Canada could undermine climate talks

The Yukon's federal Green Party candidate will travel to Durban, South Africa, later this week to attend the United Nations climate change summit that started on Monday.

The Yukon’s federal Green Party candidate will travel to Durban, South Africa, later this week to attend the United Nations climate change summit that started on Monday.

There, representatives from 192 countries are trying to negotiate a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Canada’s Conservative government has the dubious distinction of having won the “colossal fossil” award from environmentalists at successive climate talks, for dithering at best, and being obstructive at worst.

And it may well be up for another prize. The Canadian government plans to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol early next month, according to an unsourced report by CTV News.

“We’re not playing fair, and as a Canadian, I’m concerned because I’ve always believed as Canadians we’d do the right thing,” said John Streicker, a Whitehorse climate scientist who has stood for the Greens in two federal elections and is now the party’s president.

“If you’re going to negotiate in good faith, you need to disclose if you have big moves coming.”

A new, binding agreement would depend upon all countries reaching consensus. Rumours of Canada’s plan to exit Kyoto – which Environment Minister Peter Kent refuses to confirm or deny – may give other countries cover to cop out, said Streicker.

“Once a country pulls out, other countries can pull out.”

The Kyoto Protocol called on countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels. Instead, Canada’s emissions have soared, thanks to inaction by successive Liberal and Conservative governments, said Streicker.

Canada now aims to drop carbon emissions 20 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. That new baseline is advantageous because it ignores a 30 per cent rise in emissions over the intervening 15 years, said Streicker.

“It’s become a shell game for numbers,” he said.

The Kyoto Protocol was supposed to be a binding deal. But it didn’t include penalties for scofflaws – that was supposed to be hashed out in a future agreement.

That could help explain a Canadian withdrawal from Kyoto. Staying in could result in hefty fines, in the form of emissions credits.

Andrew Leach, a University of Alberta economics professor who blogs about climate issues, compares this to a student dropping out of class before he fails.

Canada’s not the only country playing hardball at the climate talks. Japan, Russia, and other industrialized powers want a new deal that would include big, developing nations like China, which were excluded from Kyoto.

Ultimately, if Canada wants to get serious about lowering emissions, it will need to put a price on carbon – either through a tax, or a cap and trade system, said Streicker.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is opposed to any such measure. They should look to British Columbia, said Streicker.

The province has a carbon tax, “and their economy didn’t fall apart,” said Streicker.

The same goes for Sweden, which introduced a carbon tax 20 years ago. Australia plans to introduce a carbon tax next year.

Few seem optimistic about a new, binding deal being brokered at Durban, which is the last such meeting before Kyoto expires. An agreement could always be reached at a later date, but Streicker warned against merely trying to kick the can further down the road.

“What if we go ask for another two years – then, another two years? And another two years?” asked Streicker. He noted that, before Durban, leaders tried to craft a new deal at Copenhagen, and then Cancun.

Canada produces just two per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, and contains approximately half a per cent of the global population. But that doesn’t mean our country can’t play a constructive role at climate talks, said Streicker.

“There’s a lot of empty rhetoric in our commitments. I’d like to see us roll up our shirtsleeves a bit,” he said. “We’re gutting our international reputation right now.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com

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