Speaking at a news conference in Ottawa, Canada’s minister for the environment, Peter Kent, said the decision would save the nation some $14 billion in penalties that would accrue for failure to meet emissions targets agreed to by a previous government in the 1997 pact — the first international accord aimed at reducing global emissions of planet-warming gases.
He said meeting Canada’s obligations under Kyoto would cost $13.6bn (10.3bn euros; £8.7bn): “That’s $1,600 from every Canadian family – that’s the Kyoto cost to Canadians, that was the legacy of an incompetent Liberal government”.
Canada, a major energy producer which critics complain is becoming a climate renegade, has long complained Kyoto is unworkable precisely because it excludes so many significant emitters.
“As we’ve said, Kyoto for Canada is in the past … We are invoking our legal right to formally withdraw from Kyoto,” Kent told reporters.
“While our government has taken action since 2006 to make real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, under Kyoto Canada is facing radical and irresponsible choices if we are to avoid punishing multi-billion dollar payments,” Kent said.
Meeting its commitments under Kyoto, he said, would require the equivalent of “removing every car, truck, ATV, tractor, ambulance, police car and vehicle of every kind from Canadian roads.”
The Kyoto agreement grew out of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, 14 years ago. It bound more than three dozen industrialized countries to reduce emissions of certain greenhouse gases by an average of slightly more than 5 percent over 1990 levels.
The protocol was to take effect only after at least 55 countries, representing 55 percent of global CO2 emissions, had ratified the document. Those conditions were fully met in 2004, and the treaty was entered into force in early 2005.
Kent did not give details on when Ottawa would pull out of a treaty he said could not work. Canada kept quiet during the Durban talks so as not to be a distraction, he added.
“The writing on the wall for Kyoto has been recognized by even those countries which are engaging in a second commitment,” he said. Kyoto’s first phase was due to expire at the end of 2012 but has now been extended until 2017.
Canada’s conservative government under Stephen Harper, who assumed the title of prime minister in 2006, has long been hostile to the Kyoto agreement, which was ratified by Liberal Party Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in 2002.
The Harper government has charged its predecessors with never making any real attempts to comply with Kyoto’s emissions limits. It has also issued concerns, shared by the U.S. and other developed countries, that Kyoto’s emissions rules apply only to rich nations, leaving up-and-coming polluters like India and China off the hook.
Environmentalists quickly blasted Kent for his comments.
“It’s a national disgrace. Prime Minister Harper just spat in the faces of people around the world for whom climate change is increasingly a life and death issue,” said Graham Saul of Climate Action Network Canada.
“It’s a very odd feeling to look north and see a country even more irresponsible about climate change than the U.S.,” said the author and climate activist Bill McKibben, who has spearheaded protests against the development of the Alberta oil resource.
“For a long time, Canada has been seen as one of those countries that solved more problems than they created. But this makes it official: the lure of wealth in the tar sands has really corrupted the government,” he said.
Mr Kent’s announcement came just hours after a last-minute deal on climate change was agreed in Durban.
Talks on a new legal deal covering all countries will begin next year and end by 2015, coming into effect by 2020, the UN climate conference decided.
“The Kyoto Protocol is a dated document, it is actually considered by many as an impediment to the move forward but there was good will demonstrated in Durban, the agreement that we ended up with provides the basis for an agreement by 2015.”
Canada declared four years ago that it did not intend to meet its existing Kyoto Protocol commitments and its annual emissions have risen by about once third since 1990. [via Reuters, Huffington Post and BBC]