OTTAWA - Canada faces international pressure to feature climate change as the centrepiece of next year's G8 and G20 summits, as climate negotiations in Copenhagen stumble.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper joins fellow leaders in the Danish capital Thursday in an effort to reach an agreement that might pave the way for a binding international treaty, still many months away, to reduce greenhouse gases.
After the meetings wrap Friday, the climate-change baton will be passed to Canada, which hosts the next major international meeting on the global agenda: the G8 summit in Huntsville, Ont., in late June and the larger G20 gathering immediately after in Toronto.
British diplomats in Canada are pushing a climate-change agenda, and expectations are high in Western diplomatic circles that Canada will use its G8 presidency to take environmental leadership - even though the Conservative government has been vilified by environmentalists as a climate-change laggard.
"Climate change, especially in the post-Copenhagen era, might be the natural topic to come up at the G8 and G20 summits next year," said Sabrina Schulz, the climate security team leader at the British High Commission in Ottawa.
"However, it will be the Canadian government setting the agenda, so it's up to the Canadians to decide to what extent they want to include climate change... Which other forum or fora would be more suitable to discuss these kinds of issues if not the G8 or G20?"
Schulz heads a six-person team that Britain's Foreign Commonwealth Office has assigned to Canada to press government, business, academics and the military on security issues caused by climate change. They are among the 100 special climate envoys Britain has dispatched to key countries such as the United States, China, Brazil and Russia.
Environment Minister Jim Prentice said Wednesday that he hopes a full international treaty can be negotiated within six months, but acknowledged it could take as a long as a year.
Recent polls suggest Canadians want the government to do more to battle climate change.
Britain says it is in Canada's national security interest to play a leading role next year in battling greenhouse gas emissions.
"Canada is affected in a disproportionate way by rising temperatures, especially in the Arctic," Schulz said. "Canadians will have a disproportionate burden in making the Arctic safe for shipping, in providing search-and-rescue facilities, also in policing the Arctic . . . There are strategic stakes."
Britain, along with the U.S. and many Western European countries, views climate change as a security issue. They see threats from rising temperatures that could cause floods, droughts and crop failure, forcing massive population migration that could spark wars and civil unrest across the globe.
The British military, and their American allies at the Pentagon, have placed climate change at the core of their most recent security policies.
"We see it as a hard international security issue and it's at the top of our national security agenda," Anthony Cary, Britain's high commissioner to Canada, said in a recent podcast circulated by the Canada-Europe Transatlantic Dialogue.
Cary said governments need to separate taking action on climate change from short-term political concerns: "We have one atmosphere and we share it. So this is a long-term problem and we should be dealing with it on that basis and try not to be distracted by short-term white noise."
Minority government politics is dictating the Harper government's climate-change agenda, said Margaret Purdy, a retired senior public servant with three decades of national security expertise, including at the Department of National Defence.
"In this kind of environment I know it is tempting to dismiss climate change as a down-the-road issue for somebody else," Purdy told a recent security symposium in Ottawa.
"Canada lags behind, not only in terms of curbing emissions but also in understanding and acknowledging and thinking about the security risks of unchecked climate change."
The Conservatives are offering few clues about what will top the agenda of June's G8 summit. The G20 is expected to keep to the subject it was created for: economic recovery from the global financial meltdown.
A briefing note prepared for Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt says "Canada's G8 2010 presidency will be a top foreign policy priority for the prime minister and the government of Canada and energy is expected to be a prominent theme."
The 2008 memo, released last month under Access to Information, says the government can use multilateral organizations such as the G8 to "provide an opportunity to promote greater awareness of Canada's ongoing efforts to address environmental and energy security challenges, promote our market-based approach to energy, and encourage international collaboration on energy science and technology."
G8 leaders launched 20 major carbon capture and storage demonstration projects in 2008.
"The meetings leading to 2010 can also help advance our domestic energy priorities. For example, international action is needed to foster, build capacity and share information to accelerate wider deployment of large-scale integrated Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) demonstration projects," the memo states.
Britain hopes that CCS will become a marketable technology that can be used and sold all over the world, said Schulz.