By Mike De Souza
OTTAWA — A visiting member of Europe's Parliament says he is puzzled by Canadian government policies and fears the world may be forced to leave Canada behind as it moves forward in addressing climate change.
"It's a very strange position for Europe, because really, for us, Canada is a dear partner," said Kriton Arsenis, from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the second-largest group in the European Parliament. "It's an ally in the way that we share values for the environment, social values, how we imagine the state of the world and we somehow feel left alone."
Arsenis, 34, who met with some of his Canadian counterparts from opposition parties in a series of meetings Wednesday, said he was actually hoping to get feedback from the government on Europe's proposed climate policies to improve them. But instead, he received an angry response from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver who publicly criticized the foreign visit, blaming it on the opposition New Democrats.
Canada appears to be the only country attempting to lobby the European Parliament in order to weaken its climate policies, Arsenis said. But he warned that the Canadian government's position may isolate it from efforts to expand and extend the Kyoto Protocol which set legally-binding targets on developed countries' greenhouse gas emissions as a first step toward preventing dangerous changes in the atmosphere.
Despite concerns about economic woes including in his native country of Greece, Arsenis, whose travel expenses were sponsored by Climate Action Network Canada — a coalition of environment, labour and faith-based groups — said that the Europeans he represents still support efforts to reduce pollution as a necessity to protect future generations.
"We are willing to take any measure necessary to move ahead for this," Arsenis said during a meeting with the Ottawa Citizen's editorial board. "For example when we talk about Kyoto, we want to move ahead with Kyoto and we might be forced to do that even if Canada is not on board. This is sad. This is very sad for us. We started this together. We think that it (reflects) our common values."
Countries will continue their international negotiations starting next Monday at a United Nations climate change summit in Durban, South Africa. Canada, Russia and Japan have all said they will not accept new targets when the existing commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2013, leaving the world without any binding requirements for countries to reduce emissions.
But Oliver attempted to blame the NDP for allowing Arsenis to promote European climate policies that would discourage consumption of fuels with above-average environmental footprints such as synthetic crude oil from Western Canada's natural deposits of bitumen, also known as oilsands.
"Now (New Democrats) are hosting today a session that is giving support for the European Fuel quality directive which will single out the oilsands for bad treatment," said Oliver. "It's based on an unscientific and discriminatory approach. Here they are again opposing the creation of Canadian jobs and economic growth for the country."
Arsenis stressed that Europe's climate policies, which are still under debate, are attempting to assess the environmental impact of all fuels, and, in fact, do not estimate bitumen to be the most polluting fuel, putting it behind oil shale and coal converted to liquid fuel.
"This is not about Canada," Arsenis said. "This is about climate change. This is about the environmental impact of . . . our fuels and this is about responding to our citizens' demands."
He added that the European policies represent an effort "to do the right thing."
"Climate change is not a fashion of some sort. It's a real threat, and whatever we do, we are going to take measures in the future. We can delay it with greater cost if we don't take measures."
Arsenis is scheduled to have more meetings and media interviews in Toronto on Thursday before returning home.
Posted in: Canada, News, World Tags: Canada, Durban, Europe, European Parliament, Greece, Joe Oliver, Kriton Arsenis, Kyoto, Kyoto Protocol, Mike De Souza, New Democratic Party Of Canada, Ottawa, The Balkans, Toronto,United Nations Climate Change Conference