By Climatico Director: Paige Andrews
On Monday, Environment Minister Peter Kent announced that Canada “will not make a second commitment to Kyoto.” In addition, Canada will no longer take steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol and may begin to formally withdraw from the agreement next month. In place of the Protocol, Canada’s goal is for “a new international agreement, eventually binding, which would include all the major developed and developing emitters.”
Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol would make it the first nation to do so after its ratification. Although Kyoto provisions are set to expire at the end of 2012, this action on the part of Canada would demonstrate a symbolic blow to the UN climate process which has already been weakened by Party divisions.
The fate of Kyoto, the only legally binding accord that specifies reductions in greenhouse gases, has proven to be the source of much tension at the annual climate talks taking place through next week in Durban, South Africa.
Canada’s announcement angered poor nations who say that rich nations are reneging on pledges made when the protocol was signed 14 years ago.
“For countries that are historically responsible for the problem to explicitly back out would undermine the process and the credibility of what we are trying to do,” stated Seyni Nafo, spokesman for the Africa Group in Durban. “How are we to going to ask India and China to do more when Canada is saying, ‘OK, we’re checking out of the Kyoto Protocol?”
Since the election of Conservative Stephen Harper as Canada’s Prime Minister in 2006, Canada’s government has demonstrated weakening support for binding emissions reductions, stating that it had no intention of complying with Kyoto and arguing that it was too ambitious and not applied fairly.
“The Canadian government is looking for every escape possible to avoid the consequences of inaction in the face of dangerous climate change and to ensure they can expand the tar sands as projected,” said Hannah McKinnon of Climate Action Network Canada.
Canada’s announcement signifies a growing trend away from any agreement that fails to include big polluters such as the United States and China. In addition to Canada’s potential withdrawal, Japan and Russia have similarly confirmed that they will not renew their commitment to Kyoto and the European Union, a consistent supporter of the Protocol, has hinted that its continued support may be conditional.
Developed countries are not alone in their hesitation about the Protocol. China, the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitter, has also refused to commit to new binding targets, arguing that it wants to see developed countries to act first and follow through with their commitments.
“If we cannot get a decision for the future of the second commitment period, the whole international system on climate change will be placed in peril,” China’s lead negotiator Su Wei told news agencies. “If the Kyoto Protocol is devoid of any further commitment period, the Kyoto Protocol itself will be dead.”
The timing of Canada’s announcement on Day 1 of COP17 in Durban has led to questions about Canada’s role and credibility in the negotiations, as well as its ability to influence international policy. Should other countries follow Canada’s lead, the talks in Durban may result in a series of voluntary pledges, rather than a legally-binding international agreement.