VALLETTA, Malta – Leaders of 53 Commonwealth countries are grappling with their own negotiations on addressing climate change in what Canada’s foreign minister calls a “training camp” for next week’s United Nations conference in France.
“You have the world in 53 nations here,” Stephane Dion said Thursday shortly after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in Malta for the three-day summit of Commonwealth heads of government.
“And the debates we have had since I came yesterday are very, let’s say, lively. I’m sure they will be repeated in the next two weeks in Paris.”
French President Francois Hollande is to make an extraordinary address to the leaders here Friday in what appears to be the first appearance by a French head of state at the biennial Commonwealth meeting – a gathering of countries formerly under British rule.
Hollande will arrive straight from Russia, where he was seeking to secure a common front in the military fight against Islamic militants. It seems likely he’ll plumb that theme with the Commonwealth countries as well, but the reason for his unusual visit is to rally support for an international climate agreement.
Dion’s characterization of “lively” Commonwealth climate talks hints at the challenge ahead.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the most populous Commonwealth country with an exponentially growing appetite for coal-fired electricity generation, is taking a pass on this year’s Commonwealth meeting amid concerns that the developing subcontinent poses a major obstacle to a comprehensive climate deal.
India’s “coal minister” Piyush Goyal is on record saying the world’s third-largest producer of greenhouse gases won’t be constrained by emissions limits when developed countries have spent the past century pouring carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Meanwhile, tiny Tuvalu – an archipelago of low-lying islands in the South Pacific – is in danger of being submerged by rising sea levels due to global warming.
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Negotiating the contradictions within the Commonwealth group of countries, said Dion, is “a very helpful training camp for Paris.”
He maintains that, while negotiations will be “intense,” the two-week-long COP21 conference will end with “a unanimous, robust agreement that will be a step in the right direction to fight climate change.”
Trudeau arrived in Valletta after a stop in London with the goal of rallying Commonwealth support for a climate deal.
He said Wednesday that both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama asked him in recent meetings to lobby hard within the organization.
That work began Thursday evening as Trudeau met with Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at the Auberge de Castille, the presidential office.
Malta, an island republic of less than half a million citizens in the Mediterranean Sea, is an historic migratory crossroad between North Africa and Italy.
The current refugee crisis in the Middle East is literally lapping at its shores.
Hollande’s visit ensures Trudeau will be discussing Canada’s role in fighting Islamic terrorism as well as climate change and matters of Commonwealth governance.
Trudeau departed London on Thursday as British Prime Minister David Cameron was making the case in Parliament for an expanded air war over Syrian territory.
Cameron told the British House of Commons that you can’t “sub-contract” national security.
His efforts to widen the British air war come as Trudeau is vowing to withdraw Canada’s six CF-18 jets from the American-led bombing mission in Iraq and Syria.
France has also upped its air war since the deadly terror attacks in Paris two weeks ago that claimed at least 130 lives.
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A senior Trudeau adviser, briefing reporters on the flight to Malta under agreement not to be named, said Cameron did not pressure Trudeau to reconsider his CF-18 decision when the two prime ministers met in London on Wednesday evening.
In fact, the adviser said, not a single world leader has questioned Canada’s pending withdrawal from the air war during the last two weeks of fevered international summitry.
Dion said he’s been consulting with Canada’s allies and explaining that Canada “has better skills to offer the coalition.”
“The moment they understand that, they are very open to give us their suggestions about what Canada may do otherwise than deliver two per cent of the air strikes.”