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Canada fiercely opposes proposal to extend Kyoto

An activist dressed as a polar bear holds a sign urging nations at the Copenhagen climate summit to agree to limit carbon in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, the level many scientists believe is the maximum that can be sustained without triggering catastrophic warming. Heribert Proepper/AP

Heribert Proepper

Canada's Copenhagen nightmare may be coming true.

A draft proposal published at the climate-change summit Friday for the countries in the Kyoto Protocol, the only international greenhouse-gas reduction treaty, calls for five years to be added to Kyoto, taking it to 2017. Canada fiercely resists any extension of the treaty.

Canada ratified the protocol in 2002, when Jean Chrétien's Liberals were in power. But the Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper have argued for years that the targets agreed to by Canada are impossible to meet. In common with many developed countries, Canada wants Kyoto to lapse in 2012, partly for fear of having to pay non-compliance penalties if it remains intact.

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Canada supports the launch of a new treaty that would be signed by all 192 countries at the Copenhagen conference, including the United States, which did not ratify Kyoto. "We should be seeking a single, legally binding outcome," Michael Martin, Canada's chief climate-change negotiator, said at a press conference. "That's a view supported by many parties, but certainly not all of them."

When Canada signed Kyoto, it agreed to reduce emissions by 6 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. Canada's emissions have instead soared, partly due to the rapid expansion of the energy-intensive Alberta oil sands. Ottawa's new proposed target is 3 per cent from 1990 levels, far less than most developed countries.

The draft proposal to extend Kyoto is seen as a concession to the developing countries, which argue that the world's wealthy countries are chiefly responsible for the carbon emissions that threaten to raise global average temperatures. Mr. Martin, however, points out that the industrialized countries covered under the Kyoto Protocol account for less than 30 per cent of total global emissions. Kyoto, he says, is deeply flawed and should not be replaced after it expires in 2012.

A second draft proposal published Friday calls for the wealthiest countries to make far steeper emissions cuts than they have already pledged. The plan proposes that those countries, including Canada, the United States, Britain and Japan, jointly reduce greenhouse gases by at least 25 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. Current proposed reductions range from 10 per cent to 17 per cent, with deeper reductions by 2050.

The gap between the developed countries' proposals and the targets in the draft sets the stage for negotiations that promise to be fractious, and time is running out. The goal of the negotiators is to have an agreement in place no later than Thursday, when more than 100 heads of state and government, including U.S. President Barack Obama, arrive in Copenhagen to endorse a new climate-change agreement the next day. "I think we're heading to a high-noon scenario," said Dave Martin, Greenpeace Canada's climate and energy director.

Friday's draft contains no details on another issue that threatens chaos at the summit – how to pay for climate-change adaptation and mitigation measures in the developing countries. The Commonwealth countries have proposed a "Quick Start" fund valued at $10-billion (U.S.) a year for three years starting in 2010. Friday the European Union offered to contribute $3.5-billion a year for short-term funding. Separately, France and Britain have floated the idea of a small tax on international financial transactions, called a "Tobin tax," named after the American economist who proposed the idea in the 1970s.

The developing countries are highly unlikely to sign a climate-change deal unless more funds are committed. Canada supports a short-term fund, but no money is officially on the table. The decision on how much Canada will pledge will be made by Mr. Harper and Jim Prentice, the Environment Minister, when they arrive in Copenhagen next week.

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About the Author
European Columnist

Eric Reguly is the European columnist for The Globe and Mail and is based in Rome. Since 2007, when he moved to Europe, he has primarily covered economic and financial stories, ranging from the euro zone crisis and the bank bailouts to the rise and fall of Russia's oligarchs and the merger of Fiat and Chrysler. More

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