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Update from Canún: Canada attempts to kill Kyoto Protocol

Canada, along with Japan and Russia, is blocking the second round of emission reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol to ensure that it is not extended beyond 2012. Rather, they are pursuing ineffective and even harmful measures including a non-binding, voluntary Copenhagen Accord and a pledge and review process.

The Kyoto Protocol is the only legally-binding international agreement aimed at curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It recognizes that developed countries are primarily responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity. It is a significant first step in setting binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing GHG emissions amounting to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.

Although Canada was a signatory to the Protocol, in 2006, the Harper government tabled a budget that failed to allocate any funding to implement the legally-binding Protocol. Later that year, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose said Canada had no chance of meeting its targets under the Kyoto Protocol even before it began. Just days before the current climate talks began, the unelected Senate killed Bill C-311 without any democratic debate. Bill C-311 would have been the only piece of legislation aimed at reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. Now in Cancún, Canada along with a small number of powerful nations, are working towards the elimination of the Kyoto Protocol.

The World Meteorological Organization reported yesterday that “2010 is on track to be Canada’s warmest year ever and one of the hottest this planet has ever experienced.” Canada is already seeing the effects of climate change. Droughts, particularly in the Prairie provinces, are resulting in crop failures and are predicted to become even more frequent in the future. Extreme precipitation is causing floods in various parts of the country. Glaciers are melting much more rapidly than predicted, which is significantly impacting Inuit and other Northern populations. Changing weather patterns are lowering lake levels and causing seal levels to rise. Lake levels of the Great Lakes are predicted to drop from between 0.5 to 1.0 metre threatening the drinking water of over 40 million people. Environment Canada predicts that rising sea levels would threaten low-lying lands on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Among the emerging trends of the negotiations is an acceptance of a 4-5 degrees Celsius temperature increase. According to a recent, independent study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, even small changes in water temperature can result in algal blooms that can make a lake toxic to fish or result in the introduction of non-native species that change the lake’s natural ecosystem.

In 2008, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that water has the “potential to be strongly impacted by climate change, with wide-ranging consequences for human societies and ecosystems.” Despite this, the role between water and climate change are being largely overlooked in the climate change conference.

The Canadian government’s role in undermining the Kyoto Protocol is extremely concerning and an embarrassment to Canadians. A recent poll indicates that Canadians want transformative change to address the climate crisis.

Despite the appalling actions of a handful of powerful countries, hope lies in the countries of the Group of 77 and the Alliance of Small Island States, most of which have expressed their commitment to the Kyoto Protocol. Canada and a few countries should not be allowed to kill an international agreement which is supported by the majority of the world’s nations. The G-77 and AOSIS can advance climate justice by rejecting non-binding, voluntary measures and continuing to press for a 40-50% reduction by 2020.

More to come.