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Media and delegates gather for the opening ceremony of the UN Climate Change Conference 2009. Courtesy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark

Copenhagen Day Two:

From Rio to Copenhagen: not a good trip for Canada

By David MacDonald

When I was at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, I could see that Canadians were playing key leadership roles. This was especially true when it came to negotiations around the first-ever global treaty on climate change. Canadians had spent years preparing for the talks. A senior Canadian official, Elizabeth Dowdeswell (the daughter of a United Church minister in Saskatchewan), chaired the negotiating committee that drafted the Global Convention on Climate Change.

Since then, successive Canadian governments have dropped the ball. Obscured by the intransigence of the two Bush presidencies in the U.S., our failures didn’t get much international attention. Now, with a president in office who takes climate change seriously, it has become much more difficult to hide our departure from our original high-profile commitment.

You cannot miss the presence of the U.S. government at this conference. The U.S. pavilion houses an active display with a revolving globe as seen from space and a presentation centre featuring experts on everything from the risks of climate change to the death of the coral reefs and their significance for humanity.

Since arriving in Copenhagen, I have met individual Canadians and NGO activists. Organizations such as the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development and the International Development Research Institute from Ottawa are here. But the Government of Canada is noticeable for its absence. Yes, there are government officials here; a cabinet minister will arrive later, followed by the Prime Minister. But you get the feeling they would rather be somewhere else.

Thousands of others couldn’t imagine being anywhere else right now. The immense conference center is buzzing with energy and a surprising amount of hope. It is too soon to predict success or failure. Make no mistake, this conference faces a long list of impediments. But what’s encouraging is the sense that we might just be witnessing a special upbeat moment in the life of a fragile planet.

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