Dale R. Herspring Contributing Writer
Canada shocked the world by announcing recently that it was withdrawing from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The treaty was intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. It had certain obligations that had to be met by the end of this year. Though 190 countries ratified the treaty, the obligation to cut emissions involved only 37 industrialized states, one of which was Canada.
The problem for Canada was that other industrialized countries like Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and South Africa were not required to reduce omissions. They were permitted to pollute to their heart’s content as they worked to develop their “backward” economies. China is by any measure the biggest carbon emitter on the planet.
Canada is the first country to withdraw from Kyoto (the United States — on a bipartisan basis— refused to ratify the treaty). Russia supported Canada’s decision and reaffirmed that Moscow would not take on new commitments. The Japanese are expected to follow suit.
The Russians ratified Kyoto only so the European Union would permit it to join the World Trade Organization. Russia asked for — and was granted —an exception that permitted it to ignore its obligations. East European countries were given credit for cutting their omissions — just as communism collapsed and many of their factories went out of existence.
Canada’s Minister of Environment Affairs, Peter Kent, laid out Ottawa’s case at the climate conference in Durban, South Africa when he declared that Canada was formally withdrawing from the Kyoto Treaty. Had Canada remained a signatory, it would have been subject to huge fines — up to $14 billion (Canadian). That’s because Canada was obligated to cut CO2 emissions by 6 percent in comparison with 1990 even though Canada’s gross domestic product had grown by 55 percent since then. Such growth inevitably increased toxic omissions. Last year, for example, Canada exceeded the 1990 gas emissions by 35 percent.
Canada’s situation was hopeless. How could it compete economically with the United States, China and India — three of the greatest polluters on the planet — when none was required to limit emissions?
The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper had never been supportive of Kyoto, which the Liberal government had approved. Unfortunately, as Kent said, “The Liberal Government ... never really did anything to reach these goals.”
If Canada were to remain a signatory, it would face social and economic disaster. To meet Kyoto standards, Ottawa would have to remove every automobile from its streets or close down the entire agricultural sector and cut heat in every building in the country. Kyoto was simply too burdensome for Canada.
By the time the recent climate conference was held, it was clear to most members that the issue was no longer just global warming. The process had become a means to punish rich nations for being rich and force them to pay vast sums to the United Nations The latter would redistribute it to poorer nations (after, as one Canadian newspaper noted, “the U.N. has taken a healthy cut off the top to support its own wasteful bureaucracy, nepotism, cronyism, incompetence and corruption”).
Kent made clear that Canada remains interested in negotiating a new agreement that covers all countries. As he put it, “What we have to look at is all major emitters.”
Demonstrating its hypocrisy, Beijing blasted Canada for withdrawing, saying, “We also hope that Canada will face up to its due responsibilities and duties, and continue abiding by its commitments, and take a positive, constructive attitude towards participating in international cooperation to respond to climate change.”
Canada often gets criticized for not standing up for itself and for supporting every progressive cause that comes along. That is changing. The Harper government has not only stood up to the Obama administration on the Keystone pipeline and demonstrated its military prowess in Afghanistan, it is also willing to back out of senseless treaties.
Canada’s action demonstrates that the U.S. Congress was right in 1997 when it refused to ratify the well-intended but flawed treaty.
Dale R. Herspring, a University Distinguished Professor at KSU and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, is a retired U.S. diplomat.