Environment Minister Peter Kent has pledged to the United Nations that Canada won't pull out of the Kyoto climate treaty during the final days of the Durban conference – but he refuses to rule out a decision to withdraw shortly after the global talks wrap up.
Asked about Canada's rumoured withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, Mr. Kent said he assured the UN that he won't unleash any "unfortunate surprises" before the end of the Durban conference Friday.
His assurances are strong evidence of how much anxiety has been provoked by reports that Canada will withdraw from Kyoto. Although he did not say it, it appears UN officials specifically asked him to delay any withdrawal announcement until after Durban is over.
Any such move by Canada this week would be a bombshell for global climate talks, dealing a severe blow to the chances of negotiating an extension to Kyoto. So the UN wanted Mr. Kent to promise that he wouldn't announce a withdrawal from Kyoto during the Durban summit, known as COP-17.
Mr. Kent said he gave the promise in a meeting Monday with the UN's chief climate negotiator, Christiana Figueres.
"The guarantee that I gave her was that there would be no unfortunate surprises during COP-17 and that we were here to continue in good faith our work toward a new international climate regime which will include all the major emitters," Mr. Kent told reporters in Durban Tuesday.
But when asked whether Canada might announce a withdrawal from Kyoto shortly after the end of the Durban talks, he did not confirm or deny the possibility.
"Our focus is the rest of this week, working with the parties to the conference to move this process forward," he said. "With regards to speculative news reports, there is no comment."
Mr. Kent has already announced that Canada will not sign on to any extension of the Kyoto treaty. The emission promises of the Kyoto signatories, including Canada, expire at the end of next year, and it is increasingly clear from the gloomy talks at Durban that most industrialized countries are unwilling to extend Kyoto beyond 2012.
Canada's reported plan to withdraw from Kyoto has already sparked complaints that the Conservative government is negotiating in bad faith in South Africa. Opposition MPs were not reassured by Mr. Kent's pledge at Durban.
"The so-called assurance that he gave Christiana Figueres comes down to, 'Well, we're not going to pull out this week,'" said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who is attending the Durban conference.
"Obviously they're still holding to their plan to pull out on the eve of Christmas Eve, which I think is even worse in terms of the cynicism of it," she said in an interview after Mr. Kent's comments.
"Obviously Dec. 23 is still the day – when the House of Commons isn't in session, and when Canadian families are preoccupied with holiday times. It's withdrawal by stealth."