Canada said on Monday that it would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, becoming the first country to do so and is seen as damaging the prospects of the new climate agreement reached at Durban.
Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent made the announcement after his return from Durban, where countries agreed to extend Kyoto for five years and create a new deal that obligates all large polluters to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
"Kyoto is not the path forward for a global solution to climate change," Mr Kent said. "If anything, it's an impediment… We believe that a new agreement with legally binding commitments for all major emitters that allows us as a country to continue to generate jobs and economic growth represents the path forward."
Mr Kent claimed that Kyoto, now covering less than 13 per cent of global emissions, is infeasible as it “does not cover the world’s two largest emitters – the US and China.”
Canada, a major energy producer which has been under fire for being a thorn in the side of climate efforts, has long complained Kyoto is untenable because it excludes many larger emitters. The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper instead unveiled its own measures aimed at curbing emissions, in line with US efforts.
The Harper administration said Canada would be subject to fines equivalent to C$14 billion (US$13.6 billion) for not reducing emissions by the amount mandated by Kyoto by 2012. "To meet the targets under Kyoto for 2012 would be the equivalent of either removing every car truck, all-terrain vehicle, tractor, ambulance, police car and vehicle off every kind of Canadian road," Mr Kent insisted. "Under Kyoto, Canada is facing radical and irresponsible choices if we're to avoid punishing multi-billion-dollar payments," he said, noting that Canada produces barely two per cent of global emissions.
Canada is the largest supplier of oil and natural gas to the US and is eager to boost output of crude from oil sands in Alberta Province, which requires large amounts of energy to extract. Canada's former Liberal government joined Kyoto, which obligated a cut in emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. By 2009 emissions were 17 per cent above 1990 levels, partly because of tar sands development.
The Conservative government has voiced disapproval of Kyoto since taking office in 2006, accusing the previous Liberal administration of inaction in implementing the treaty’s provisions.
Mr Kent said that in the meantime, Canada would continue to try to reduce its emissions under a domestic plan that calls for a 20 per cent cut from 2006 levels by 2020, or a three per cent decrease from 1990 levels.
Latest data from 2010 showed that Canadian carbon emissions were currently up more than 35 per cent from 1990.
Russia and Japan had also both signalled they would not to recommit to the protocol, though neither country has formally withdrawn. All three countries signed on to the new agreement in Durban.
Canadian decision draws flak
Environmentalists promptly and sharply criticised Canada's withdrawal. Graham Saul of Climate Action Network Canada complained that Prime Minister Harper "just spat in the faces of people around the world for whom climate change is increasingly a life and death issue."
Megan Leslie, member of the opposition New Democrats, said, "Our government is abdicating its international responsibilities."
Mike Hudema, a Greenpeace Canada spokesman, said "What pulling out of Kyoto will do is further destabilize international action to combat the growing climate crisis… It really is a further signal that the Harper government is more concerned with protecting polluters than with protecting people."
Report: Canada first nation to pull out of Kyoto protocol (Reuters, 12 Dec 2011)
Report: Canada Pulls Out of Kyoto Climate Pact (Wall Street Journal, 12 Dec 2011)
Report: Canada formally withdraws from Kyoto Protocol (AFP, 13 Dec 2011)
Report: Canada leaves Kyoto to avoid heavy penalties (Financial Times, 13 Dec 2011)