Canadian Prime Minister Harper Won’t Be Attending U.N. Climate Summit

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper won’t be among the 125 heads of state attending the U.N. Climate Summit in New York this month.

Instead, Canada will be represented by Leona Aglukkaq, the country’s Minister of the Environment, the prime minister’s office confirmed in a statement Wednesday. Harper will be in New York two days after the Climate Summit takes place on September 23 to attend the the U.N.’s Every Woman, Every Child event on the 25th. But he won’t be making the U.N.’s climate summit, which is being held as an addition to the yearly U.N. international climate conferences in an attempt to “galvanize and catalyze climate action.”

Harper joins President Xi Jinping of China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia in choosing to skip the summit. Jinping and Modi are leaders of the countries with the first- and third-highest levels greenhouse gas emissions, respectively, and Canada’s burgeoning tar sands industry has become a major topic of concern among environmental groups and those concerned about climate change. China’s vice premier will represent the country in the president’s stead, and it’s not yet been announced who will go in place of Modi.

Harper hasn’t given any indication as to why he wasn’t personally attending the conference. But U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said that people following the news of the climate summit shouldn’t put too much stake in the fact that the heads of India and China aren’t coming.

“I would not recommend we read too much into the person who is going to be speaking for the Chinese and India governments,” she said. “The fact is that they had fully intended to be represented at the top level and for reasons that have nothing to do with the climate summit at the at the last minute they are not able to be there.”

It’s not uncommon for world leaders to skip international climate talks and send an envoy in their place, as Canada and China have announced they’re doing. The U.S. has sent an envoy of climate negotiators for the past several climate talks — the last U.N. climate conference Obama himself attended was Copenhagen in 2009. This year’s summit is unusual because it falls outside the regular schedule of the U.N. climate talks, which occur every year toward the end of November and beginning of December. It’s also notable because the White House has confirmed that Obama will be attending the summit, along with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron.

Still, some are disappointed with Harper’s refusal to attend the meeting. Canada’s Green Party leader Elizabeth May told Yahoo Canada that, since the summit is not a formal negotiating session, it would have been a good opportunity for Harper to learn more about climate change solutions.

“Ever since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister, Canada’s position at UN climate conferences has been to undermine discussions, block progress and sabotage negotiations — that’s why we’ve received more Fossil of the Day awards than any other country,” May said.