A major UN conference on biodiversity will get underway in Montreal Tuesday with a lofty goal to get every country to agree to protect almost one-third of the world’s land and oceans before the end of this decade.
But the environment may be the easy part of a meeting that is being co-hosted by Canada and China amid growing diplomatic tensions between the two — and without the political heft of world leaders, who weren’t invited to attend.
“I would say that it will be very interesting and very important to watch how the COP15 unfolds,” said Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China.
China is the president of this year’s biodiversity meeting, which means it helps set the agenda and guides the negotiations. It would normally play host, too, and delayed the meeting four times because of COVID-19.
Because China still hasn’t opened its borders to international travellers, the Chinese government agreed in June that the meeting could be moved to Montreal, which is home to the offices of the UN biodiversity secretariat.
Officially, Canada’s role is mainly one of logistics. But the arrangement will increase Canada’s influence over the negotiations and could add more diplomatic unrest to the equation.
To say diplomatic relations between Canada and China are strained is akin to suggesting the Pacific Ocean is just a wee body of water.
The relationship went off the rails in 2018 when Canada arrested a Chinese tech executive on behalf of the United States, and China swiftly detained two Canadians in apparent retaliation. While more than a year has passed since all three were released, tensions haven’t really eased.
In recent weeks, new allegations have emerged about Chinese attempts to exert influence within Canada, including in recent elections. And in November, Canada forced some Chinese state-owned companies to sell their stakes in Canadian critical-mineral projects in a bid to tamp down China’s dominance in the battery-electric industry.
COP15 will also start just nine days after Canada issued a new Indo-Pacific strategy that seeks stronger trade ties in Asia to counterbalance China’s influence. Beijing made clear that it was not happy about the strategy.
Saint-Jacques said China should be grateful that “Canada came to its rescue” when the country couldn’t host the biodiversity summit. But he said China has a tendency to push Canada around.
“It’s the old proverb that you kill the chicken to scare the monkey,” he said. “So they beat Canada up and they tell the other countries that, ‘you dare to criticize us, here’s what will be happening to you.’ So we have to be conscious of that.”
Saint-Jacques said China probably won’t want Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to attend the conference, since Chinese President Xi Jinping won’t be there. Xi would have attended if the summit had taken place on his home turf, and he did give a speech at the virtual event a year ago.
But Trudeau is going, and he’s slated to speak at the opening ceremonies along with UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
No other world leaders are expected. China only invited environment ministers, a move some nature groups say is designed to underplay the importance of the meeting.
Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said it’s not typical for nature talks to feature a leaders’ summit, and he noted that Canada had only four months to organize this event. He said that inviting leaders was “something we contemplated,” but by the time organizers were pondering the idea, it was too late.
“Leaders’ schedules around the world were already very packed and we didn’t get a super good response to it,” he said.
Former Canadian environment minister Catherine McKenna said there is a lot of concern that a deal is less likely to be reached without world leaders being on site to add pressure.
“It’s a challenge, because what you want is leaders to come and say we need to get a deal and say that clearly to their negotiators,” she said.
“Often negotiators just continue negotiating forever,” McKenna said, and a push from the top can be important.
“I don’t know how it is going to play out,” she said. “I know people are very concerned right now.”
She added that there is no doubt the strains between Canada and China will add to the difficulty of getting a deal. But she said they have to set aside the friction because the planet cannot wait.
“There is no solution to the climate crisis, to the biodiversity crisis, without working with China,” she said. “And that’s challenging. But I think you can work on those issues while still … standing firm on other issues like human rights and trade.”
Both McKenna and Saint-Jacques said Canada and China have had close ties on environmental issues for decades.
Saint-Jacques said Canadian development assistance in China helped lead to the creation of its environment ministry. The two countries have had an environmental framework agreement in place since 1998, and Parks Canada has helped China develop its new network of national parks.
“I would say that if China is honest, they will recognize that Canada has been very helpful,” Saint-Jacques said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.
UPEI students offered $1,500 to leave residence during Canada Games – CBC.ca
Some UPEI students are earning extra money during the mid-semester break this year, simply by packing up and leaving campus.
The 2023 Canada Winter Games Host Society offered $1,500 each to students living in Andrew Hall if they give up their residence rooms to make space for arriving athletes.
The students have to leave a few days before the break starts, on Feb. 17, and can return March 7. They also had to give up their meal plan for the duration.
Many athletes are staying at UPEI’s new 260-bed residence, built to meet accommodation requirements for the Games’ temporary athlete village.
But Wayne Carew, chair of the Games, said there are 120 more athletes coming than originally planned.
“We ended up getting 44 rooms [in Andrew Hall] and that’s great,” said Carew.
He said the athletes staying at UPEI “are going to have a wild experience on the campus of the beautiful University of Prince Edward Island.”
Carew said the costs of doing this are a “lot cheaper” than arranging accommodations elsewhere. But he said the main reason is to provide all athletes the same, “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
“Where they live, the food and the camaraderie and the experience of a lifetime: that’s what they’ll remember in 20 years’ time about P.E.I.,” he said.
‘Pretty good deal’
Some students were eager to take the organizers up on their offer.
“I’m going away to Florida during the two-week break anyways. So I was like, ‘May as well let them use my room then,'” said Hannah Somers.
“It’s $1,500. Pretty nice,” said Benji Dueck, who agreed to vacate the room with his roommate. “We’re moving out, living with a friend in the city. So, sounds like a pretty good deal to me.”
