Canada became the first nation to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol this week. Their decision to pull out of the much heralded 1997 global treaty designed to tackle global warming has dismayed but not surprised environmental groups.
Just hours after governments reached a landmark agreement to tackle climate change at the UN conference in Durban, Canada delivered a blow to the global environmental movement by pulling out of the 1997 Kyoto protocol.
The protocol was designed to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases but was never adopted by the United States and did not cover India or China – the world’s biggest emitter.
On Tuesday a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said Canada’s withdrawal was "bad news for the fight against climate change".
But according to Peter Kent, who is Minister for the Environment, meeting Canada’s requirements under the Kyoto agreement would have cost around $13.6 billion and risked thousands of jobs, at a time of global financial crisis.
“Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past and as such we are invoking our legal right to withdraw,” Kent said this week
“To meet the targets under Kyoto for 2012 would be the equivalent of removing every car, truck, tractor, ambulance, police car and vehicle of every kind from Canadian roads,” the minister added.
Despite his strength of feeling Canada’s retreat from Kyoto may seem baffling, as it comes just days after the country joined over 190 nations in Durban in reaching an accord to begin negotiating a new global treaty to reduce greenhouse emissions.
Antoine Bonduelle, from Climate Action Network France (CAN) has helped FRANCE 24 to answer some important questions on Canada’s withdrawal and its implications.
Was Canada’s withdrawal predictable?
Since 2006 Canada’s Conservative government has repeatedly slammed its liberal predecessor for ratifying the Kyoto protocol in 2005, criticising the obligations it placed on the country. This year the Conservatives, who hold a majority in the national Parliament, made it clear publicly they would breakaway from the treaty.
“Yes, unfortunately the withdrawal was not a surprise,” said Bonduelle. “For five years now at international summits we have been hearing Canadians say ‘we need to scrap Kyoto as soon as possible’. When the Conservative government came to power in 2006 we knew then the Kyoto protocol was hanging by a thread.”
How has Canada fallen so short of its targets?
Since Canada ratified the Kyoto deal in 2005, little attempt has been made to cut emissions. Its task was to reduce the 1990 levels of carbon emissions by 6 percent, but in 2004 the country registered a staggering rise of 28 percent.
One explanation offered by Bonduelle for the worrying rise in Canada’s emissions is the huge hike in the price of crude oil in recent years and its impact on the country’s petroleum industry.
“The rise in price of oil encouraged the Canadians to extract even more oil from the oil sands in the region of Alberta and convert it into petrol, which is a highly polluting process,” he said.
Climate Action Network also points the finger at lobbyists, particularly those representing petroleum companies, who have managed to influence the climate debate.
Does Canada’s withdrawal signal the end of the Kyoto protocol?
Canada would argue it was not their decision that made the protocol obsolete but the fact that two of the world’s biggest emitters, China and the USA, were not covered by the treaty.
Many would agree, but whether he is right or not it appears Europe has been left holding the torch.
“Europeans clearly want to continue respecting the protocol because they want to protect the progress that has been made up to now in cutting emissions, said Bonduelle.
“Even though not all of the countries in the European Union are really motivated by protecting the environment, they do work together in order to achieve the objective of cutting the region’s overall emissions.
“It is important that the developed countries continue to lead by example,” explained Bonduelle.
How does Canada’s decision impact on the Durban agreement?
Despite delegates from governments agreeing for the first time to draw up a comprehensive legally binding global agreement to tackle global warming, it is important to note that nothing was signed in Durban and nothing will come into force before 2020.
After marathon negotiations governments simply agreed to have a treaty drawn up by 2015, but what that agreement will involve is unclear. Once the pact is signed governments will then have five years to ratify it.
Despite Canada’s government supporting the Durban deal, Bonduelle believes their decision to withdraw from Kyoto sends out the wrong message.
“Even though the urgency to tackle climate change is increasing and the need for profound action is growing we find that it is short term political needs that take precedence,” said Bonduelle.