Avoiding Another Kyoto Commitment

The 15-year battle in Canada over the Kyoto Protocol ended last week when the Federal Court ruled the Stephen Harper government's withdrawal from the agreement was legal. Countries that do not meet their emission targets and did not withdraw before the end of 2011 -- as allowed by Kyoto’s Article 27 -- will soon have to face the music for having violated the treaty. Thanks to the Canadian government’s clear thinking, Canada will not be one of those nations.

But the Canadian government -- and many other governments of developed countries -- has not thought clearly regarding future international climate commitments. Unwittingly, they are drawing Canada back into another Kyoto.

At the climate conference in South Africa in December 2011, delegates from 194 countries -- including Canada and the U.S. -- agreed to the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. Under this agreement, the Canadian, American, and other governments pledged to work with the UN to establish by 2015 a global apparatus to force countries to enable legally binding greenhouse gas reduction plans starting in 2020. Environment Minister Peter Kent boosted the plan, saying repeatedly:

We support the establishment of a single, new international climate change agreement that includes greenhouse gas reduction commitments from all major emitters.

The Durban plan advances -- “in a balanced fashion,” the UN asserts -- the implementation of the December 2010 Cancun Agreements that Canada, the U.S., and many other countries say provides the framework for future legally binding deals. U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern stated:

[The Cancun Agreement] is a very good step and a step that’s very much consistent with U.S. interests and will help move ... the world down a path toward a broader global response to changing -- to stopping climate change.

But Western countries are being hoodwinked again. Cancun has an opt-out clause for developing countries that allows them to agree to legally binding emission cuts yet never actually carry them out. Developed nations do not have this option. Cancun states this twice. Here is one instance:

Reaffirming that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing country Parties, and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.

Since actions to significantly reduce GHG emissions will usually interfere with development priorities, developing countries will soon realize that an agreement based on Cancun will not limit their emissions. Such a treaty would then work in the same asymmetric fashion as Kyoto.