Kent says ‘Kyoto is the past,’ refuses to confirm Canada’s withdrawal

OTTAWA – Canada heads into climate talks in South Africa this week refusing to publicly show its hand on whether it’s in or out of the only global treaty on limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Environment Minister Peter Kent says his goal for the meetings in Durban is to come out with a new deal that gets all major emitters involved in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, be they developed or developing economies.

But what that means for the Kyoto Protocol is uncertain.

The first round of commitments under that 1997 accord expire in 2012. Canada, Japan and Russia have already said they won’t sign on to a new round.

But Kent refused on Monday to either confirm or deny reports that Canada in facts plans to walk away from the Kyoto accord altogether.

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“This isn’t the day. This is not the time to make an announcement,” he told a news conference called to commit $600 million over five years to the government’s clean air regulatory agenda.

Kent said the time has come for a post-Kyoto agreement that sees all major emitters – be they from developing or developed economies – at the table to bring down greenhouse gas emissions.

“If there is urgency to address climate change, this is not the time for the world’s major emitters to sit on the sidelines,” he said.

Canada needs to move forward on agreements reached at more recent climate summits in Copenhagen and Cancun, not focus on the Kyoto Protocol, he said.

“Kyoto is the past,” said the Conservative minister.

But his refusal to discuss Kyoto is raising deep suspicion among activists that Canada heads into the Durban talks in bad faith.

“What this government wants to do is to negotiate voluntary commitments that will be completely ineffective,” said Gary Neil of the Council of Canadians.

“So Kent is simply saying that he wants to continue down that path. Is this a surprise? No, of course, it’s not a surprise. But I think Canada’s position is finally revealed for the sham that it is, not only here in Canada but internationally.”

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The Durban talks started on Monday and last for two weeks, in an attempt to break a deadlock over how global warming should be kept under control. Ministers, including Kent, will join their negotiators in a week’s time.

Many environmental groups, developing countries and the European Union want the Durban talks to lead to a new version of the Kyoto Protocol.

Canada’s withdrawal from Kyoto would be “a slap in the face,” but would likely have little effect on the negotiations in South Africa, said Alden Meyer of the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists.

Meyer said a withdrawal, which would only come into effect next year, would allow Canada to continue to be a negotiator on the future of the protocol, “watering down the treaty and wrecking the job of the rest of us.”