Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Canada taking on illegitimate role in Durban

I've gotten used to Canada being atop the podium of the sarcastic "Fossil Awards" at the UNFCCC. The umbrella group of non-governmental organizations, Climate Action Network, awarads fossils to countries that are most obstructive to multi-lateral agreement at the climate change talks. At COP17, however, Canada is clearly seen by countries and NGOs as the main obstacle to agreement. If the Kyoto Protocol is murdered in Durban, Canada will be seen as the prime suspect.

Yesterday, Canada won two fossil awards for two statements by Peter Kent, Canada's Minister of Environment. In one of these statements, Kent said that the Kyoto Protocol is outdated and needs to be replaced by a binding agreement that involves more of the large emitting countries, such as China. It is widely reported that Canada will formally withdraw from the Protocol on Dec 23rd, 2011. In another statement, Kent said Canada came to Durban to "play hardball" with developing countries that were using historical guilt to bully countries like Canada into paying most of the cost of GHG emission reduction.

One of the big decisions to come out of Durban will be whether or not the global community decides to extend the Kyoto Protocol, which will expire at the end of 2012 unless a firm agreement is secured for its continuation. The vast majority of countries favour this, as the Kyoto Protocol is the only rule-based mechanism that mandates GHG emission cuts. By contrast, the Cancun agreement is only notional, suggesting the types of emission reductions that countries pledge to make.

There may be a role for a country that is willing to "play hardball" in Durban to push for more inclusive binding agreements. But I argue that Canada has absolutely no legitimacy to take on this role. Yes, it signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol, yet has done virtually nothing to meet its obligations. Given the way that the federal and provincial governments tussle over environmental and resource policy, it would take real political will to have real action in Canada. Yes, Canada says that they want concerted action by all large emitters to reduce climate change, but at the end of the day it really seems that Canada sees nothing wrong with global climate change. Yes, there will be a few more extreme weather events, but it will open up the north to resource development and make the long winters a bit more bearable. Peter Kent is willing to play hardball with developing countries in Durban, but not show real leadership on the issue back home. The hypocrasy is amazing.

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