Skip to content

A day at the UN climate negotiations: Canada helping to kill Kyoto

What a day.

8:00: Meeting with Guy Saint-Jacques.

I had grand plans to write about the meeting I attended this morning (alongside other Canadians) with our negotiator Guy Saint-Jacques. I walked out with plenty to write but no time, having to whisk away on a bus to another building for a Climate Justice Now! meeting. Having arrived late, I found myself leaving early to hop on another bus (splitting the typically merged locations certainly hinders capacity to monitor and respond to negotiations) to attend a press conference featuring a number of Latin American countries including Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

12:00: Kyoto Protocol under threat?

Maude Barlow, Anil Naidoo and I walked out of the press conference, recognizing something serious was afoot.

The press conference revealed a serious concern that a handful of countries were, in essence, walking away from the Kyoto Accord by not agreeing to sign a second commitment period for binding emission reduction targets (the first period ends in 2012). During questions following the press conference, Canada, Japan and Russia were suggested as likely countries refusing to sign.

The apparent contradiction between this accusation and my earlier meeting was quickly apparent. “No one is trying to kill the Kyoto Protocol,” said our negotiator.

Alarmed by what we were hearing, we started asking questions. We began making some calls to our allies and gathering information to share with media.

Thinking I would finally have time to write this blog, I settled into one of the many computer terminals set up for participants monitoring the negotiations (its 10:30pm as I write this now).

2:35: The picture gets clearer – Canada part of group of 3 working to kill Kyoto Protocol

While the Latin American countries participating in the press conference opted not to name the countries refusing to sign the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (this is not untypical), Christiana Figueres, Secretary of the UNFCCC did.

When asked by a journalist what four countries had reportedly said they would not commit to a second period, Figueres responded (somewhat haphazardly): “Russia and Canada are known, I don’t know who the others are…could be. But in any event, it doesn’t change the facts. Um, it just doesn’t change the facts. There are a group of industrialized countries who cannot here in Cancun commit to a second commitment period.  There is a large number of developing countries that have the justified expectation of quantified emission limitation objectives from countries and that need the rigour and the certainty of mitigation on the part of industrialized countries that the Kyoto Protocol provides. Both of these are realities and, as I said before, those are not situations that are going to be dramatically changed in Cancun.”

3:00: “We want to know: why is Canada holding the knife that will kill Kyoto?” asks Maude Barlow.

Well, there you have it. We knew Canada had refused to meet its commitments under the first period of the Kyoto Protocol. We knew that Canada was highly unlikely to play a constructive role at these negotiations given our failure to comply with the Kyoto Protocol, weak emission reduction target (with no plan to achieve it) and commitment to the tar sands (to name a few examples). But having it said out loud confirms not only that we are unlikely to see progress in Cancun – negotiations appear to be teetering on a ledge with some heavyweights ready to give a gentle push in the wrong direction.

While it appears unlikely we will hear an open admission that this amounts to killing the Kyoto Protocol anytime soon, it isn’t a stretch to see how refusing to meet our commitments under the first period and refusing to sign a second period makes the future of our only existing internationally binding agreement, grim (and this is not to suggest by any means that it is an fully effective agreement either).

Under the Kyoto Protocol developed countries are each required to make legally-binding emission reductions and collectively reach a target based on what science requires. Demands by developing countries for 40 to 50 percent cuts by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels) are realistic considering recent science that affirms climate change is accelerating faster than predicted.

Worse still, it appears that pressure is mounting on governments to phase out, or walk away from the Kyoto Protocol and have it replaced by a voluntary system of pledges, as exists under the Copenhagen Accord. Reports of secretive meetings certainly doesn’t help to assuage these concerns.

6:00: Reflections from the bus ride bringing me to welcomed food and (eventual) rest.

Sitting on the bus after a mad rush to try to get this story out to allies and media, I reviewed my notes from the first meeting with Saint-Jacques. I realized that while he did not openly admit Canada wouldn’t commit to a second period of the Kyoto Protocol, his answer to the question of Japan’s refusal (to sign) was informative. He suggested that “nobody wants to kill Kyoto Protocol,” adding that it has been very useful, here I believe he suggested that the Kyoto Protocol’s market mechanisms are very important and that if want to have a new agreement, that we will need mechanisms to bring the private sector in.

So let’s get this straight. There may be a push to get rid of the best of Kyoto (binding emission reduction targets and collective target) and replace/add (likely a major battle ground in coming days) to it with a ‘new deal’ (ie Copenhagen Accord in some form likely under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention – AWG-LCA) that absorbs the worst of Kyoto (market based mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism – offsets which allow Global North countries to shirk their historical responsibility for reducing emissions) and the worst of the Copenhagen Accord (the voluntary targets currently proposed threaten to bring the world to a devastating 5 degrees rise in global temperature)?

Well – we’re in for a bumpy ride and not only on buses to and from the negotiations.

While things may appear dark now, a shift away from the Kyoto Protocol will not proceed without a fight; we know what is at stake and how little time there is.