As part of the agreement, the students had to clear out their rooms. Canada Games organizers made arrangements so students could store their belongings.
But not all students thought it was a good deal.
“I’m not giving up my spot in Andrew Hall for $1,500,” said Maria de Torres. “It’s just too hard to pack up. It’s just too hectic. And since I’m an international student, I got a lot [of things] right now.”
Shelby Dyment is also staying in Andrew Hall. Dyment said she and her roommate are working as residence life assistants during the mid-semester break and she’s also doing directed study, so she has to stay on campus.
“There’s a lot of people doing it. It’s just for our situation it just wasn’t working for what we were doing,” she said.
In a statement, UPEI said that enough students had accepted the offer to host all the athletes.
It said the host society made all the arrangements with the students, including paying for their incentives and arranging for storage.
Organizers expect about 3,600 athletes, coaches and officials to participate in the Games. The event will run from Feb. 18 to March 5.
Germany won't be a 'party to the war' amid tanks exports to Ukraine: Ambassador – CTV News
The German ambassador to Canada says Germany will not become “a party to the conflict” in Ukraine, despite it and several other countries announcing they’ll answer President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s pleas for tanks, possibly increasing the risk of Russian escalation.
Sabine Sparwasser said it’s a “real priority” for Germany to support Ukraine, but that it’s important to be in “lockstep” coordination with other allied countries.
“There is a clear line for Germany,” she told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday. “We do want not want to be a party to the conflict.”
“We want to support, we want to do everything we can, but we, and NATO, do not want to be a party to the war,” she also said. “That’s I think, the line we’re trying to follow.”
Defence Minister Anita Anand announced this week Canada will send four Leopard 2 battle tanks — with the possibility of more in the future — to Ukraine, along with Canadian Armed Forces members to train Ukrainian soldiers on how to use them.
Canada first needed permission from Berlin to re-export any of its 82 German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. After a meeting of 50 defence leaders in Germany earlier this month, it was unclear whether Germany would give the green light.
But following what German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called “intensive consultations,” Germany announced on Jan. 25 it would send tanks to Ukraine, and the following day, Canada followed suit. It is now joining several other countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Poland, which are sending several dozen tanks to Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week the tanks would allow Ukraine to “significantly strengthen their combat capabilities.”
“It demonstrates also the unit and the resolve of NATO allies in partners in providing support to Ukraine,” he said.
Meanwhile Sparwasser said Germany is “walking that fine line” of avoiding steps that could prompt escalation from Russia, while supporting Ukraine, and staying out of the war themselves.
“I think it’s very important to see that Germany is very determined and has a real priority in supporting Ukraine in its struggle for freedom and sovereignty,” Sparwasser said. “But we also put a high priority on going it together with our friends and allies.”
Sparwasser said despite warnings from Russia that sending tanks to Ukraine will cause an escalation, Germany is within international law — specifically Article 51 of the United Nations Charter — to provide support to Ukraine.
“Ukraine is under attack has the right to self defence, and other nations can come in and provide Ukraine with the means to defend itself,” Sparwasser said. “So in international law terms, this is a very clear cut case.”
She added that considering “Russia doesn’t respect international law,” it’s a more impactful deterrent to Russia, ahead of an expected spring offensive, to see several countries come together in support of Ukraine.
With files from the Associated Press
COVID: Canada retaining Evusheld – CTV News
While Health Canada says it is “aware” of the U.S. decision to withdraw the emergency use of Evusheld, a drug by AstraZeneca used to help prevent COVID-19 infection— the agency is maintaining its approval, citing the differences in variant circulation between Canada and the U.S.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Jan. 26 that its emergency use authorization of the drug was pulled due to its inefficacy in treating “certain” COVID-19 variants.
The FDA stated in a release on its website that as the XBB.1.5. variant, nicknamed “Kraken”, is making up the majority of cases in the country, the use of Evusheld is “not expected to provide protection” and therefore not worth exposing the public to possible side effects of the drug, like allergic reactions.
In an email to CTVNews.ca, Health Canada said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pulled the drug as the main variant of concern in the U.S. is XBB.1.5.
“Dominant variants in the [U.S.] may be different from those circulating in Canada,” the federal agency said in an email. “The most recent epidemiological data in Canada (as of January 1, 2023) indicate that BA.5 (Omicron) subvariants continue to account for more than 89 per cent of reported cases.”
On Jan. 6 the FDA said in press release that certain variants are not neutralized by Evusheld and cautioned people who are exposed to XBB.1.5. On Jan. 26, the FDA then updated its website by saying it would be limiting the use of Evusheld.
“Evusheld is not currently authorized for use in the U.S. until further notice by the Agency,” the FDA website states.
On Jan. 17, Health Canada issued a “risk communication” on Evusheld, explaining how it may not be effective against certain Omicron subvariants when used as a preventative measure or treatment for COVID-19.
“Decisions regarding the use of EVUSHELD should take into consideration what is known about the characteristics of the circulating COVID-19 variants, including geographical prevalence and individual exposure,” Health Canada said in an email.
Health Canada says Evusheld does neutralize against Omicron subvariant BA.2, which according to the agency, is the dominant variant in many communities in Canada.
The drug was introduced for prevention measures specifically for people who have weaker immune systems and are unlikely to be protected by a COVID-19 vaccine. It can only be given to people 12 years and older.
“EVUSHELD is not a substitute for vaccination in individuals for whom COVID-19 vaccination is recommended,” the agency’s website reads.
Health Canada says no drug, including Evusheld, is a substitute for vaccination.
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