China's flexibility fails to alter Canada's Kyoto stance
China's willingness to consider cutting back on emissions has failed to change Canada's rigid position on the Kyoto accord.
Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent announced Monday that Ottawa will not renew its commitments to the Kyoto Protocol after it expires in 2012, even if top polluter China adopts a target.
Speaking from an international climate-change conference in Durban, South Africa, Kent didn't say when Canada will serve formal notice -- only that the nation plans to walk away from the Kyoto accord.
The governing Conservatives have long criticized the 191-country deal for excluding major greenhouse-gas emitters including China, India and Brazil.
Though China has long refused to adopt treaty commitments to lower its emissions, the populous country showed signs of flexibility this weekend.
In his first meeting with reporters, Xie Zenhua said the country could discuss a post-2020 Kyoto deal but only if all previous commitments by industrial countries were met.
Among China's numerous "preconditions," Xie said that Beijing would consider a target but only if developed nations agreed to extend their Kyoto commitments.
But that offer did nothing to lure Kent and the Conservatives back to the Kyoto accord, CTV News Channel's Mercedes Stephenson said Monday.
"Apparently if it has the word Kyoto on it, it's like a hot potato for them," she said. "They don't want to pick it up, they aren't interested. They want something completely different."
She added that Kent was questioned on Monday as to whether China's flexibility would have him reconsider Kyoto and he offered a terse "no."
NDP environment critic Megan Leslie said with China showing more openness to setting emissions targets, "the government has run out of excuses" for withdrawing from Kyoto.
"Withdrawing from Kyoto is an illogical decision," Leslie said Monday during question period in the House of Commons. "The health of Canadians is at stake, jobs and the country are at stake. Will this government realize that we must develop an economy based on renewable energy?"
Leslie also charged that the move "sends a clear message to the employers of the future: don't invest here."
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, Kent's parliamentary secretary, countered that the government has established stringent environmental regulatory standards and is investing billions of dollars in clean energy technology.
"We are a leader internationally," Rempel said during question period. "The opposition should recognize that."
Liberal environment critic Kirsty Duncan said the Conservatives are showing an "appalling" lack of leadership on the climate change file.
"(Prime Minister Stephen) Harper would rather drop out of Kyoto than face the continual embarrassment of meeting only 25 per cent of its emission-reduction targets," Duncan said in a statement. "Worse than this government's lack of leadership are the laments and excuses coming from the Environment Minister, while the Conservative caucus questions the science of climate change, calling it a ‘socialist scheme.'"
The Kyoto Protocol bound 37 industrial countries to limit carbon emissions over a five-year period, a task that Canada has struggled with.
The Tories have taken issue with the accord since Jean Chretien's Liberals signed on in 1998, arguing that the strict emission cuts will hurt the economy.
Just a week ago, Kent told the House of Commons that he wouldn't sign a document at the conference that extends the Kyoto targets.
"Canada goes to Durban with a number of countries sharing the same objective, and that is to put Kyoto behind us," Kent said on Nov. 22.
Stephenson notes that Canada isn't interested in abandoning the effort to reduce emissions altogether but says the Tories have lost faith in the current Kyoto deal.
CTV News' Roger Smith, who first reported last week that the government intends to legally withdraw from the Kyoto deal, said Canada could be a major stumbling block on future Kyoto negotiations with China.
He said that Canada hasn't met previous Kyoto targets, which China's top negotiator has said is a "precondition" before the nation considers a binding treaty.
"If that is truly China's position then Canada looks like a stick in the mud," Smith told CTV News Channel on Monday.
Smith noted that there's a bit of confusion as to the specifics of what's happening in Durban, where member countries are meeting to negotiate the second phase of a Kyoto plan to reduce carbon emissions by 6 per cent below 1990 levels.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who is also at the conference, said Kyoto discussions have reached a crucial point.
"Now we're on the brink of either moving to a second period on Kyoto or seeing things fall apart," she told CTV News Channel in a phone interview.
Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel said a decision to pull out of Kyoto will "destroy Canada's reputation."
"We should be ashamed of this situation," Turmel said during question period. "The Conservatives will make Canada an international outcast. What kind of leadership is that? It's impossible…is Canada part of Kyoto yes or no?"
Heritage Minister James Moore countered that what damages Canada's reputation is the fact the Liberal government that signed the Accord failed to devise a plan to meet the targets.
Moore said the current federal government favours an approach to climate change that balances "environmental needs and the needs of our economy."
With files from The Canadian Press