Harper deploys diplomats to counter U.S. climate change campaign

Thursday Jul 12, 2012

Excerpted from Canada.com:

OTTAWA — The Harper government has deployed a network of Canadian diplomats to lobby Fortune 500 companies in the United States in order to counter a global warming campaign launched by an environmental advocacy group targeting the oilsands industry, says a newly-released internal memorandum from Natural Resources Canada.

"The (diplomatic) posts have offered briefings to targeted companies to counter misinformation, and in certain cases, to provide background to likely targets which have yet to be approached by ForestEthics," said the memo to Natural Resources Canada Deputy Minister Serge Dupont from Mark Corey, an assistant deputy minister. "The campaign has not produced many true converts, but the possibility looms out there, particularly if further pressure is applied."

The document didn't offer examples of "misinformation" from ForestEthics, a U.S.-based conservation group with Canadian offices that emerged from British Columbia campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s to protect old-growth forests. But the memo acknowledged numerous environmental concerns surrounding oilsands development in Alberta, including warnings that the industry's rapidly growing greenhouse gas emissions could prevent Canada from meeting climate change commitments pledged by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at international negotiations on global warming.

[…] Sixteen major companies and one American city have made commitments to reduce the environmental footprint of transportation fuels in their operations in the context of the ForestEthics campaign to stop the growth of oilsands development. Chiquita, Avon, American Eagle Outfitters and Lush Cosmetics are among the more prominent corporate names listed on the environmental group's website.

The federal memo, released to Postmedia News through access to information legislation, said that Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade had "reached out to relevant company contacts to better gauge their intentions vis-a-vis the ForestEthics campaign" that targets the environmental and social impacts of exploiting the tar-like heavy oil found in northern Alberta.

"DFAIT missions have been engaging with Fortune 500 companies to provide oil sands facts and to counteract the Forest Ethics campaign," said the memo.

[…] The newly-released memo also highlighted other warnings about impacts on natural ecosystems, including concerns that the reclamation of land in the oilsands region was "not keeping pace with land disturbance" and valid long-term concerns about contaminants affecting water and air quality in the region.

[…] Aaron Sanger, an American lawyer who directs U.S. campaigns for ForestEthics, confirmed that companies listed on its website have been approached by Canadian government officials, but that they have responded consistently with calls for stronger regulation and enforcement…

"The companies are saying, 'Instead of trying to repress this problem, you should take positive action to address it by reducing the environmental and social impacts of producing and refining tarsands,'" said Sanger, who lives in Bellingham, Washington, the city that has associated itself with the ForestEthics clean energy campaign.

"Specifically in the United States, we (ForestEthics representatives) believe that until dramatic changes are made in the way that the tarsands operate both within Canada and within refineries in the United States, that the market for tarsands should not expand beyond its current level."

Forest Ethics is known for launching advocacy campaigns that target consumers and the marketplace to discourage them from buying from companies that the environmental group believes are engaged in practices that damage ecosystems.

[…] The Canadian chapter of ForestEthics also considered itself to be a target of the Harper government's plan, announced in the last federal budget, to crack down on environmental charities through a multimillion-dollar initiative giving the Canada Revenue Agency more resources and powers to audit organizations believed to be using their charitable status to engage in political activities.

ForestEthics in Canada split its operations into two different groups — one focused exclusively on advocacy — as a result of the government's budget.

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