Canada’s performance at Rio+20 Summit under fire but minister blames ‘misinformation’

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Environment Minister Peter Kent is coming home from this week's Rio+20 sustainable-development summit evidently having fulfilled his mission: Draw fire from critics in other governments and activists without conceding anything on the Conservatives' hard-nosed environmental policy.

Kent's main talking point at the giant (estimated 50,000 participants) United Nations conference in Rio de Janeiro was that the Canadian government's position on the environment has been misunderstood.

"There's been a great deal of misinformation and mischaracterization," Kent said, according to The Canadian Press, while stressing he's not presenting Canada as a victim.

"I never like to associate with victimization but I think that Canada has been unfairly described as being outside the group of committed countries. We came here in good faith, we negotiated in good faith."

The former TV news anchorman also played the hidden-agenda card, suggesting environmental groups and Canada's international business competitors are misrepresenting Canada's position to promote their own interests.

[Related: Arctic sanctuary pitched at Earth Summit in Rio]

Critics in Canada and abroad have hammered the Conservative government for promoting development of Western Canada's oil sands reserves, ditching Canada's (unfulfilled) Kyoto greenhouse-gas commitments and revising environmental assessment rules to speed reviews of proposed resource projects.

Ideology plays a part in some of the criticism, Kent told reporters at Rio, but he suggested governments do not have the luxury of environmentalists' "narrow focus."

"The environment, yes, must be considered and society's need," The Canadian Press reported him saying. "We need to find a fine balance of these things and we have to remember ... that environmental sustainability involves a balance of the environment first but also the economy and society."

The Rio summit ended Friday with a 50-page declaration that The Canadian Press reported is filled with good intentions but few commitments or timelines.

Kent said the document won't oblige Canada to make any changes, which he called a good thing.

The joint declaration was actually completed by bureaucrats on Tuesday but ministers at the conference opted not to make any changes, disappointing those who hoped the conference would produce real action.

"This is a 'once in a generation' moment when the world needs vision, commitment and, above all, leadership," said Mary Robinson, former Irish president and UN human rights commissioner, according to BBC News.

"Sadly, the current document is a failure of leadership."

Toronto Star national affairs columnist Thomas Walkom lamented Rio+20 as a weak sequel to the ambitious Earth Summit the city hosted in 1992.

"It produced one treaty aimed at combating global warming and another devoted to preventing the extermination of entire species of plant and animal life," Walkom wrote Friday.

"Canada — and individual Canadians such as summit organizer Maurice Strong — played a key role in an exercise that captured the world's imagination."

This time, said Walkom, Canada's role was as "a spoiler and saboteur," helping quash attempts to limit government subsidies on fossil-fuel producers.

Environmentalists dominated the Earth Summit; this time, Walkom suggests, the reactionaries were in control.

" ... (T)he Rio+20 summit has only served to remind us how pathetically little we've done."