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Canada May Escape $6.7 Billion Bill By Exiting Kyoto Protocol

Canada, the country furthest from meeting its commitment to cut carbon emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, may save as much as $6.7 billion by exiting the global climate change agreement and not paying for offset credits.

The country’s greenhouse-gas emissions are almost a third higher than 1990 levels, and it has a 6 percent CO2 reduction target for the end of 2012. If it couldn’t meet its goal, Canada would have to buy carbon credits, under the rules of the legally binding treaty.

Canada, which has the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves, would be the first of 191 signatories to the Kyoto Protocol to annul its emission-reduction obligations. While Environment Minister Peter Kent declined to confirm Nov. 28 that Canada is preparing to pull out of Kyoto, which may ease the burden for oil-sands producers and coal-burning utilities, he said the government wouldn’t make further commitments to it.

“Canada is the only country in the world saying it won’t honor Kyoto,” said Keith Stewart, an energy and climate policy analyst for Greenpeace in Toronto. Under a previous Liberal government, Canada was one of the first countries to sign Kyoto in 1998. The current Conservative government made a non-binding commitment at 2009 United Nations talks in Copenhagen to reduce emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, in line with a pledge by the U.S., its biggest trading partner.

The biggest polluters in the nation of 34 million say they’ll cut emissions without a treaty. “Kyoto no longer works,” said Rick George, chief executive officer of Suncor Energy Inc. (SU), Canada’s largest oil producer. “Whatever happens with Kyoto won’t change our direction” of reducing the environmental impact of oil production, he said.

Impact From Technology

For Suncor and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., technology improvements will have a bigger impact on Canada’s greenhouse gas output than an international climate-change treaty, said Jack Mintz, director of the school of public policy at the University of Calgary.

“Technology is the only way we’re going to make significant progress,” Mintz said in an interview. “A lot of companies are already anticipating that the federal government will look at new regulations. Kyoto hasn’t been a strong treaty.”

Canada would likely avoid penalties if it exits the treaty before the end of the year, said Matt Horne, climate change policy director at the Pembina Institute, a Canadian think-tank focused on sustainable energy. Kyoto’s first commitment period from 2008 until 2012 requires reductions only from so-called Annex I countries, the world’s wealthiest and most developed. It doesn’t include developing nations including India and China, the world’s biggest CO2 emitter.

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