Environment Minister Peter Kent arrives at the United Nations climate summit in Qatar this weekend with a target on his back, representing the only government that has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol and taken a hard line on the need for emerging-market countries to make binding commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
In an interview before leaving Ottawa, Mr. Kent made it clear that Canada would not deviate from its contentious path or sacrifice economic growth to cut emissions.
"We are taking our obligations seriously," he said. "But we are balancing our obligation and engagement on climate change with sensitivities to the realities of Canada's still-recovering economy, job creation and job growth, and we will continue on that course."
Global environment ministers and leaders arrive in Doha for the second week of a conference that aims to reinvigorate flagging international commitment to the battle against climate change, even as many developed countries struggle to emerge from economic crises.
In the run-up to the meeting, UN officials have been warning that the world is running out of time to take the action needed to avoid catastrophic climate change, and new studies show that polar and Greenland ice masses are melting and sea levels rising more quickly than had previously been expected.
At the opening news conference, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres cited three priorities for the summit: renewal of the Kyoto agreement; commitment of financial aid for poorer countries to address climate change; and progress toward a new global agreement by 2015 that would set binding commitments for non-Kyoto countries like the United States and China.
She added the countries need to increase their ambitions and make greater progress in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions before there is no chance to keep the temperature increase to 2 C, as global leaders have committed.
"The door is closing fast on us because the pace and scale of action is simply not yet where it must be," Ms. Figueres said.
In the interview, however, Mr. Kent rejected two of those priorities, saying Ottawa is only interested in being part of an agreement that binds all major emitters, especially the United States and China. And he said the Harper government is not ready to pledge new money for an international climate fund.
The Environment Minister acknowledged the looming danger of climate change, noting the increase in severe weather like last month's Hurricane Sandy that ravaged the Eastern United States, and the fact that temperatures in Canada's North are rising faster than anticipated.
"We've got to look for development of a new regime that will engage all the major emitters," he said. "We've got to get actual greenhouse-gas emissions down globally. And that's got to be our first priority."
Ms. Figueres urged Kyoto signatories to commit to another round of emission cuts to maintain some momentum before a new agreement can be reached. But Canada fell far short of its target for 2012, and formally withdrew from the treaty last January. Now other countries, including Japan, Russia and New Zealand, are refusing to take on new Kyoto commitments.
The minister's statement this week that the summit is "not a pledging conference" was a direct rebuff to Ms. Figueres's urging that rich countries commit new money to a Global Green Fund to help build trust among developing nations, and earned Canada's a satirical "fossil award" from environmentalists at the summit.
Opposition MPs and environmental groups argue the Conservative government has embarrassed Canada internationally, both in its stance at the UN summit and its refusal to impose meaningful regulations on key sectors at home, notably the oil sands industry, which accounts for the fastest-growing source of emissions in the country.
"The government's handling of the climate change file so far has been nothing short of disgraceful," NDP environment critic Megan Leslie said Friday. "We've been called out by our international partners for going into these negotiations specifically to try to derail them."
Mr. Kent said Canada is on its way to meeting emission reduction targets set after the Copenhagen conference in 2009, in which Ottawa matched the U.S. pledge to cut emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.
This week, the minister announced Canada will match ambitious U.S. fuel-efficiency standards for the years 2017 to 2025.