I still say: It’s time for rich countries to pay their climate debt.”