Pro-Kyoto countries to gather in Montreal

It may not be the ideal time for pro-Kyoto countries to host an environmental conference, but Montreal will play host to about 10,000 scientists, environmentalists and politicians from around the world in November, when a post Kyoto United Nations (UN) Conference on Climate Change blows into the city.

On the table is what to do after the present international Kyoto environmental agreement runs its course in 2012. Liberal Environment Minister Stephane Dion will be chairing the UN conference where he will unveil the government’s “Implement Kyoto, Improve Kyoto, and Innovate Kyoto” strategy.

Canada is among 141 nations that have signed on to the international agreement, agreeing to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases spewed into the air by an average of 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by the year 2012.

But the recent foray by several non-Kyoto countries to draft their own environmental agreement, suggests that there will be more talk about the legitimacy of Kyoto and less talk about its successor agreement.

Dubbed “beyond Kyoto” the US and Australia, together with India, China, South Korea and Japan, unveiled last July an Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, aimed at cutting emissions by developing energy technology.

The new partnership does not set targets for emissions like the Kyoto agreement. Rather it calls for voluntary unenforceable targets, and also for new technologies from “clean coal” and wind power to a new generation of nuclear fission to reduce pollution.

Not surprisingly, Bob Mills, environment spokesman for the Conservative Party has lauded the Climate Partnership, and called on Canada, and other pro-Kyoto countries, to “broaden the approach and literally admit that Kyoto is a dead dog, stop petting it, and get on with the reality of where the world is at.” Mills applauds the U.S. led partnership and said that, “it is a realistic approach to our environmental concerns.”

The U.S. and Australia, in particular, have maintained that developing countries, many excluded from Kyoto, with their rapidly expanding economies and relatively inefficient use of energy, must be included in any long-term solution to the global climate problem.

Robert Zoellick, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, insisted the new partnership is not a threat to the Kyoto agreement. “We are not detracting from Kyoto in any way at all. We are complementing it,” Zoellick said. “Our goal is to complement other treaties with practical solutions to problems. Montreal is the ideal time to discuss other options.”

Pierre Pettigrew, Canada’s foreign minister, who is already whistling past the graveyard, asked “where’s the beef?” Pettigrew said that the new partnership at least indicates that the U.S. and Australia acknowledge that climate change is a problem, but added that they should now produce results.

“I still have to wait for the meat,” he said.

Environmentalists, while broadly supporting its aims, fear that the partnership could be used as a means to avoid future commitments under the recent Kyoto agreement or its successor agreements that may come out of the Montreal conference.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with reducing emissions. There are no targets, no cuts, no monitoring of emissions, nothing binding,” said Steve Sawyer of Greenpeace. “It doesn’t address the wider question that two of the richest countries in the world are doing nothing to reduce emissions.”

Sawyer said the “beyond Kyoto” pact might be “a benign technology agreement,” but “on the other hand, this could be the first foray by the Americans and Australians to knock Kyoto, and its supporters, on the head.”

News of the new partnership comes at a time when Canada is still tender after being criticized for its poor environmental performance. According to Pollution Watch, an international non-profit environmental group, the U.S., in spite of its open refusal to ratify Kyoto, cuts more greenhouse gas emissions in one year than Canada does in five. Pollution Watch said the US reduced emissions by 45 per cent between 1995 and 2003, while Canada’s reductions over the same period were only 1.8 per cent.

Nevertheless, Canada has already invested in Kyoto to the tune of billions. Last May’s $10 billion Kyoto Canada strategy, called “Project Green”, has already handed out $1 billion in funding to businesses and homeowners. Funding was also provided for commercial building refits, tens of millions of dollars for ethanol-subsidies, and $150 million to fund partnerships with province and municipalities on climate-change abatements.

The United Nations global conference on climate change will take place from Nov 28-Dec 9 at the Palais des Congres de Montreal.


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