Canada has confirmed what many in the climate science circle have been unfortunately expecting since the recent Durban convention, and likely even before that. The country has made official that they are pulling their involvement with the Kyoto Protocol and going alone, flying in the face of the multiple international members still bound in the arrangement and attempting to cut their carbon emissions.
The famously murky protocol, introduced in 2005 and signed by 191 countries, has made some headway in the fight against climate change, but never really managed to lay down the rules for cutting emissions that it promised. It took years for some big polluters to come on board, with the US yet to pick up the pen and sign the dotted line, and many see the sanctions and targets as either too extreme, or far too slack, a factor largely dependent upon the current state of the particular member.
With the commitment due to end as 2012 ticks over to 2013, there is yet to be a solid potential successor, something I and many others share as both a failure of the COP talks to push for new legislation, and of those countries yet to sign or even ratify for change, which in turn puts many more off the entire procedure - think China and the US, or even India.
So to add to these woes, Canada has become the first to pull out, on the grounds that the country is not going to meet its targets and will not threaten it’s precious tar-sand resources, which now account for ~7% of the total GHG emissions. At the recent COP Durban convention, the energy and environment minister was reported to have defended his tar-sands vehemently, stating that any agreement under the UNFCCC would directly threaten a resource which Canada cannot ignore. This is despite the fact that tar-sand exploitation for oil is one of the most, if not the most destructive, polluting and inefficient forms of fossil-fuel extraction known to modern science. You only have to google the term and observe the images it returns to understand this, as seen above.
Even though there is potential for heavy fines and penalties on Canada for this action, in the billions of dollars, they are driving ahead with the decision. Not only could this seriously harm the country’s reputation on the global stage, but seems like extremely short-term thinking on a topic which requires our most far-reaching of attention, and could have major implications for the development of a new, more powerful commitment come 2013. If other nations view these talks under the knowledge that Canada, a big polluter, has effectively opted-out, how will they react when it’s made apparent they must front the carbon bill left at the table?
More pressingly, the impact on those island nations and coastal regions highly at risk from sea-level rise will likely never forgive Canada for bailing out of the talks, unless they’re motive was to leave Kyoto in expectation of a more forceful and potentially acceptable successor, and will therefore rejoin later in the debate. Given the polluter-rich nation however, it’s likely the government is protecting those who would be least happy with a new UN agreement, a theme not dissimilar to that of the GOP parties in the US.
Hopefully this will not spur others to follow suit; if the UN does not sanction Canada heavily enough for this action, many may see their leaving as a chance to exit themselves, destabilising and damaging the UNFCCC’s reputation as a world-organiser and enforcer on climate change issues. Perhaps some of these views will steady filter into future debates involving Canada and emissions, and they will realise that tar-sands are in fact not worth saving, or even investing in, and that to do so would condemn a good many people to an uncertain future.