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Politics Kent rejects climate 'guilt payment' to poorer countries

Environment Minister Peter Kent holds a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 28,2011 as he prepares to leave for climate talks in Durban later this week.

Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

The Kyoto Protocol is built on an outdated view of the developed and developing world and the unacceptable demand for climate reparations from poorer countries, Environment Minister Peter Kent says.

As he prepares to leave for the UN climate conference in South Africa this week, Mr. Kent continued to deflect questions on whether Canada would actually pull out of the Kyoto accord as was reported this week.

But he made it clear the Harper government opposes the very foundations of the United Nations treaty, which was signed in 1997 by former prime minister Jean Chrétien.

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That includes the longstanding agreement among developed countries that they bear primary responsibility for the current buildup of greenhouse gases, and that they therefore carry the burden of reining in emissions and should transfer hundreds of billions of dollars to poor countries to help them cope.

"There is a fairly widely held perception in the developing world of the need for guilt payment" to be built into any international deal on climate, Mr. Kent said in an interview Tuesday. It's a view Ottawa does not share.

Mr. Kent said major emitting economies, such as China and India, insist on being treated the same as the poorest African country when it comes to the responsibility to address the global climate crisis.

"That's why Kyoto is ineffective and unfair, because the major emerging economies – which still like to consider themselves, when it's convenient, to be developing economies – are obviously the largest emitters."

The Canadian government is among a handful of signatories that is refusing to sign on to new emission-reduction targets under the Kyoto treaty after the first period expires in 2012. Instead, Ottawa says it wants a new treaty that would include major emitters like the United States, China and India, none of whom have commitments under Kyoto.

Canada's rejection of Kyoto has put it in the spotlight at the Durban conference, which began this week with officials aiming to make progress before ministers arrive for the second week.

In an ad running in Wednesday's Globe and Mail, several South African leaders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, call on Canada to show leadership on climate talks, and reclaim the moral high ground it once held during the anti-apartheid movement.

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Mr. Kent said he hopes to persuade Archbishop Tutu and his colleagues that Canada is showing leadership in insisting on a deal that would achieve real progress, rather than one that leaves out 70 per cent of the world's emitters.

"We're not obstructing any of the parties that want to commit to a second Kyoto period but we say we're not going to get things done if we don't get the U.S. and other big emitters involved, and they will only get involved if there is a new agreement," he said.

New Democratic Party environment critic Megan Leslie said the Harper government is deliberately ignoring the realities of history to push for an agreement that it knows major developing countries will never accept.

"I don't think it is a guilt trip; the reality is, certain countries have contributed more emissions historically," Ms. Leslie said. "And it is up to them to show leadership. It is the ethical thing to do."

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