Kyoto: The Conservative government's shameful action

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It's official. Canada's government is no longer just ignoring our legally binding obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. It's withdrawing from the international treaty completely.

I listened to Peter Kent, the Minister of Spin, on CBC's The Current on Wednesday, trying to bluff his way through an interview. Now I can't hit the keys fast enough.

Kent has three disinformation talking points and big fat whopper: 1) Kyoto is the past; 2) Kyoto doesn't include all emitters (China, China and China); and 3) Kyoto would cost Canada $14 billion ($1,600 for every Canadian taxpayer). Taking on neo-cons is a challenge because they take a grain of truth and spinning to suit their agenda.

For starters, is Kyoto part of the past as Kent suggests? It was negotiated 15 years ago, but take a drive through Gaspé or southwest Ontario and you'll see wind turbines going up -- lots of them! Last year, global investment in the renewable energy industry surpassed that of the fossil fuel and nuclear power industry for the first time. There are 300,000 people employed in the German green energy industry alone (high-paying jobs, too). There are solar panel factories taking up residence in abandoned car parts plants in Windsor, Ontario. Australia and British Columbia have both adopted carbon taxes. None of this would be happening now without Kyoto. Despite Kent's clever sound bite, Kyoto IS now -- not the past.

Were China and other developing countries not included in Kyoto as Kent suggested? No -- not true. More disinformation. They did commit to take action to slow the growth of their emissions as their economies grow. China, as a result, has the largest green energy program in the world. Brazil has taken strong action to protect their rain forest (something on which we all depend to breathe, by the way).

Kyoto is based on the principle of differentiated responsibility. The vast majority of the carbon in the atmosphere (roughly 76 per cent) got there as a result of developed countries burning fossil fuels as they grew rich. No one denies this fact -- not even Kent. For this reason Canada and the other developed countries agreed to go first. The reality is China and many other developing countries are doing more than they committed to.

Finally, the $14 billion Kyoto-cost cited is a made up number. In fact, if you wanted to challenge their numbers look no further than the latest report from the National Round Table of Energy and the Environment, an independent government advisory body! The NTREE report paints a polar opposite picture where NOT acting on climate change would cost Canada billions.

Signing Kyoto committed Canada to reduce emissions six per cent below 1990 levels. Update: We are currently about 25 per cent higher than 1990 levels. By not meeting our legally binding targets -- which is certain, unfortunately -- we won't be "fined" as Kent suggests (another scare tactic). There aren't any fines under the Kyoto Protocol. When signing the treaty parties agreed that if they failed to reach their targets their penalty would simply be taking on greater greenhouse gas reductions in the future. There are no fines, no forced purchase of credits and no hot air, as Kent suggested.

As for the whopper, Kent says: "The Liberal government had no plan to meet our Kyoto targets." As someone who sat through a couple of hundred consultations and interviewed around 70 senior bureaucrats, I can tell you there was a plan. It was credible, based on sound economics, and included regulations on all large industrial emitters.

The Liberals didn't regulate greenhouse gas emissions outright because they couldn't. Canada's constitution gives ownership of natural resources (coal, oil, gas, etc.) and authority over electricity production to the provinces. The Alberta government made it clear if Ottawa messed with the oil industry they'd go to court. Without the agreement of the provinces the federal government had to wait until 2008 when the Kyoto obligations came into force because the Canadian Environmental Protection Act does gives the federal minister the power to impose environmental regulations to comply with international treaties -- like Kyoto. So the Liberal's move was a bold one and showed leadership -- something that cannot be said about the current government. The Conservatives cancelled it all and in their minds it just disappeared.

So what is the Harper real agenda?

It's certainly not trying to get a better climate agreement. If they wanted to do that they would have played the "nice guy." After all, how could you demand bold action on climate change when you brazenly refused to abide by your own legally binding commitments? Who is going to take you seriously? Certainly not the world community.

And who is going to take you seriously when you fired so many scientists, killed your monitoring programs, laid the ground work for new mega-coal plants and dams, gutted environmental assessments to make way for more Tar Sands pipelines, and killed the Canadian Environmental Network (in war, first disrupt communications). 

The criticism we saw heaped upon Canada this week was, in fact, quite extraordinary. In such uber-diplomatic arenas, it is very unusual for a country (let alone countries) to publicly criticize another so forcefully, and those doing the criticizing are countries Canada is supposedly wanting to take on greater responsibility. This is how company negotiators act when they want to force workers on strike and then blame them.

I spent the summer of 2006 telling every journalist I could find that come fall the new government's "Clean Air Plan" would be nothing more than a sophisticated delaying tactic. Scrapping all existing plans and proposing completely new laws and regulations was a genius move. After all, it would take years and years and years to implement -- George Bush's plan.

This week the Harper government took the plan to a higher level, bringing the tried-and-true delay tactic to the international arena. Today Canada, tomorrow the world!

We consider Chamberlain's 1930s appeasement plan shameful. At least he was trying to avert world war. Kyoto is trying to avert climate catastrophe. All Stephen Harper and Peter Kent are trying to do is protect corporate oil interests. Now that is shameful.

John Bennett is the executive director of Sierra Club Canada

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