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Vice Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) of China and head of Chinese delegation Xie Zhenhua speaks during the opening of the China's stand in Durban on Dec. 4, 2011 at the UN Climate Change Conference.ALEXANDER JOE

The countries that Canada pegged as the barriers to a better climate-change deal are leading international criticism over the Harper government's move to withdraw from the Kyoto accord.

China's official news agency, Xinhua, blasted the decision as "preposterous" and "irresponsible" action that will scar global climate-change efforts. An Indian official said the move would jeopardize any gains that might flow from weekend talks in Durban, South Africa toward a new agreement.

They were among a long list of countries who criticized Ottawa's decision – the first official move by any country to withdraw from the 1997 Kyoto climate-change agreement – with terms ranging from "disappointing" to "reckless."

For Beijing, it seemed a chance to return the wagging finger that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government had pointed in China's direction.

Environment Minister Peter Kent had long argued that Canada would not enter any new agreement until it included binding commitments for all of the world's largest greenhouse-gas emitters, and called on China and India to agree to binding emissions cuts.

But China accepted the principle of taking on cuts after 2020 in the Durban talks, and even India agreed to a text that said such an agreement should have "legal force." And when Mr. Kent returned to Ottawa to immediately announce that Canada is withdrawing from the existing Kyoto accord, China spoke up.

"It is regrettable and flies in the face of the efforts of the international community for Canada to leave the Kyoto Protocol at a time when the Durban meeting, as everyone knows, made important progress by securing a second phase of commitment to the protocol," said Liu Weimin, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry.

They were not alone. France's foreign ministry spokesman, Bernard Valero, called it "bad news for the fight against climate change." Ian Fry, the lead climate negotiator for Tuvalu, the nation of atolls in the South Pacific that is losing territory to rising ocean waters, told Reuters it was "an act of sabotage on our future." Even Japan, which like Canada had signalled it would not take on commitments in a second phase of the Kyoto accord after 2012, urged Ottawa to reconsider.

Mr. Kent, who announced the Canadian decision Monday, argued that staying in the Kyoto accord would require Canada to spend $14-billion buying carbon credits from abroad. In the Commons on Tuesday, Mr. Harper insisted Canada is still working toward an agreement that would bind all the world's emitters.

"What this government does not favour, what this government has never favoured and has been very clear on is we do not agree with a protocol that only controls a little bit of global emissions, not enough to actually make any difference but enough to transfer Canadian jobs overseas," Mr. Harper said. "We will never agree to that."

But Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said in a statement she was surprised at the timing of the announcement, immediately after the Durban talks, and Canada still has legal obligations under a prior accord. "Whether or not Canada is a party to the Kyoto Protocol, it has a legal obligation under the Convention to reduce its emissions, and a moral obligation to itself and future generations to lead in the global effort," she said.

With files from Reuters and Agence France-Presse

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