D'oh, Canada: Northern Neighbors Ditch Kyoto

| Wed Dec. 14, 2011 4:28 PM EST

While I was en route home from the Durban climate conference, the members of the Canadian delegation returned home and promptly announced that they were ditching the Kyoto Protocol.

Kyoto, said environment minister Peter Kent, "does not represent a way forward for Canada."

This isn't exactly new news; the Canadians, along with the Japanese and Russians, has been threatening to pull out since last year. They're the main reason why it was so hard to get an agreement in Durban on a second commitment period for Kyoto, the first phase of which is set to end in 2012. The only reason it was extended was because the European Union, the least-developed countries, and the small island states insisted that the only existing international, legally binding climate treaty be preserved. In the end though, negotiators didn't even decide whether it would be extended until 2017 or 2020, leaving that question to be answered next year.

Canada's argument, is that it shouldn't have to be bound to emissions-cutting pledges when other nations like the US and China still aren't. Its delegates say they'll sign on to whatever new pact emerges from the nebulous legal pathway outlined in Durban, but that they don't want to be bound by last decade's climate deal. That agreement was made in 1997 and doesn't reflect today's situation, they argue.

But Canada has another major reason to get out of Kyoto: it hasn't met the commitments it made last time and would owe as much as $13.6 billion in penalties if it signed on again. Canada committed to cutting emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels by next year under Kyoto, but instead its emissions increased by 35 percent.

Other world leaders are, understandably, not happy that Canada has officially rejected Kyoto. But the situation raises some crucial questions for whatever climate deal comes next. A deal is meaningless if countries like Canada continue doing what they were doing anyway. And it's meaningless if countries can back out rather than face penalties. This provides an object lesson in what shouldn't happen when (if?) countries finally approve a new climate pact.

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