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HomeBusinessTaxpayers kept in the dark about federal, B.C. spending at UN climate talks in Egypt

Taxpayers kept in the dark about federal, B.C. spending at UN climate talks in Egypt

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Bob Mackin

Federal and B.C. officials are keeping secret their budgets for travel, accommodation and hospitality at United Nations climate change conference in Egypt.

B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman (BC Gov/Flickr)

NDP Environment Minister George Heyman, Climate Action Secretariat Assistant Deputy Minister Jeremy Hewitt and one support staff member are attending the annual Nov. 6-18 green gabfest, according to a prepared statement sent by the ministry’s David Karn. 

However, the UN’s official provisional list of registered participants shows two Heyman aides registered, Danielle Monroe and Kelly Sather, but Karn did not explain by deadline. 

“No contractors or [non-government organizations] are being funded by the ministry to attend,” the ministry said. “The trip is funded out of the ministry budget. Final costs will be released after all expenses are tabulated.”

Environment and Climate Change Canada spokeswoman Samantha Bayard said there are “around 335 members” on the Canadian delegation, including cabinet ministers, senators, opposition members of parliament, provincial and territorial politicians, business executives, union leaders and representatives from civil society, Indigenous and youth organizations.

By comparison, Canada sent 277 people to the Glasgow conference.

During Liberal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault’s teleconference from Egypt on Nov. 10, a reporter asked him to reveal the approved total budget for the entire federal government delegation and for his own travel and accommodations.

“In terms of costs, as you know, all public dollars must be accounted for and disclosed in a very transparent manner,” Guilbeault said. “So I don’t have those figures, but they will be published.”

Guilbeault leads a delegation in Sharm El Sheikh with Canada’s Climate Change Ambassador Catherine Stewart and Chief Negotiator Steven Kuhn. The registration list includes Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan, five MPs, including Laurel Collins (NDP-Victoria), and Senators Mary Coyle, Patricia Bovey and Rosa Galvez.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not attending. 

Canadian Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault with U.S. climate envoy John Kerry in Egypt (Guilbeault/Twitter)

Also registered are 11 deputy or assistant deputy ministers, 10 negotiators,  eight communications/press/social media staffers and seven policy analysts. Guilbeault was asked whether the government’s strategic goals could be achieved with a smaller entourage. 

“In terms of the size of the delegation, these are complex issues. There’s 195 countries participating in in these proceedings,” he said. “I’ve spoken about few of the negotiating issues, but there are dozens of them. So we need to have the right people here in terms of the footprint of these meetings.”

Bayard said the government is working with all delegates “to ensure that carbon emissions associated with traveling to and from COP27 are being offset.”

According to the Flight Free USA flight emissions calculator, the round-trip distance from Ottawa to the conference site in Egypt is 18,496 kilometres and causes the per-passenger equivalent of 6.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions 2018 report said aviation emissions account for roughly 3.5% of total human-caused warming of the planet. A World Resources Institute working paper on business travel and climate released in October 2021 said that, based on total emissions from in 2018, air travel would have been equivalent to the sixth-largest carbon emitter in the world, between Japan and Germany. 

The UN COP 27 list said 33,449 people had registered to represent 195 states, 1,919 organizations and 1,306 media in Egypt as of Nov. 6.

Documents obtained under freedom of information about B.C. spending at the 2021 UN climate conference in Glasgow showed that Heyman and Sather booked airfare and accommodations for $9,071, four months in advance. They also arranged for a car and driver at a cost of $450 to visit a train station outside Glasgow where an electric train had been converted to hydrogen power. 

The freedom of information disclosure also showed that a committee of eight bureaucrats, including Sather and Hewitt, strategized last fall on whether to answer a reporter’s questions about the budget for Heyman’s travel to the conference. After 10 days, they finally settled on the line: “The trip is funded out of the ministry budget. Final costs will be released after all expenses are tabulated.”

In addition to Canada’s core federal delegation, various other Canadian entities are registered for COP 27, including Climate Action Network Canada (22 delegates); University of B.C. (8); Canadian Nuclear Association (6); United Church of Canada and Climate Equity Reference Project Canada (five each); David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence Canada, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and Canadian Foodgrains Bank Association Inc. (three each); Engineering Institute of Canada and Electricity Canada (two each).

Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg attended the previous two UN climate summits but is boycotting Egypt due to what she called “greenwashing, lying and cheating.”

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