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Durban Agreement In Doubt Over Faltering Kyoto Protocol

Indian government official warns Canada’s decision to withdraw from Kyoto Protocol puts Durban agreement in doubt.

Within days of the world reaching an agreement at the Durban climate conference on the extension of the Kyoto Protocol and framework for a new climate treaty, the efforts have suffered a major blow with Canada announcing its decision to pull out of the protocol. The extension of the protocol beyond 2012, when the first round of commitments expires, was agreed to at Durban after hectic parleys and ‘give and take’. Industrialised countries agreed for a second round of commitments only after developing countries gave their nod for a new treaty for emission reduction from 2020 onwards.

The decision of Canada to exercise its legal right to withdraw from the protocol has dealt a blow to the spirit of the Durban deal. For long, industrialised countries have been seeking abandonment of the protocol. The US, of course, never signed this agreement. Now another major carbon emitter is out of it. Russia and Japan too have opposed any extension of commitments. All this may render the protocol a dead instrument.

The Kyoto Protocol is currently the only legal instrument in force to combat climate change. It sets a clear target for reducing greenhouse gases by 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 for the group of countries that are collectively known as Annex 1 parties. Canada and other industrialised countries are part of Annex 1. Under the protocol, poorer countries, including China and India, take voluntary, non-binding steps to curb the growth of emissions while they focus on economic development.

Canada on Monday became the first country to formally renounce the protocol. Announcing the pullout, Canada’s environment minister Peter Kent said Kyoto doesn’t represent the way forward for Canada or the world. “The protocol does not cover the world’s largest two emitters, the US and China, and therefore cannot work. It’s now clear that Kyoto is not the path forward to a global solution to climate change. If anything it’s an impediment,” Kent said.

The decision to withdraw from Kyoto, Kent said, would save Canada $ 14 billion in penalties for not achieving its Kyoto targets. “To meet the targets under Kyoto for 2012 would be the equivalent of either removing every car, truck, ATV, tractor, ambulance, police car and vehicle of every kind from Canadian roads or closing down the entire farming and agriculture sector and cutting heat to every home, office, hospital, factory and building in Canada,” Kent said.

He said he would not be surprised if other countries follow Canada in pulling out of Kyoto.

Canada has the world’s third largest oil reserves, more than 170 billion barrels. Daily production of 1.5 million barrels from the oil sands is expected to increase to 3.7 million in 2025. Only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have more reserves. But critics say the enormous amount of energy and water needed in the extraction process increases greenhouse gas emissions.

Kent’s announcement drew immediate criticism from China, which has long insisted the Protocol remain a foundation of global efforts to curb emissions causing global warming. “It is regrettable and flies in the face of the efforts of international community for Canada to leave the Kyoto Protocol at a time when the Durban meeting, as everyone knows, made important progress by securing a second phase of commitment to the protocol,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said at a news briefing.

China’s state news agency, Xinhua, denounced Canada’s decision as preposterous, calling it an excuse to shirk responsibility. While also describing the decision regrettable, Japan’s environment minister Goshi Hosono urged Canada to stay with the pact, saying the Kyoto framework included important elements that could help fight climate change.

The tiny South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, one those most at risk from rising sea levels caused by climate change, was more blunt. For a vulnerable country like Tuvalu, it is an act of sabotage on our future, Ian Fry, its lead negotiator said.

An Indian official said Canada’s decision could jeopardise any gains made at the Durban meeting.

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