By: Alexis Kirkman
“Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past,” stated Peter Kent, Canada’s Minister of Environment.
On Monday December 12, Kent announced that Canada would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol shortly after returning from South Africa. The decision by Canada’s Conservative Party government has long been expected, as the Conservative government has never disguised its disdain for the treaty. Kent cited numerous reasons for the country’s withdrawal, namely the possibility of huge fines for Canada’s failure to meet emissions targets. Kent said that Canada’s failure to meet the targets under Kyoto would cost Canada $14 billion in penalties, or $1,600 from every Canadian family.
Furthermore, extreme measures would be required by Canada’s population under the Kyoto agreement. Kent said, “To meet the targets for 2012 would be the equivalent of either removing every car, truck
, AV, tractor, ambulance, police car and vehicle of every kind from Canadian roads or closing down the entire farming and agricultural sector and cutting off heat to every home, office, hospital, factory, and building in Canada.”
Kent stated that despite this cost, greenhouse gas emissions would continue to rise, as the world’s largest polluters, the United States, China, and India, were not covered by the Kyoto agreement. The Kyoto protocol, a 1997 treaty to reduce greenhouse has emissions, has been widely criticized for its failure to require developing countries like Brazil, China, and India to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Canada declared four years ago that it did not intend to meet its existing Kyoto commitments of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 6%, and instead its annual emissions have risen by about a third since 1990.
The Conservative government has called Canada’s ratification of Kyoto a legacy of an incompetent Liberal government, and has further noted that the former Liberal Party had agreed to the treaty “without any regard as to how it would be fulfilled” or intention of meeting its targets.
Kent criticized the Kyoto Protocol saying that Canada produces “barely 2 percent” of global emissions and the Kyoto Protocol itself presently covers only 13% of global emissions. Kent stated that Canada would work toward developing an agreement that includes targets for developing nations, adding, “What we have to look at is all major emitters.” Kent insisted that Canada is committed to addressing climate change in a fair way that covers all nations.
Conversely, the Conservative government does not want to hurt Canada’s large oil sands industry, which is the fasting growing source of greenhouse cases in the country and the third-largest oil reserves in the world. Canada’s withdrawal from Kyoto has been associated with former President George W. Bush’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 2001.
The Canadian economy and U.S. economy are integrated, with Canada being the largest supplier of oil and case to the United States, sending 75% of its exports to the U.S. each month. Bush’s move in 2001 gave U.S. competitors an unfair advantage and continuing to adhere to its targets would severely hinder the Canadian gross domestic product.
Paul Heinbecker, a top diplomat who aided in Canada’s accession negotiations, stated, “In my judgment the person who really torpedoed this whole enterprise was George Bush. Had the Americans participated…by now there would be enormous pressure on the Chinese and the Indians to be accepting Targets.”
Canada’s decision to withdraw has been condemned at home and abroad as “irresponsible” and “reckless”. Kent has been criticized as making extreme misrepresentations and misstating the figures. In fact, Matt Horne, the director of climate change at the Pembina Institute, said the financial penalties would have been must less, around $6 billion, with others stating there would have been no penalties for Canada under Kyoto. Canadian media has described the announcement as “shameful” and a “total abdication of our responsibilities,” and “more concerned about protecting polluters than people.”
China, which agreed for the first time to legal limits on its emissions, criticized Canada’s decision as “preposterous” in its state media and called it “an excuse to shirk responsibility”. A UK government spokesman said, “It’s true that taking action to reduce emissions requires substantial financial investment but is far less expensive than the cost of inaction.”
Under Kyoto, Canada must formally give notice of its intention to withdraw by the end of this year or else face penalties after 2012 and Kent indicated Canada’s intention to do so.
Canada’s announcement came at an interesting time, just hours after returning from a United Nations conference in Durban, South Africa aimed at reaching a new climate change agreement to come into effect in 2020. The 200 nations represented at the conference agreed to begin a long-term process of negotiating a new treaty, but without resolving the key question of whether its requirements will apply equally to all countries. At the conference Canada was given the “colossal fossil” award for its “reckless arrogance”. Christiana Figueres, UN climate chief, said, “I regret Canada’s withdrawal and am surprised over its timing.”
Canada’s withdrawal also raises several questions about both the future of the Kyoto Protocol and the success of the future treaty initiated at Durban. In reality, the Kyoto Protocol has very few enforcement mechanisms beyond international diplomatic censure, but many fear that Canada’s decision will jeopardize any gains made at the Durban meeting.
Kent assured the world that Canada is still interested in negotiating a new deal as long as it covers all major polluters. Whether other nations are interested in talking to Canada is another matter. Although many no longer see Canada as trustworthy, many believe that Canada is still bound by what they agreed to in Durban and will still partake in working towards a new treaty.
Christiana Figueres said, “Canada has a moral obligation to itself and future generations to lead the global effort.”