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No-go for kyoto?
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No-go for Kyoto?
How the Harper government is dealing with “the most important document on the face of the earth”


sunil angrish

So is it sayonara Kyoto? Ever since the Conservatives won the last federal election, many people have been asking whether the Kyoto protocol, ratified by the previous Liberal government in 2002, might go the way of the dodo. Conservatives have long said they would want a “made-in-Canada” plan, arguing Kyoto targets are simply unachievable and unrealistic. Others disagree.
“It is the most important document on the face of the earth,” says Dan McDermott, Director of the Sierra Club of Canada, Ontario Chapter. “Is it perfect? No.”

The 140-plus countries that have signed on to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to cuts in greenhouse emissions, including a cut of at least five per cent CO2 emissions below 1990 levels. Canada had promised to reduce emissions by six per cent below 1990 levels when it signed on.

Supporters say climate change is a reality, and greenhouse gases are the culprit. Opponents say the costs of enacting it would greatly outweigh any benefits from the cuts. Others say the protocol was always too optimistic, including the current Minister of Environment, Rona Ambrose.

“We don’t believe we’re going to reach it,” says Ryan Sparrow, press secretary for the Minister of Environment. “We’ve said we won’t do it.”

Sparrow says both Liberal governments’ pledges towards Kyoto were mistakes, saying they focused on “unattainable” goals. Recent reports say emission levels in Canada have actually risen more than 20 per cent since 1990, with Ambrose putting the number nearer 30 per cent.

In their May 2006 budget, the federal Conservatives didn’t include a single mention of the protocol. Instead they announced new funding to pubic transit programs and their new, but still detail-less, “made-in-Canada” plan, which would cost $2 billion dollars over five years. Sparrow says in addition to the new transportation funding, the new plan will include a clean air act and requirements for five per cent ethanol in gasoline.

Gone is the 10 billion dollar Kyoto plan set out by the former Paul Martin-led Liberal government in April 2005, including the Climate Change Fund, a billion-dollar fund to allow companies to buy and sell emission credits from within Canada and elsewhere where Kyoto targets have already been met.

During the Conservatives’ time as the official opposition, they held firm on no-Kyoto, outlined by their then-environment critic MP Bob Mills and in their policy brochure Our Green Future, outlining a “sensible alternative to Kyoto”.

In it, under the self-explanatory title of “A Green Canada”, it lists several methods on which their approach differs from Kyoto, including “co-operation… not confrontation” and “incentives… not penalties.”

However others, including the Sierra Club’s McDermott, say Kyoto never went far enough, arguing much more reductions are needed to truly stop climate change from happening.

“We have not seen the sense of urgency we’d like to have seen,” says McDermott.  But, “even Stephen Harper doesn’t try to pretend [it] doesn’t exist.”

“Clearly we’re in support of Kyoto,” says NDP MP and environment critic Nathan Cullen. “Actually, we don’t think it’s enough.” He says many of his Conservative colleagues don’t believe climate change is happening. “The major barrier is overcoming their ideology,” says Cullen. “There’s a huge gap in the education [on Kyoto], in the basics. I’m shocked about how little they know.”

“We’re quite fearful that they’ll take a U.S.-based approach to Kyoto,” says Katrina Miller, interim-executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance. U.S. President George W. Bush wholly rejected Kyoto, saying he felt the targets for Kyoto would put a large dent on the U.S. economy and be ineffective given India and China don’t have to follow the same targets.  India and China are signatories, but are exempted from the framework of the protocol because they are considered developing nations.

“The US-based mentality means Canadians don’t need to play or collaborate with the world,” Miller says.

If the Conservatives were to completely back out of Kyoto, the political price would be high, she said. A 2002 Greenpeace poll conducted by Decima Research showed 78 per cent of Canadians supported ratification of the Kyoto protocol. A 2002 Ekos poll for the CBC and The Toronto Star showed nearly 70 per cent of surveyed support ratification.

“They might not be able to pull out,” says Miller. “The Conservatives are going to have to deal with [the public outcry].”

However, and perhaps to the benefit of the no-­­go Conservatives, the Ekos poll also showed 55 per cent of those surveyed believed individual nations, and not a co-ordinated global effort, was the best means to deal with environmental policy.

Miller says former Liberal governments led by Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin are mainly to blame for Canada’s weakened position on reaching targets. “Chrétien did nothing for Kyoto,” says Miller. “The first action [on Kyoto] was in the last two years.”

Stephen Harper and his colleagues have an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past. “The Conservatives have yet to prove if they’ll be heroes or zeroes,” she says.

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