A Departure From Kyoto

Climate Change Law Practice Group Blog

December 09, 2011

As the annual UN Climate Change Conference winds down in Durban, South Africa, Canada appears poised to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. The anticipated withdrawal comes as no surprise to observers of the federal government. In 2002, Canada ratified Kyoto, committing to a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of 6% below 1990 levels by 2012. As of 2009, Canada’s GHG emissions were 17% above 1990 levels. Canada’s current Environment Minister, Peter Kent, previously stated that the government does not intend to agree to a second, post-2012, commitment period under Kyoto. Russia and Japan have also taken similar positions. On the eve of the conference, Minister Kent stated that “Kyoto is the past” and touched off speculation that Canada will withdraw from Kyoto.

The federal government properly views Kyoto as an agreement that not only imposes significant costs on Canada, but also one that will have little impact on global warming. Since 2002, neither the Liberal nor Conservative governments took concrete steps to comply with Canada’s Kyoto obligations. However, the election of the Conservative government in 2006 represented a policy shift. Whereas Kyoto excuses the world’s number 1 and number 3 emitters in China and India from reducing emissions, and does not include the United States, the Conservative government seeks an agreement that obliges all major emitters to reduce their emissions. Industry Minister Christian Paradis stated, “We need an effective agreement. Effective means it must include large emitters.” Canada has common ground with the EU, whose Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, also expressed the need for GHG reduction commitments from emerging countries. While the Canadian government faces much criticism on the climate change file, it realizes that progress on the global problem of climate change requires the participation of all of the world’s major emitters.

Canada will face intense international criticism if it withdraws from Kyoto, but such action gives our federal government an opportunity to lead the debate towards a global agreement on climate change.

Jennifer Cleall and Patrick Stratton, Student at Law