The Path Forward – Is Canada a Leader or a Laggard?

A GLOBE-Net Editorial

GLOBE-Net, December 15, 2011- In the wake of the 11th hour accord reached in Durban, South Africa (labeled the Durban Platform), Canada formally declared its decision to withdraw from the 1997 Kyoto Accord, the international agreement to cut greenhouse gases.

Environment Minister Peter Kent stated unequivocally that Canada would not sign on to the second Kyoto commitment period, nor would we devote scarce dollars to capitalize the new Green Climate Fund – part of the Durban agreement – until all major emitters accept legally binding reduction targets and transparent accounting of greenhouse gas inventory.

He did praise that fact that all nations represented in Durban had ‘agreed to agree’ to a
negotiating process that will lead to a universal accord on climate change by 2015, to come into force by 2020 with legally binding emission reduction commitments.

Canada has taken much heat on this issue for a number of years in part because of the frank admission in 2006 by the Canadian Government that our Kyoto emission targets could not be reached, and because of concerns (shared by our largest trading partner – the United States), that the Kyoto Protocol did not apply to two of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, India and China.

The timing of Canada’s notice to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol is linked to formal
notification provisions within the Accord itself. It does not take us out of the international process for negotiating a new global climate accord, not does it limit us from taking action domestically to exercise more control over emissions by Canadian companies.

It does relieve Canada of any penalties that would be levied under the protocol if we fail to meet our 2012 emission reduction targets, which is a certainty.

In a post-Durban statement Minister Kent confirmed that “Canada will continue to be a willing partner with those looking to address Kyoto’s many failings, while also ensuring major emitters live up to binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gases.” In fact, Canada has pledged (in Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban) to meet a reduction target of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. This is voluntary but still a stretch target for the country.

Basically he states Kyoto is in the past, it didn’t work, and it was not good for Canada. Indeed it was an agreement that Canada had little chance meeting almost from its inception.

Recognizing that we cannot and will not meet the Kyoto targets is the first step in moving forward.

Many have heralded the Durban Platform as important if not ‘groundbreaking’ because it  sets up a legal obligation for all signing countries — including developing countries — to cut their emissions. In truth, there are many details yet to be negotiated and many uncertainties lie ahead.

The one thing that is clear is that emissions are rising on a global scale and that the environment is suffering as a consequence. And as the environment suffers, so too do we, which is already painfully evident in dramatic changes in weather patterns, disastrous flooding and droughts in many parts of the world, and rising sea levels that threaten the very existence of many small island nations and some of the world’s largest metropolitan areas.

We should be under no illusion about the fact that continued delay in reining in greenhouse gas emissions may prove catastrophic for some and that action is needed now.

Such actions need not wait on the negotiation of a universal international accord. Actions by governments at all levels, by corporations large and small, and by individual willing to change their patterns of consumption can have very practical and significant payoffs in terms of emissions reductions, energy conservation and positive environmental impacts.

Moreover, aggressive climate adaptation action can generate additional benefits in terms of new jobs, new clean technologies, and more sustainable cities.

Research conducted by the GLOBE Foundation has confirmed that the movement toward a lower carbon economy can have enormous benefits in terms of job creation and contributions to our economic and social well being.

All that is required is a clear vision, determined leadership, progressive public policies, and a shared willingness to act.

Being honest about Kyoto’s shortcomings does not make us a laggard. At the same time, it does not prevent us from exercising the kind of leadership that is needed to make a real difference at home and abroad.

Canada can be a world leader on the business of the environment. We have the resources, the knowhow and the people who are committed to making the world a better place.


John D. Wiebe

President and CEO

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