Canada, Kyoto & Copenhagen

We just met with our official negotiators for Canada, and it was much more eventful than I had anticipated.

The first question was regarding the red lines drawn by developing nations on Longterm Cooperative Agreement (LCA); they cannot commit until the developed countries follow through on our Kyoto promises, and our government loves to highlight this as an example of poor cooperation. But doesn’t Canada have a red line of our own? It was slipped the other day that, along with Russia and Japan, Canada is blocking progress on a second committment period of Kyoto.

It’s not shocking that our delegation’s response was fairly vague. “We’re looking for a single legally binding text,” affirmed St. Jacques (though this “goal” is virtually impossible, given the demands of developing nations that we, Annex 1, act first as we promised in Kyoto). Once again, the Canadian delegation spoke on their desire for a “level playing with clear rules for all polluters which incorporate common and differentiated responsibilities for developing countries.” Taken alone, I agree with that statement, but our delegation has been entirely unclear on what, exactly, they mean by a “level playing field.”

Time and again we’ve heard from our interim environment minister and from our negotiators here in Cancun, that Canada is looking for an agreement that incorporates “all the major polluters.” On the surface, that sounds reasonable, but what it doesn’t account for is the “common but differentiated responsibility” St Jacques mentioned this morning.

Common and differentiated goals are the basis of Kyoto; although virtually all of the countries in the UNFCCC signed on to the KP, only the Annex 1 (developed) nations are legally required to have have emission reductions. This is because of our historical responsibility. Right now, we’re responsible for 75% of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere and the industrial development that caused these emissions can also be thanked for our high quality of life. It simply isn’t fair to ask nations who have not experience that development, who have not contributed to global emissions and who are still struggling to lift their populations out of poverty, to reduce emissions at this point. The responsibility lies with us to make the first step. Once we have made deep cuts, capping and reducing emissions in other nations can proceed, and frankly the clock is ticking. Canada has to lead, follow or at the very least get out of the way on this issue.

Questions are now being raised on whether to pursue a second commitment period of Kyoto, or to focus on texts such as the Copenhagen Accord or drafting new text through the LCA (Longterm Cooperative Action) negotiating track.  Japan laid down a gauntlet the other day when they stated in plenary that they wouldn’t consider a second commitment period under any circumstances, and Canada seems to be following suit. It’s unacceptable to even suggest that these other options are sufficient alternatives to Kyoto.

There has been a lot of talk around scrapping Kyoto in favour of something that includes the US. Get real for a second; with their Senate at the moment, Obama is not going to ratify anything for the next 4-5 years and we don’t have that much time. Leave an opening in Kyoto for them to join when they can — don’t make the rest of us conform to the lowest common denominator. If we have to wait for an entirely new text from the LCA, it will take even longer than that; drafts could be expected by 2015 and it would probably be 2020 before any agreement, let alone real emissions reductions.

Take that information and then remember that the IPCC has called for emissions to peak before 2015.

Aside from the fact that Annex 1 has to make the first steps, and that this principle is the foundation of Kyoto, there are still further issues with the so-called alternatives. The Copenhagen Accord leaves the “gigatonne gap” — it’s a staggering 9 gigatonnes short of the science based emissions reductions targets that will save us from runaway climate change. Not to mention the reports that countries were strong armed into signing the accord in the first place.

So, our government keeps stressing the need for a level playing field, but it sounds a little more level for the Canadian government, where we’ve taken no action, and doesn’t account at all for everyone, including Canadian citizens, who are suffering from the ever increasing impacts of climate change.

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