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October 24, 2002 Kyoto will cost us, says McGraw



by Asha Jhamandas

Désirée McGraw thinks that “Kyoto is the litmus test on the environment for this government.”

An award-winning alumnus, McGraw is now a Montreal-based consultant in international negotiations and communications, who also lectures at McGill University. She was at the School of Commuity and Public Affairs on Oct. 30 to share a wide-ranging perspective on Canada’s ratification of the Kyoto protocol.

In her presentation, McGraw defended Kyoto in terms of what she called “the 5 Cs”: competitiveness for Canadian companies, the question of national consultations on Kyoto, the threat to Canada’s credibility as ratification is delayed, our nation’s level of commitment to environmental affairs, and the need for consistency in Canada’s foreign policy.

She explained why it would be wise for Canada to ratify Kyoto even though the U.S., its biggest trading partner, has rejected it. American states, cities and companies are “already way ahead of their Canadian counterparts when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions” and fascination gave way to surprise when she announced that on a per-capita basis, Canadians, not Americans, are the biggest energy consumers in the world.

She suggested that the U.S. might ratify under a future administration, once the country had independently confirmed it could attain Kyoto targets. Canada might be subsequently saddled with “very expensive” trade measures.

“Canada has a choice,” McGraw said. “We can pay now, or pay more later.”

She also dispelled the criticism that the failure to ratify is due to a lack of consultations by the Canadian government.

“It’s due purely to a lack of political will,” she said.

“Canada has some of the best minds working on environmental policy, and Kyoto has been more extensively consulted upon than any other treaty signed by Canada.”

The Chrétien government, she said, just hasn’t been consulting the right people on the right question. Until now, selective discussion with elites and experts had been framed by whether to ratify.

Instead, the Chrétien government should have been consulting Canadians directly on how to implement the accord from the start. Canadians, and the parliamentarians who represent them, should have more input on Kyoto than the non-elected officials who are being consulted at international summits.

The failure to ratify also undermines Canada’s credibility as an environmental champion both at home and abroad, McGraw said. Inaction is causing environmentalists and other Kyoto supporters to view Canada as having gone from “environmental leader to laggard.”

Businesses now have five years fewer in which to meet the Kyoto targets of 2012, because Canada did not ratify in 1997 immediately after signing the agreement.

As well, countries such as Canada which have not ratified the accord will have no say in current UN negotiations aimed at bringing developing countries, such as China, Brazil and India, into the climate change regime.

Though the current government has already proven its galvanizing potential around seemingly insurmountable problems, McGraw lamented its lack of commitment and tenacity towards the ecological debt. “If Canada can mobilize around something as seemingly mundane as a fiscal deficit, surely it can make headway on the environmental deficit.”

McGraw got an early start in international relations by serving as a youth ambassador to the UN when she was 18. Class valedictorian, she graduated with distinction from Concordia in 1993.

She and Mario Dumont, who is now leader of L’Action démocratique du Québec, were the only two students that year to receive a joint degree in public affairs and economics. On top of her teaching, she continues to consult with national and international clients, such as the UN.

She is also advising Paul Martin on environmental and other policy issues. Martin served on the board of the SCPA during McGraw’s studies there.

Environment minister André Boisclair will give a presentation on Quebec’s support for the Kyoto accord at the Université de Montréal on Monday, Nov. 25. The presentation, which is aimed at students, will take place at 11:30 a.m. at 3200 Jean-Brillant, Room B-2245.