Looking over the record of industrialized countries in controlling their greenhouse-gas emissions is to see cases of the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
Among the countries judged to be good are Germany and Britain. They're undisputed leaders in showing the way for countries to curb their releases of planet-warming gases. Unfortunately, Canada is listed among the ugly.
In preparation for this week's international climate summit in Montreal, the UN's climate change secretariat has released a report on the progress, or lack thereof, made by the 40 developed countries covered by the Kyoto Protocol.
Canada has vowed to cut its emissions by 6 per cent from its 1990 level over the period from 2008 to 2012, but its emissions by the end of 2003 were up 24 per cent.
Federal Environment Minister Stéphane Dion attributes Canada's rise partly to robust economic growth. The economy has grown by 43 per cent since 1990. Canada is also being saddled with emissions from the booming energy industry, which is exporting record amounts of oil and gas to the United States.
Mr. Dion said Canada is committed to meeting its Kyoto target and he predicted it would soon start to show more progress. "At the end of the day in 2012, we'll have far less emissions and also much more economic efficiency," he said.
Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club of Canada said some federal officials were so nervous about the optics of Canada's record that they were initially reluctant to agree to act as host to the UN climate conference for fear environmentalists would use it to embarrass Ottawa.
"We're just going to give the [non-governmental organizations]a chance to treat us like a pinata right before the world comes to Canada," Ms. May said about the fears of some in the government.
Federal officials dispute Ms. May's account, but nonetheless, it's unlikely that anyone will be mentioning Canada's record at the conference.
Conservation activists say they will be pulling their punches to help Mr. Dion work on the most important item at the conference: starting talks on a new climate regime to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.
Ms. May said environmentalists will not be "beating up on our government. What we're concerned about is getting real reductions globally before the Western Antarctic ice sheet falls into the ocean."
Other countries are expected to cut Canada slack because it didn't follow the United States and Australia out of Kyoto, and has remained committed to meeting the protocol.
At first reading, the UN figures indicate that the industrialized world has made considerable progress in fighting global warming.
By the end of 2003, emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases fell an average of 5.9 per cent below their 1990 levels. That is more than Kyoto's requirement for an average cut of 5.2 per cent.
But the report also shows that national performances are all over the map when it comes to controlling planet-warming gases, mostly carbon dioxide and methane, spewed from the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial activities.
The report shows that a huge, one-time greenhouse gas reduction occurred after the economic collapse of the former Communist countries. The former East Bloc's emissions fell from 5.7 billion tonnes in 1990 to 3.4 billion tonnes in 2003, a stunning drop equivalent to eliminating three times Canada's total annual contribution to warming the planet.
But since the early 1990s, most countries in the East and West have muddled along, making little headway in weaning themselves from their fossil-fuel dependency.
Excluding the former East Bloc, emissions among industrialized countries actually rose 9.2 per cent between 1990 and 2003.
"The emissions from developed countries as a group have been stable in recent years, and not decreased as they did in the early 1990s," Richard Kinley, acting head of the UN's climate change secretariat, said in a statement.
He noted that some recent projections contain the worrisome prospect of emission growth resuming by 2010.
Among the international leaders are Germany and Britain. Both have made huge strides, with drops of more than 10 per cent each.
One surprise in the figures is that Canada's emission record is far worse than even the United States, where the Bush administration has refused to ratify Kyoto.
Mr. Bramley said the United States is "actually ahead of Canada in just about every area" of environmental policies used to curb emissions. And he said the record of individual states "is far ahead of any province in Canada."
Kyoto progress report
Changes in greenhouse gas emissions from developed countries, 1990-2003.
Over all among these countries there was a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions of 5.9 per cent, from 18.4 billion tonnes CO² equivalent in 1990 to 17.3 billion tonnes CO² equivalent in 2003.
SOURCE: UNITED NATIONS