COP16 — Canada wants a legally binding agreement to do nothing

I’ve had a hard time connecting the last few days.  It’s been busy.  A whole lot of nothing is happening in Cancun.  There are moments of inspiration amid days of information overload, but the negotiations are slow and it’s very unclear what they will lead to.  Canada is being quiet but unhelpful, and all indications are that when push comes to shove, Canada will stand in the way of any real progress.

As has been reported in Canadian newspapers, new UNFCCC Executive Director Christiana Figueres has identified Canada as one of three nations known to refuse a second commitment period of Kyoto, which is widely viewed as the best opportunity to make progress now.  Negotiations are following two tracks, but the path along the Kyoto track appears more advanced and ambitious, although it does not include the United States and some developed countries (Canada among them) object to the fact that under the Kyoto track China has no binding responsibilities.

Canada’s official position, repeated ad nauseum, is that we want “a new legally binding deal that reduces emissions among all large emitters”.  In code-speak, that means we don’t want Kyoto (we want a new deal), and we won’t sign anything until China agrees to legally-binding emissions reductions (pretty rich considering the average Canadian emits four times as much as the average Chinese and we haven’t managed to bring down our own emissions yet).  Also we’re not interested in a deal the United States won’t sign.

The Canadian government mouthpieces (Harper, Baird and the chief negotiator) constantly talk about how the Copenhagen Accord (which is not recognized by the UN) addresses 85% of emissions while the Kyoto Protocol only addresses 27%, and about Canada’s ambitious 17% emissions reduction target.  Those numbers may resonate in Canada, but anybody who understands climate negotiations, including everyone here in Cancun, knows how ridiculous those statements are.

The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding instrument, with consequences that can be imposed on countries like Canada who fail to meet their obligations.  The Copenhagen Accord, negotiated in secret by a few countries and imposed on some others through spying, threats, coercion and bribery, still has no legal status.  So 85% of emissions are “addressed” by the Copenhagen Accord with no consequences for failure.  There is no indication that “anchoring” the reduction pledges in a legal instrument would bring in the same level of commitment.  In addition, the reductions promised on those 85% of emissions are very weak.  Even the Canadian delegation acknowledges that to meet the stated goal of keeping global warming under 2 degrees, the pledges made are wholly inadequate.  What Canada doesn’t say much, is that Canada’s target is not only weak but actually goes in the wrong direction.

Harper and his envoys talk about transparency and a level playing field.  Part of leveling the field has always meant accepting a base year which everyone can use to compare emissions reductions.  The Kyoto Protocol enshrined 1990 as the base.  And it’s widely known that on that base year, Canada’s promise is not to cut emissions by 17%, but to grow them by 3%, not only failing to meet our Kyoto targets 8 years too late, but actually pledging to grow our emissions on the base every other nation is asked to cut from.  The EU countries, by contrast, have put 20-30% in real emissions cuts on the table.

Because the Kyoto Protocol is so well regarded internationally as the only existing, legally binding international climate change agreement, our government representatives have never said they want to destroy Kyoto, although that is clearly their intention.  Instead, they want it to continue, but make it irrelevant by taking out any responsibilities for the countries that have been brought on board.  In fact, our negotiators have been enthusiastically participating in discussions on the points in the Kyoto protocol that make it easier for large polluters to avoid responsibility, so that if a different agreement is signed, Canada can push to transfer those loopholes from Kyoto to the new agreement and continue to do nothing.

For anyone interested in preserving a livable planet for future generations, the actions of our government are unconscionable.  The only hope for this planet is that citizens in countries like Canada will pressure their governments out of obstinacy and into something slightly more reasonable so that a deal can be reached.

[Adriana is blogging from the UN climate change negotiations in Cancun, in an attempt to keep the Canadian delegation honest.]

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