In a CTV interview, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's environment minister Leona Aglukkaq seemed reluctant to admit that climate change was a scientifically proven reality.
Mike De Souza writes for Postmedia News, that "when asked whether the ice was melting in the Arctic, considered by climate scientists to be part of the evidence of global warming, Aglukkaq said there may or may not be changes underway."
During the interview, which was aired during CTV's daily political program Power Play, host Don Martin brought up the issue of disappearing arctic sea ice. Aglukkaq, who represents the riding of Nunavut in Parliament, responded that people like her in the north were "seeing those changes every day, or no changes, what have you."
She also said that "there was a report that came out yesterday, I have not received a copy of that but there's always a debate around science and what's changing."
When Martin asked her directly whether she was personally seeing evidence of climate change in the north, Aglukkaq once again refused to give an unambiguous answer, mentioning that the north had "had a particularly bad summer" with snow, and saying that it was "debatable."
Martin observed that what Aglukkaq was describing meant "changing climate, if not climate change," to which she laughed and said: "But it's also important to look at science and use science to make our decisions as best as we can and but to also continue to work with people in the north."
Minister Aglukkaq seemed reluctant to even say the words "climate change," stopping short of using the term when talking about a conference in Norway of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutants.
"I was in Oslo, just recently at the climate ch- ah climate conference, ah environment ministers conference, sorry," she said.
De Souza notes that other members of Harper's cabinet have "openly questioned scientific evidence about climate change," including Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. In an April interview, Oliver suggested that that scientists had "recently told us that our fears (about climate change) were exaggerated." He was unable to name said scientists or cite any of their research at the time.
Minister Aglukkaq's office did not initially provide comment on her interview. But following the Postmedia News story on Aglukkaq's comments, spokeswoman Amanda Gordon emailed saying that "Minister Aglukkaq was not casting doubt on climate change."
"Is it possible to correct the story?" Gordon asked Postmedia News.
Gordon also said that the CTV interview was conducted last month, and that Aglukkaq's comments were related to research published by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre. As De Souza writes, "this research confirmed the downward trend in summer Arctic sea ice but did not suggest there was any debate about what was happening."
Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for September 13, 2013 was 5.10 million square kilometers (1.97 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1981 to 2010 median extent for that day. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Sea Ice Index data. About the data
Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
Like Aglukkaq's own comments, her office's response did not provide any specific views on climate change. "Scientific debate regarding our understanding of climate change and its effects on Canada, particularly the North, is what Minister Aglukkaq was referencing," Gordon wrote.
De Souza writes that "Aglukkaq's office has failed to respond directly to questions from Postmedia News asking whether she believes scientific evidence justifies further action to stop the causes of climate change and adapt to its impacts" since her appointment in June.
De Souza notes that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a coalition of governments and scientists approved by Harper, has said in its first published report that "human influence has been detected in the warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes."
The report said that human activity, including deforestation and GHG emissions released by fossil fuels, have "very likely contributed to Arctic sea ice loss since 1979."
Aglukkaq's own department, Environment Canada, has predicted average global increases in temperature of at least two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2050.
De Souza draws attention to internal briefing notes from 2012 in which Environment Canada calls climate change "the most serious environmental issue facing the world today and carries with it significant impacts on human health and safety, the economy, natural resources, and ecosystems in Canada and throughout the world."
Some months ago, Aglukkaq, then health minister, took over as chairman of the eight-nation Arctic Council and signed a statement expressing an "urgent need" to reach a legally-binding deal to prevent human activity from further exacerbating global warming.
Image Credit: MaRS Discovery District / Flickr