Skip to content

Canada condemned for quitting Kyoto

Canada further damaged its international reputation during this month's climate talks in South Africa, says John Streicker, the Yukon's Green Party candidate in the 2011 federal election.

Canada further damaged its international reputation during this month’s climate talks in South Africa, says John Streicker, the Yukon’s Green Party candidate in the 2011 federal election.

“We weren’t working co-operatively with the other countries,” said Streicker, who attended the Durban conference as an observer with the Global Greens.

“We weren’t taking on our responsibility,” he said in a telephone interview. “And all along we were planning to pull out.”

He was referring to Environment Minister Peter Kent’s announcement on Sunday that Canada is quitting the Kyoto Protocol.

That agreement, signed in 1997, committed Canada to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by six per cent from 1990 levels by 2012. The country’s emissions have instead soared by 30 per cent.

Staying in Kyoto would result in Canada paying $14 billion, said Kent. That’s the equivalent of $1,400 for every resident.

Streicker disputes this. Canada’s penalty needn’t be paid through buying carbon credits - it could also be met by lowering emissions, he said.

And just how much Canada owes has yet to be determined because it would be based, in part, on the country’s undecided future emissions targets, said Streicker.

Kent’s reasoning also ignores the price Canada will pay for ignoring climate change, said Streicker.

In September, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy warned that climate change could cost Canada billions each year, starting as early as 2020. The amount is expected to grow from $5 billion in 2020 to $43 billion by 2050.

The first step would be to put a price on carbon - either through a tax or a cap-and-trade system, said Streicker.

But there’s little appetite in Canada’s Conservative government to pursue these goals without action from the United States first. And it looks unlikely that America will move on a carbon-cutting plan soon.

The Durban conference, sponsored by the United Nations, was a success of sorts, in that 194 countries agreed to work at creating a successor to Kyoto by 2015 at the earliest and 2020 at the latest.

Delegates also agreed to create a Green climate fund. By 2020, the fund is supposed to have received $100 billion to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

But much remains to be decided on how this fund would work and who pays for what.

That’s all little thanks to Canada, said Streicker. Once again, global environmentalists awarded Canada with the Colossal Fossil prize for its apparent refusal to compromise at the climate talks.

And India’s environment minister won a standing ovation from delegates when she singled out Canada in a speech.

“I was astonished and disturbed by the comments of my colleague from Canada,” Jayanthi Natarajan said on Friday, according to a Times of India report.

“I am disturbed to find that a legally binding protocol to the convention, negotiated just 14 years ago is now being junked in a cavalier manner. Countries which had signed and ratified it are walking away without even a polite goodbye.”

Kent later called the comment an “overreaction.”

Streicker spoke to Christiana Figueres, a United Nations official, at the conference. “We asked her what Minister Kent told her,” he said. “And Minister Kent told her he guaranteed that Canada was not going to pull out of Kyoto.”

Kent told reporters that he didn’t want to quit Kyoto at the conference, lest it put a drag on talks.

The biggest disputes at Durban had to do with how much heavy lifting the big, developing economies ought to do in reducing global carbon emissions.

Most of the carbon in the atmosphere is a legacy of rich, developed countries. But Brazil, South Africa, India and China are all becoming big contributors today.

Kyoto didn’t require big, developing countries to meet emissions targets. And the United States never ratified the treaty. The successor deal is hoped to fix this.

Kent criticized developing countries at the conference for their reluctance to accept binding targets. But when Streicker spoke to Xie Zhenhua, the head of the Chinese delegation, he wasn’t left with that impression.

“He said to me that when China makes a commitment, it will implement it. The suggestion was that Canada lacks credibility,” said Streicker.

“It was tough to be a Canadian and be there. I don’t think Canadians understand how damaging this round of talks was to our international reputation.

“One country has failed to even make an attempt to live up to its target, and that’s Canada. Every other country has made it, or has made significant strides towards making their targets.

“The rest of the world is starting to shift their energy economy, and we’ll be the ones left in the dark.”

Contact John Thompson at