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climate talks

A climate protestor demonstrates outside the UK headquarters of British oil giant BP in central London, on September 1, 2009.Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

With its booming "tar sands" and hostility toward Kyoto, Canada has become the bad boy of global climate talk in the eyes of environmentalists.

At past UN meetings, activists showered the Harper government with "fossil awards," a theatrical stunt to highlight the expansion of the emissions-heavy oil sands, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to walk away from Canada's climate obligations under Kyoto because he considered the targets to be unattainable without massive economic dislocation.

Maybe it was its indifference to the 2009 Copenhagen summit that cemented the bad reputation. Mr. Harper flew in for a brief visit - spurred by other world leaders who were doing so - but he and then-environment minister Jim Prentice kept a low profile as activists pilloried Canada's behind-the-scenes role in lowering expectations.

Last year at Cancun, Mr. Prentice's successor, John Baird, adopted a more pugnacious stance.

Mr. Baird was particularly blunt over Kyoto's shortcomings - that it did not include the two largest emitters, the United States and China, and therefore could never succeed in addressing climate change.

He stopped short of the characterization favoured by Mr. Harper when he was opposition leader - that Kyoto was merely a socialist scheme for transferring wealth from the rich world to developing nations.

But Mr. Baird, now Canada's Foreign Minister, undiplomatically singled out China as a barrier to progress at the Cancun talks, and suggested Beijing's position - that its climate policies should not face international review - was nonsensical.

At the coming UN climate meeting in Durban, South Africa, the Harper government has a dubious distinction to defend.

But with the Prime Minister adamantly opposed to a new Kyoto round, the smart money would bet on Canada bringing home a fifth consecutive "colossal fossil" award.