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Canada gets ready to walk away from Kyoto Protocol Add to ...

Federal Environment Minister John Baird arrives at the global climate summit Tuesday looking to administer last rites to the Kyoto Protocol, at least in its current form. But the funeral may have to wait for next year's session in South Africa.

For Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the end of Canada's commitment to Kyoto would achieve a long-standing goal, as he has opposed the accord since its inception in 1997 and distanced his government from it since taking office five years ago.

Canada remains the only country to ratify Kyoto and then publicly renounce its 2012 emission targets - a move the Harper government took almost immediately after taking office when then-environment-minister Rona Ambrose told an international gathering there was no chance of lowering emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels.

Officially, the government denies it is aiming to kill Kyoto. However, it vocally supports the political deal reached last year in Copenhagen that would change key elements of Kyoto by demanding binding emission targets from major developing countries.

"We are seeking a legally binding treaty that includes all major emitters, which is what the Copenhagen Accord was all about last year," Mr. Baird's spokesman, Bill Rodgers, said. "That includes the emerging economies of China and India. It also includes the United States, which did not ratify Kyoto and has no intention of doing so."

At Cancun, some 193 countries are participating in the two-week summit, which aims to reach agreement on key building blocks for a comprehensive climate treaty down the road.

As ministers and some leaders arrive for the summit's second week, negotiators remain far apart on major issues. The conflicts were spelled out as competing options in draft texts released on the weekend.

The European Union has been siding with China, India and other developing countries to demand a second period of emission reduction under Kyoto. Canada is clearly reluctant, in part because it would be penalized post 2012 for its failure to meet previous targets.

Last week, Japan said it would not make new commitments under Kyoto unless there was a comprehensive deal that includes all emitters. Now the parties are negotiating a face-saving deal that would delay any final decision on Kyoto commitments until next year in South Africa, but the treaty is clearly on life support.

Politically, Mr. Harper appears confident that he can walk away from Kyoto with little electoral damage.

The Conservatives killed an opposition-supported climate bill in the Senate that would require the government to come up with a plan to reduce emissions to 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 - essentially putting Canada on a Kyoto track - and encountered little political backlash.

The Liberals under Michael Ignatieff are determined not to repeat the mistakes of former leader Stéphane Dion, who took an electoral drubbing after campaigning on climate change in 2008. After two years of recession and sluggish growth, the Conservatives are positioning themselves as having a single-minded focus on the economy and jobs, essentially daring Mr. Ignatieff to make climate change an electoral issue.

Mr. Harper has provided himself political room by hitching his policy to action in the United States, said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who is in Cancun for the summit.

"The brilliant political ploy of 'waiting for Obama' gives the Harperites political cover," Ms. May said. "Of course, it's all spin."

But she also blames the Liberals and New Democrats for not holding the government to account, and demanding that Ottawa commit to a second phase of emissions reductions under Kyoto.

Still, there are political risks for Mr. Harper.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest arrives in Cancun on Monday and, at the very least, will highlight Quebeckers' support for climate action and unhappiness with Mr. Harper's approach. Last year in Copenhagen, Mr. Charest was vocal in his condemnation of Canadian policy. With his popularity now in tatters over corruption scandals, he may again look to bolster his image as a climate activist in contrast to Ottawa. And voters in Quebec are more supportive of action on climate change than those in the rest of the country.

On Tuesday, Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner arrives, and environmental groups hope to portray Ottawa and Alberta as colluding in a policy that sees oil sands expansion trumping climate policy.

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