Vancouver experts lament Canada’s "climate anarchy"
Environmental experts say it's "deeply embarrassing" that Ottawa is mulling withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.
As the international community kicked off the UN climate change summit today in Durban, South Africa, local environmentalists in Vancouver expressed their disappointment at Canada's current position on the Kyoto Protocol.
Earlier, Environment Minister Peter Kent had announced that pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol is “an option” the Canadian government is considering.
“It’s very frustrating from an environmental perspective,” said Matt Horne, Climate Change Director at the Pembina Institute.
“It sends a pretty strong signal that Canada is not serious about the international process being successful. It certainly is not going to be a big positive checkmark on our international reputation.”
A report last night from CTV News revealed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his administration intend to withdraw formally from the protocol, but said they will wait until late December to announce it – after the Durban conference is over.
During a press conference this morning announcing the government’s commitment to funding Canada’s clean air program, Kent repeatedly refused to comment on the possibility of a formal Kyoto withdrawal.
"We're going to Durban to work in common cause with the other parties to the convention to advance a new climate change agreement, binding eventually, which will engage all emitters in both the developed and the developing countries," he said.
The Kyoto Protocol, the first legally-binding international agreement to set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, has been called “unfair” by Minister Kent, who is against the exclusion of developing countries like China and India.
While the decision to pull out completely has not been officially confirmed, Canada has already made it clear that the country will not be signing on for new commitments after the first phase of the agreement expires at the end of 2012. Instead, Canada – and a number of other countries including Russia, Japan and the United States – are said to be pushing to delay a new agreement until 2015.
“If we don’t find a way of extending Kyoto, it basically means throwing out all the architecture that’s been built in climate negotiations over the last 15 years. And you’re left with ‘climate anarchy’, as I’ve seen it described,” said Horne.
“If they just throw targets out there and don’t have the systems in place to make sure we meet them, they probably aren’t going to be met.”
Canada has admittedly failed at reaching its original target of a 6 per cent reduction of carbon emissions from 1990 levels. In fact, some reports say by 2009 Canada’s emissions had actually risen to 34 per cent above the target.
Such increasingly discouraging news about Canada’s place in the international climate change struggle has been met with angry responses from activists and environmental groups across the country. But some say the latest developments simply meet their expectations when it comes to the federal government’s policy.
“In some sense, it doesn’t surprise me,” said Tom Green, an ecological economist and Liu Scholar at the University of British Columbia.
“Nothing the Conservatives have done so far shows that they understand climate change to be a serious issue or that they have any intent of bringing down our emissions. Whether or not they rip up Kyoto, the way they’re pushing ahead with the tar sands is, in effect, ripping up Kyoto.”
Green said the administration’s stance on climate change is particularly disappointing given our geography – as an Arctic nation Canada is especially vulnerable to the impacts of global warming. He explained that the country’s reputation would continue to suffer, largely because of the corporate interests that have such a visible influence on Canadian policy.
“It’s deeply embarrassing, but it seems to be just what the Harper regime is focused on – the bottom line of the tar sands and the fossil fuel lobby,” said Green.
Other responses to Kyoto rumours
Graham Saul, Executive Director of Climate Action Network Canada, said in a news conference today that it would be “cowardly” for the country to back out of Kyoto on the rumoured date of December 23, while Canadians are focused on the holidays.
“This news is going to be a scandal at the UN negotiations because people are expecting to sit down and have a negotiation with Canada in good faith on the future of the Kyoto protocol over the next two weeks, and now it's become clear that they were intending to withdraw on Dec. 23,” said Saul.
Canada was also recognized as the Climate Action Network’s shameful “Fossil of the Day”, not just for its position on Kyoto but also for insulting the least developed countries by insisting on “playing hardball” and not letting them get away with a free pass on targets. According to Horne, this is a pretty fair criticism.
“If you’re going to go into a negotiation, you’ve got to go into that negotiation with some flexibility. And basically kick things off with statements that are clearly going to alienate a good chunk of the negotiating countries that are there is not a good way to start things,” he said.
This morning, Greenpeace Canada created a scene on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, using thousands of LED lights to spell out the words “Climate Fail”. The display was intended as a message to the Conservative government that they must step up and commit to action on climate change.
“The Harper government continues to fail Canadians and the world on the most urgent issue of our time,” said Christy Ferguson of the Greenpeace climate and energy unit. “We need to turn away from the tar sands and make Canada a win on climate change.”
These critical references to the Alberta tar sands come just a day after yet another report accused the British government of secretly supporting the “dirty” Canadian oil.
With all of the bad press and rumours circulating, Canada does not appear to be in a very good position as climate change talks get underway in Durban.
“You couldn’t imagine a much more negative launching point,” said Horne.
Environmentalists and organizations like the Pembina Institute are doubtful that a positive resolution or a new agreement will come out of this year’s summit, but they will certainly be keeping a watchful eye on events as they unfold during over the next two weeks.