The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty, not merely a document signed by a former prime minister. It was ratified by a vote in the House of Commons.
If Canada legally withdraws, it will be the first time in our history we have ever withdrawn from a global treaty.
Contrary to often repeated claims, China, India and Brazil are in the Kyoto Protocol. Of all countries on Earth, only the United States has not ratified Kyoto. The element of truth in the distortion is that the first Kyoto commitment period, 2008-2012, by design, required industrialized countries to hit specific targets and deadlines.
This approach was modelled on the successful 1987 Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer. In that protocol, industrialized countries took on emission targets in the first phase, while developing countries could actually increase emissions.
Subsequent agreements within the Montreal Protocol brought all countries to phase out ozone depleting substances.
Under Kyoto, the developing countries took on the commitment to reduce emissions in a more general way. Brazil has done far more than Canada without specific targets. So too have India and China.
Another misunderstanding is the idea that Canada would owe anything in penalties. There are no penalties under Kyoto. (If you want to read the text for yourself, you can find it on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change website). The claims by Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent that we would be exposed to huge costs was carefully worded to avoid a lie, but clearly was designed to mislead.
Kent speaks of the “costs of compliance.” Canada is clearly not in compliance. We are 34 per cent above the 2012 target we pledged to achieve back in 1997.
So, hypothetically, if we were suddenly to decide we wanted to meet the 2012 target Prime Minister Stephen Harper repudiated back in 2006, when he cancelled all programs to reach the Kyoto target, it would only be possible through buying credits.
Sure, it might cost the $14 billion Kent has claimed, but no one in their right mind would do that, and there is nothing in the Kyoto Protocol to force Canada to spend a dime.
Another common myth is that renewable energy gets loads of subsidies while fossil fuel pays its own way. According to the International Energy Agency, fossil fuels receive over $300 billion per year globally, while renewables receive one tenth that amount.
Having participated in climate negotiations since 1990, as well as in the ozone negotiations in 1987, I am very familiar with the ins and outs of the agreements.
In Durban, South Africa, last month, the nations within Kyoto decided to undertake a second commitment period. These commitments will begin when the first phase of Kyoto ends on December 31, 2012.
As of January 1, 2013, most of the industrialized world, but no longer representing most of the pollution, is committed to further reduce emissions to 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by either 2017 or 2020 (completion date still under negotiation.) China insisted in Durban that in order for it to take on specific targets and deadlines, a second phase of Kyoto was required.
In order to get China, India and Brazil to take on targets, the most significant way Canada could help would be to rescind our letter of intention to withdraw from Kyoto and negotiate a new target that we could reach by 2017 or 2020.
As a proud Canadian, I look forward to our nation accepting our responsibilities once again and playing a constructive role in the crucial effort to control greenhouse gas emissions.
—Elizabeth May (Green Party) is the MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands.