Canada: First out of a sinking Kyoto ship?

An environmental activist wears a mask depicting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Durban, December 5.

Story highlights

  • Canada pulls out of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change
  • Claims financial costs of accord were too great
  • Says new deal agreed in Durban is "the way forward"
  • Russia, Japan may also announce formal intention to leave
For Canada, the cost of either meeting its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, or failing to do so, was too much to bear.
On Monday, the country became the first signatory of the landmark climate treaty to back out of the deal, citing the huge potential cost of legally binding commitments.
Confirming the move, environment minister Peter Kent said to meet its obligations under the accord Canada would have to take every single vehicle off its roads.
"Every car, truck, ATV, tractor, ambulance, police car," he elaborated in a media briefing, before giving another equally unpalatable option of closing down the country's entire farming and agricultural sector and cutting heat to every home, building and factory.
If the country failed to do so, Kent said taxpayers would have to give $14 billion to other countries "with no impact on emissions or the environment."
How did it come to this?
Canada's move was not unexpected. Since being elected into power in 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it clear he was not a supporter of the controversial pact.
The Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997 by the previous Liberal government, which committed Canada to cutting greenhouse gas emissions 6% below 1990 levels by 2012. In fact, levels have been rising, according to readings submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The announcement came after the end of the latest round of talks involving the 195 parties to the UNFCCC in Durban, South Africa.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had just finished saying that a "significant agreement" had been reached, which has been dubbed "The Durban Platform," when Canada pulled the plug.
But while Kent repeated his claim that Kyoto, for Canada, "is in the past," he described The Durban Platform as "the way forward."
What is The Durban Platform?
The new deal, agreed Sunday, brings in major emitters of greenhouse gas emissions including the United States, China, India and Brazil. For that, it was hailed a success, although critics still argue that the timetable is too loose.
The parties agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol, which was due to expire at the end of 2012, and to discuss a legally binding pact to cover all major emitters by 2015, with any agreed deal to start in 2020.
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