Less than two days after signing on to a “road map” agreement at the UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa, Canada has announced it is formally withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol after failing to meet its emissions pledges. Although not surprising, reaction from other nations and environmental groups was not only swift, but harsh.
“Withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol is a reckless and totally irresponsible act,” Ian Fry, lead negotiator for the small island nation of Tuvalu, which is imperiled by sea level rise due to climate change, told Reuters.
At the same time, Greenpeace Canada representative Mike Hudema, called the decision “a death sentence on many of the world’s most vulnerable populations.”
In announcing their intent to withdraw, Canada’s Environment Minister, Peter Kent, said, “It’s now clear Kyoto is not the path forward for a global solution to climate change. If anything, it’s an impediment. We are invoking Canada’s legal right to formally withdraw.”
Kent attempted to shift blame from Canada’s current conservative administration, headed by Stephen Harper, onto earlier liberal administrations that signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Since signing the Kyoto Protocol, Canada’s emissions have risen over 35 percent from 1990 levels, while it had pledged under Kyoto to cut emissions 12 percent by the 2012 deadline. Kent stated if the administration had not back out it would have to pay $14 billion, apparently referring to the number of carbon credits needed to offset their overshoot. However, the Kyoto Protocol has no authority to force Canada to pay. Kent also referred to the fact that all told Canada accounts for less than 2 percent of global emissions, however the nation is also in the top 7 percent for carbon emissions per capita, in 2008 emitting 16.4 tons of C02 per person.
Kent said the administration would try to keep its later pledge to reduce emissions by 20 percent from 2006 levels (or by 3 percent from 1990 levels), but unlike the Kyoto Protocol this pledge is not legally binding.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said Canada’s decision “flies in the face of the efforts of the international community for Canada to leave the Kyoto Protocol at a time when the Durban meeting, as everyone knows, made important progress by securing a second phase of commitment to the Protocol.”
China’s state media, Xinhua, dubbed Canada “irresponsible.”
Canada was also a major target for criticism at the Durban Summit with numerous allegations it was obstructing progress during the summit, and Kent, himself, was criticized for referring to payments to poor and climate-vulnerable nations as “guilt payments.”
One of the reasons behind the withdrawal is Canada’s ongoing industrial exploitation of its tar sands for oil, its fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA estimates that carbon emissions from tar sands is 82 percent more intensive than conventional oil. Other sources have found lower rates, but all agree that more carbon is released from the tar sands than other oil reservoirs.
(12/01/2011) Purchasing a full page ad in the Canadian paper the Globe and Mail, a group of African leaders and NGOs is calling on Canada to return to the fold on climate change. Canada has recently all-but-confirmed that after the ongoing 17th UN Summit on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa, it will withdraw entirely from the Kyoto Treaty. The country has missed its targets by a long-shot, in part due to the exploitation of its tar sands for oil, and is increasingly viewed at climate conferences as intractable and obstructive. In the eyes of those concerned about climate change, Canada has gone from hero to villain. Yet notable African activists, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, are pushing back.
(11/10/2011) In what can only be described as a major victory for green activists, the Obama Administration has announced it will delay a decision on TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline for 12-18 months. Notably, putting the decision off until after the last election. The delay comes less than a week after about 12,000 people encircled the White House in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, which they argue threatens one of the most important water supplies in America’s heartland and will worsen climate change.
(09/28/2011) After the Arctic sea ice extent hit its second lowest size on record this summer—or lowest (depending on the source)—comes another climate change shocker: in the past six years Canada’s millennia-old ice shelves have shed nearly half their size. One ice shelf—the Serson shelf—is almost entirely gone, while another—the Ward Hunt shelf—has split into two distinct shelves. The ice shelves have lost 3 billion tons in this year alone.