Durban Day 2: Climate Talks Further Plagued By Canadian Intransigence
November 29, 2011

Durban Day 2: Climate Talks Further Plagued By Canadian Intransigence

In only the second day of talks at the 2011 UN climate conference in Durban,, another ominous development has taken center stage, further heightening tensions and fears of another flop similar to the 2009 Copenhagen summit.

After signaling for some time that they would take a harder, more conservative position in upcoming negotiations, it now seems probable that Canadian leaders may pull out of the Kyoto protocol altogether. Moreover, inside sources indicate that they may decline participation in a Kyoto-replacement treaty, which representatives from the EU and a number of smaller nations had hoped to have in place as early as next year.

While Canadian officials have not yet unequivocally stated their position, environmental minister Peter Kent told the press Monday afternoon that “Kyoto is the past”. The 15-year multinational agreement enacted in 1997 was designed to curb global carbon emissions and was initially hailed by many as one of the greatest examples of international cooperation in modern history.

However, Canada´s new conservative government has a less rosy vision of the 1997 agreement. Speaking with reporters on the opening day of the Durban talks, Kent referred to Canada´s participation in the first Kyoto Protocol as one of the previous Liberal government℠s “greatest blunders”, noting with a measure of cynicism that the former administration was fully aware that they would not be able to adhere to the agreement´s requirements.

Still, despite much speculation Canadian representatives have insisted that they will not make any official announcements this week regarding whether or not they will participate in a new treaty. Canadian news networks have reported that they will make their position public sometime next month before Christmas.

Unsurprisingly, those representative from countries more adamantly committed to international climate legislation have expressed disappointment with Canada´s stance. Tasneem Essop, head of the delegation for the environmental group WWF, was dismayed but not surprised by Canada´s position.

“Canada has been very clear that it would not be taking on a second commitment period,” he stated. “But abandoning the first commitment period would mean that Canada will have absolutely no integrity in the international arena.”

“I believe that there will be a backlash against Canada,” he added later in a telephone conversation with the press. “The NGOs are very angry about this news, and Canada will have to do a lot of hard work to regain credibility.”

Canadian officials have also taken flak from domestic critics. Hannah McKinnon of Climate Action Network Canada hinted that the UN should collectively ostracize Canada from the talks altogether.

“Countries should be asking themselves why Canada is sitting at the Kyoto negotiating table with a secret plan to formally withdraw from the protocol mere weeks after the talks end”, she stated.  “This move is a slap in the face to the international community ... Shame on Canada.”

Yet Canada is by no means alone in its skepticism Kyoto-like climate legislation. In fact, a decision to formally opt out of the agreement would put them in the ranks of nations like Russia, Japan and the US who have either eschewed restrictive future legislation altogether or are canvassing for a longer timeframe and much more flexible regulations.

Moreover, a rejection of Kyoto and similar replacement treaties on the part of Canadian officials is not tantamount to a wholesale rejection emission-control mechanisms or climate legislation altogether. In fact, the current conservative government has insisted that it supports the carbon-reduction targets agreed to in 2009.

“Our commitment is to Copenhagen,” said Mr. Kent, “and to a realistic plan to reduce greenhouse gases in alignment with our neighbors and closest trading partners with whom we have very integrated economies to reduce our greenhouse gases on a continental basis.”

Smaller nations participating in the UN talks have traditionally insisted that the wealthier industrialized economies should take the lion´s share of fiscal responsibility for climate change by subsidizing the costs of making developing economies more green. However, like Russia, the US, and Japan, Canada has been reluctant to acquiesce entirely to this view. Perhaps even more importantly, Canada and its wealthier counterparts have repeatedly expressed skepticism at any agreement that does not include China, India and Brazil, three of the world´s most populous and heavily polluting nations. Kent stated over the weekend that Canada would not take part in any agreement that did not include these rapidly industrializing states.

“We need a new agreement, a post-Kyoto agreement, that includes all of the major emitting countries, whether they be developed countries or developing countries,” Kent told the press.

“There is an urgency to this. We don´t need a binding convention - what we need now is action and a mandate to work on an eventual binding convention.”


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