John Robson: When 225 Canadians jet to Morocco to ‘fight climate change’, they emit clouds of hypocrisy


In a gratuitously spectacular display of counterproductive hypocrisy, an anticipated 225 Canadians will jet to Morocco to denounce the use of fossil fuels.

Canada’s catalogue of participants is so large it takes up the better part of eight pages in the United Nations list of attendees. Australia’s delegation can fit on two pages, as can China’s, which has 38 times Canada’s population and immensely greater emissions issues to deal with. France, which hosted last year’s conference, has five pages of names. While some Canadian delegates are footing their own bills, federal, provincial and municipal governments will pay the lion’s share of costs.

The bloated size of the crowd extends a tradition started last year, when 335 Canadians attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is not attending the follow-up event in Marrakech. It may be that that gathering was worth attending, as it supposedly set out a bold new direction for combating man-made climate change and signalled a global commitment to take decisive action. Optics aside, they weren’t there to do serious work.

The details of a major international agreement, on climate change or anything else, are too complex to be solved in 10 days. The hard work is done well ahead of time, to avoid embarrassing national leaders in front of the cameras, either by problems that have not been resolved or because in the warm glow of the moment they make promises that contradict official policy or ignore the limits of the politically or physically possible.

The real issues are best solved by small gatherings of major players and senior aides. In the globalized era of the Internet, expertise can quickly be obtained by phone, email or live chat, a consideration that should have been front and centre given delegates’ professed concern about mankind’s “carbon footprint”.

The Marrakech summit is intended as a follow-up to last year’s meeting, to begin to “operationalize” the Paris accord. Does that really require the presence of a small army of bureaucrats, activists, provincial and municipal representatives and security personnel, not to mention labour bosses from Unifor, the Canadian Labour Congress, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers?

If these people are seized by the crucial matter of climate change, why are they not doing the hard unglamorous work of implementation, drinking bad coffee under depressing fluorescent lights in offices back in Canada?

We have seen grandiose pledges of environmental action at previous conferences going back to “Rio” (the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro) in 1992 and “Kyoto” in 1997. But governments, including our own, have consistently failed to deliver, and it is not a service to the Earth or taxpayers to pile new pledges on the heap instead of grinding out practical action plans at home. Especially given the self-indulgent atmosphere of UN conferences, which bear a greater resemblance to glittery film festivals than a grim struggle to save the planet. Why is it they always seem to occur in glamorous tourist destinations like Paris or Marrakech rather than, say, Birmingham or Lille?

To be sure, the $1 million Canada’s government spent on Paris, including $130,000 for meals and $350,000 for hotels, is a drop in the $300 billion bucket of federal spending, even if it’s a worrying reminder of the disconnect between the public and private sectors, and the gap separating the privileged class from the rest of us, who lack the opportunity to blow thousands of dollars of someone else’s cash on a jaunt to Morocco. But the hypocrisy cuts deeper here.

Nobody, except, oddly, the participants, could overlook the damage to the planet caused by hordes of hangers-on jetting across oceans and continents to preach restraint. It is just too easy for critics to jeer at this hypocrisy as proof that the alarmists don’t really take global warming seriously. Why would any working Canadian leave their car at home and crowd onto a bus for the bleak commute through a wintery morning, knowing environmental evangelists think it’s fine to fly 255 Canadians to Morocco for a week in the sun?

Donald Trump was elected president because of disgust at displays like this. Next time, send 20 people. Practise what you preach.

John Robson is a Canadian academic who periodically writes editorials for the National Post.

Story: The National Post