The Canadian environment minister, Peter Kent, said Canada was invoking its legal right to withdraw. Kyoto did not represent the way forward for Canada or the world, he said.
Canada, Japan and Russia said last year they would not accept new Kyoto commitments, but Canada is the only country to repudiate it altogether.
The protocol, initially adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, is aimed at fighting global warming. Canada’s previous Liberal government signed the accord but did little to implement it and current prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government never embraced it.
“The Kyoto protocol does not cover the world’s largest two emitters, the United States and China, and therefore cannot work,” Kent said. “It’s now clear that Kyoto is not the path forward to a global solution to climate change. If anything it’s an impediment.”
Kent’s announcement came a day after marathon climate talks wrapped up in the South African port city of Durban.
Negotiators from nearly 200 countries agreed on a deal that sets the world on a path to sign a new climate treaty by 2015 to replace the first Kyoto protocol, whose current provisions expire next year.
Durban’s accord envisions a new treaty with binding targets for all countries to take effect in 2020.
“[Withdrawing] allows us to continue to create jobs and growth in Canada,” Kent said.
Canada had been expected to pull out and as a result faced international criticism at the Durban talks. Kent had said previously that signing Kyoto was one of the previous government’s biggest blunders.
Kent said it would save Canada $ 14bn in penalties for not achieving its Kyoto targets. “To meet the targets under Kyoto for 2012 would be the equivalent of either removing every car, truck, ATV, tractor, ambulance, police car and vehicle of every kind from Canadian roads or closing down the entire farming and agriculture sector and cutting heat to every home, office, hospital, factory and building in Canada,” Kent said.
Mike Hudema of Greenpeace Canada said in a statement it was a further signal that the Harper government is more concerned about protecting polluters than people.
Hannah McKinnon of Climate Action Network Canada said formally withdrawing was a slap in the face of the international community and “a total abdication of our responsibilities”.
An opposition New Democrat MP, Megan Leslie, disputed the figures involved and said there were no penalties under Kyoto. Pulling out saved the Conservatives having to report that Canada was falling short of its targets, she said.
“It’s like we’re the kid in school who knows they’re going to fail the class, so we have to drop it before that actually happens,” Leslie said.
Canada’s Conservative government is reluctant to hurt Canada’s booming oil sands sector, the country’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gases. Canada has the world’s third-largest oil reserves, more than 170bn barrels. Daily production of 1.5m barrels from the oil sands is expected to increase to 3.7mn in 2025. Only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have more reserves. But the enormous amount of energy and water needed in the extraction process increases greenhouse gas emissions.
Kent said Canada produced “barely 2%” of global emissions. The previous Liberal government had signed on to Kyoto in 1997 without any intention of meeting its targets, he said. Kyoto originally covered countries generating less than 30% of global emissions and that had fallen to 13%. Canada wanted a fair agreement covering all nations.
Scientists say that if levels of greenhouse gases continue to rise, eventually the world’s climate will reach a tipping point, with irreversible melting of some ice sheets and sea levels rising by several metres.
Climate negotiations have been focused on preventing global temperatures rising more than 1.2C (2F) above current levels by the end of this century.
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