Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canada adopts Kyoto realism

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Although it hardly could have been a surprise to anyone, Canada's announcement Monday that it would quit the Kyoto Accord when it expires in 2012 sparked immediate outrage. Environment Minister Peter Kent told delegates to the UN conference on climate change in Durban that it would not participate in any "second round" of the protocol that might be agreed on.

Instead, Ottawa -- joined by the United States, Russia and Japan -- wants the international community to negotiate a new, more inclusive and more practical agreement that would draw in developing nations, particularly the emerging economic giants China, India and Brazil.

The Canadian commitment to this seems firm. Even an unprecedented offer by China to consider accepting cuts to its greenhouse gas emissions if the second stage of Kyoto were approved, failed to move the government -- "No'' was Mr. Kent's curt response to Beijing's rather tentative proposal.

The government cloaks its position in principle -- Kyoto doesn't work and the world can do better -- but it's hard to avoid the fact that there is an element within it of self-interest for Canada. Since Canada clearly has failed to meet its terms, it has little other choice than to bail out or expose a certain hypocrisy.

Canada, in fact, cannot meet the commitments it made when the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien joined up in 1998. Successive governments, Liberal and Conservative, have shown varying degrees of enthusiasm for the idea of the Kyoto Protocol, but none of them has shown any zeal in actually implementing it. The economic costs of meeting the accord's rigorous schedule are simply too great.

Walking away from Kyoto, then, was perhaps all that Canada could reasonably do if it were not to fall into violation of it, but it was also a useful wake-up call on climate change. It may not be heard in Durban this week, but it is a message that is being voiced more loudly and more confidently by several nations.

The concept that Kyoto is effectively dead, or at least so badly wounded as to be out of action, is not popular in developing countries -- which are spared the burden the protocol imposes on industrialized economies -- or in European nations that managed to meet their Kyoto goals more through economic luck than economic sacrifice.

But Mr. Kent's message to the Durban delegates was clear and concise and correct. Canada cannot work with Kyoto. It's time to negotiate a new approach to reducing humanity's contribution to global warming, a strategy that governments cannot only implement but that people can live with.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2011 A10

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