Canadian position prompted walk-out at climate talks
Published Monday, October 12, 2009 2:27PM EDT
OTTAWA - The government's push to abandon much of the Kyoto protocol prompted dozens of developing countries to walk out on Canada's address during recent climate talks in Thailand, The Canadian Press has learned.
The mass walkout came after the Canadian delegation suggested replacing the Kyoto Protocol with an entirely new global-warming pact, according to one of the negotiators and notes taken by others at the meeting.
A widening and bitter rift between rich and developing countries over climate change was laid bare last week when delegates from 180 nations met in Bangkok to shape a successor to Kyoto before its first phase expires in just over two years. The United Nations hopes to broker a draft deal in time for a meeting in Copenhagen this December.
The delegates discussed whether all or parts of Kyoto should end up in the new agreement, according to notes taken by a delegate from a developing nation as well as one of the South African negotiators.
The developing countries want a new climate deal to complement Kyoto, but Canadian officials told the room they would rather replace Kyoto with one agreement, according to the meeting notes.
Canada's delegation was apparently open to putting "some or all" of Kyoto in a new climate pact, the notes say.
"Some or all of (Kyoto Protocol) elements can be incorporated into (Copenhagen) agreement," the notes say about Canada's position.
At that point, the South African delegation stood up and led the Group of 77 developing nations -- except for a group of small island states -- out of the room.
"The conversation, in our view, at the point in time was effectively over and the G77 left the room," Joanne Yawitch, a South African negotiator at the Bangkok talks, said in an interview.
Talks resumed the next day, she added.
"We're not going to walk out of any negotiating process," Yawitch said.
"But there are certain conversations which we feel are outside of the perimeters of the legal mandate."
The developing nations were perturbed that Canada and other industrial countries would consider copying parts Kyoto into a new treaty. "You can't do a cut and paste on a ratified treaty," Yawitch said.
"You have to re-open it and negotiate what you would cut and paste. And we think that the risks are that you might end up with something that might be considerably weaker."
Environment Minister Jim Prentice declined comment on the walkout.
The Kyoto Protocol binds 37 industrial countries -- including Canada but not the United States, which refused to sign it under George W. Bush's presidency -- to reduce greenhouse gases by 5.2 per cent from 1990 levels by 2012.
Canada, the U.S., the Europeans, the Australians and others want a new agreement to also bind big developing nations such as China and India to cut greenhouse gases. Canada has spent much of the past year harnessing its environmental policy to that of the Obama administration in the United States.
The industrial countries argue the battle to cut greenhouse gases is for naught unless all major polluters curb their emissions. Developing countries argue that binding targets would stunt their fledgling economies.
They also oppose having similar targets to industrialized nations, who they say are responsible for most of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
It is against this backdrop of diplomatic tussling that countries are trying to agree to a new global-warming pact in time for the Copenhagen meetings.
The discussions in Thailand make it clear that a meaningful agreement in Copenhagen may be elusive. Only five negotiating days remain before December's climate talks.
"I think that Bangkok has been a very, very difficult meeting," Yawitch said.
"I think it leaves the talks in a very difficult space, and I think it is going to be very challenging to pull this together and to find agreement in the short time that we've got left.
"But I think we are very committed to doing that."
U.S. President Barack Obama was once thought to be leading the charge towards a new climate pact but environmentalists believe he is facing increasing pressure to blunt any agreement on greenhouse gases that costs corporate America too much money.
The Nobel peace prize committee appeared to be offering encouragement to Obama last week by specifically mentioning in their citation that the U.S. president is "now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting."