I just returned from a media scrum in the foyer outside of our House of Commons (not the House of corporations) where Minister Kent announced Canada will legally leave the Kyoto Protocol.

Kent coached the announcement with plenty of key words about our ongoing commitment to the Durban platform, (the so-called real way forward) a fair dose of fear-mongering (as Megan Leslie referred to it) and that we are committed to tackling climate change. But they were just that, words, words that hopefully mainstream media won’t buy hook, line and sinker. While this announcement may not come as a surprise, the reality is it is a big deal.

In a media statement released during Kent’s speech, the Council of Canadians responded to today’s announcement:

“Harper’s wait-and-see climate policy is just as ridiculous as saying, we’re going to wait for that big truck in the next lane to start driving safely before we start driving safely,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson, Council of Canadians. “The Harper government has transformed Canada into a serial laggard on the most pressing issue of our times, addressing climate change, which is severely damaging our international reputation.”

“While Kyoto is not perfect, at least it is legally binding and has clear benchmarks,” says Andrea Harden-Donahue, Energy and Climate Campaigner. “Canada leaving the Kyoto Protocol is not about achieving an agreement that keeps all polluters accountable, it is about allowing business as usual in Canada through an unaccountable deal with voluntary emission reduction targets and more loopholes.”

Following Kent’s statement to a crowd of media, there were responses from the NDP and Liberal Environment critics and the leader of the Green party.

Here’s the scoop.

Kent is lying

Kent consistently referred to the costs of the Kyoto Protocol multi-billion dollar payments as a reason for legally exiting the agreement. He stated that Kyoto would cost $1600.00 for every Canadian family. This is very misleading, for a couple of reasons. First of all, there are no penalties that Canada would have to pay for failing to meet an emission target (one of the flaws of the Kyoto Protocol, it has a lack of teeth). Canada could continue to be part of the agreement and not meet our emission reduction targets, but continue to be part of the process including being compelled to submit progress reports to the UN on the state of our emissions and be part of a monitoring process. If Canada decided to switch gears and meet our Kyoto commitments, we would need to purchase carbon credits to meet our 2012 target. These are the costs Kent is referring to.

Secondly, the reason why we would need to purchase credits from carbon offset programs (which are a sham — we need domestic emission reductions) is because of years of government inaction on climate change. While Kent tries to pass this all off on the Liberals (who deserve their fair share) we’ve had the Conservatives in power since 2006 and our emissions continue to rise and the few programmes the Liberals had put in place to reduce emissions, the Conservatives have cut.

This announcement is really about not wanting to be held accountable to the monitoring and compliance aspects of the Kyoto Protocol which, despite Kent’s shiny portrayals of government action, will demonstrate how far Canada is lagging behind.

Canada’s international reputation is in tatters

Kent insists that Canada is in good standing, that we share our position that the Durban platform is the way forward with the U.S., Australia, Japan, Norway amongst other countries (stay tuned for a blog tomorrow about the Durban platform). He insists that we entered the Durban climate talks in good faith and have been part of negotiating a promising deal.

To the contrary, Canada’s reputation is in tatters. Elizabeth May put it best: “the Canadian government leading anything related to climate change is practically a laughing matter at this point.” Having just returned from Durban, she reports that she had a meeting with UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres who had the clear understanding from her personal meetings with Minister Kent that Canada would not legally leave the Kyoto Protocol. This is just one example of how Canada entered the Durban talks negotiating in bad faith. We have little credibility anymore. A number of country delegates openly criticized Canada’s various cringe-inducing positions (Kent’s reference to “guilt payments” is what did me in), something not frequently seen. This the first time Canada has ever legally left an international treaty.

What does this say for Canada’s democracy?

After all, there was a Parliamentary vote in support of the Kyoto Protocol. And while Harper has long decried the Kyoto Protocol, as Megan Leslie highlights, Harper certainly didn’t campaign on legally leaving the Kyoto Protocol, it was not part of his platform — so where is his mandate? The NDP is looking into options to at least have a Parliamentary debate on this decision. Perhaps civil society needs to look at our options as well.

Enough with the 2 per cent

Just to add, I’m sick and tired of repetitively hearing about how Canada’s emissions are only 2 per cent of global emissions, so why are we getting picked on about the tar sands (this came up again at today’s press conference). Let’s be clear. Two per cent is quite a bit for a country like ours, we have one of the highest per capita emissions rates in the entire world. The tar sands are set to comprise 11 per cent of our national emissions by 2020, meaning that this percentage is only going up (and up). And beside, if countries like ours continue to hide behind these kinds of weak excuses, the UN climate talks will only continue to stagnate.

This article was first posted on The Council of Canadians blog.