This article is cross-posted from Edmonton’s See magazine.
CANCUN, Mexico — Canada stood out at the UN climate meetings last week for its lack of leadership. Canada received its fourth Fossil of the Day award on Friday Dec. 3 for trying to remove itself from any legally binding emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 agreement that is the world’s only binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Canada’s position on Kyoto raises worries about the international community’s ability to reach an agreement in Cancun.
During a Thursday press briefing, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiania Figueres, informed journalists that Canada is trying to block an agreement on the Kyoto Protocol. I had met and spoken with our lead negotiator who explained that no one is trying to kill Kyoto. Was the executive secretary misinformed? Was our lead negotiator misleading us?
It turns out that both the executive secretary and Canada’s lead negotiator are right. Canada does not want to abandon the Kyoto Protocol, so long as it does not have emission reduction targets. In the words of one organizer in Cancun, Canada is not trying to kill the Kyoto Protocol, but we are trying to put it in a coma.
“Canada’s greenhouse gas pollution is soaring and instead of doing anything to reduce it, we are trying to get in the way of over 180 countries that recognize the urgency in tracking action,” says Steven Guilbeault from Equiterre. Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have climbed by 30 per cent since 1990.
But reducing greenhouse gas pollution is only one significant aspect of the Kyoto Protocol. In Cancun, almost every other negotiating issue is hinged on the extension of a legally binding mandate for developed countries.
Leela Raina, a climate campaigner from India, explains the impact of Canada’s fall back from Kyoto. “Canada’s position on Kyoto impacts the trust in the negotiations. If you have already signed on to a document internationally and you are still not following those commitments, it’s a big signal to other countries that you are not serious about your word.”
The absence of an extended legal mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions puts the ability of the conference to reach a balanced package at risk. The success of the Kyoto Protocol impacts other negotiating issues in Cancun that are essential, including climate finance and adaptation.
Canada has announced instead its hope to anchor pledges under the Copenhagen Accord, a voluntary agreement reached last year. Under that agreement, Canada has made a voluntary emissions reduction offer that is weaker than the Kyoto target.