When China’s Global Times wanted to know why Canada “shocked the world” by refusing to honour its Kyoto Accord commitment to cut greenhouse gas emission below 1990 levels, they went to SFU’s Adaptation to Climate Change Team’s (ACT) executive director Deborah Harford here in Vancouver.

The Times is published under the People’s Daily Group, focuses on international issues and has a combined English-Chinese circulation of 1.7 million. The English language edition of the popular Beijing tabloid was launched in 2009.

The interview, published in a Q&A format, featured ACT’s critique of the challenges Canada faces in trying lower its footprint. Ms. Harford, who has guided ACT’s efforts to examine federal and provincial policy on adaptation to climate change in areas such as biodiversity, energy, extreme weather and water, presented a frank but even-handed commentary that explains Canada’s emissions about-face.

Ms. Harford cited Canadians’ widespread reluctance to pay the high cost of making the transition from an economy dependent on fossil fuels, especially after weathering two recessions in the past decade. She further explained that many Canadians view the Kyoto Accord as unfair because developing countries were excluded from the protocol. Compounding the challenge: Canada faced four national elections through the same period featuring a succession of minority governments, so there was no strong leadership to make the transition.

“Voters were also confused and misled,” she pointed out, “by various effective efforts on the part of climate changes deniers to derail progress.”

At the same time, Ms. Harford explained, the major opportunity for economic expansion lay in the development of the controversial, emission-heavy Athabaska oilsands, which, while supported by Ottawa, can only increase Canada’s carbon footprint.

Careful to present a balanced perspective, Ms. Harford pointed to various initiatives by individual provinces and cities, such as British Columbia’s plan to reduce greenhouse gases by 33 per cent by 2020 that will help Canada reduce its emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels.

Ms. Harford termed the global effort to reduce emissions as the “Tragedy of the Commons”. As no single nation is responsible, no one is responsible, and the world continues to pollute. “Ultimately, all of humanity, through their leaders, will have to cooperate as one overall unit if we are to reduce emissions and head off a catastrophe, she said.”

Ms. Harford reminded the Times that in the period between 1990 and 2009, China’s carbon footprint increased by more than 200 per cent, while Canada’s increased 20 per cent, underscoring the futility of pointing fingers and the importance of working together.

Ms. Harford concluded that response to climate change is a matter of adaptation as well as lower emissions, as no matter how well governments work together, the impacts of climate change will continue to get worse before they get better.

For example, in ocean cities such as Vancouver, one important impact of climate change is rising sea level caused by polar ice melt. The threat of devastation is real: The suburban city of Richmond could lose as much as 91 per cent of its land mass in the next 300 years. ACT is a member of the Coastal Cities at Risk Team and is sponsoring a panel discussion called Climate Change and Metro Vancouver: Coastal Impact on Cities on March 8, 2012 from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. at SFU Harbour Centre’s Segal Centre.

The complete interview is available online.