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Saying Kyoto's 'in the past,' Kent fuels fears of Canada's withdrawal

Canada's Environment Minister Peter Kent addresses the media at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP17) in Durban December 6, 2011.

ROGAN WARD/Reuters/ROGAN WARD/Reuters

Environment Minister Peter Kent has repeated his sharp criticism of the Kyoto climate treaty at a high-level session of the United Nations climate negotiations in Durban, provoking a silent protest by Canadian activists who were quickly hustled out of the room.

"Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past," Mr. Kent told a large audience of delegates and climate negotiators at the Durban summit today.

"For Canada, the Kyoto Protocol is not where the solution lies," he said. "It is an agreement that covers fewer than 30 per cent of global emissions. It is an approach that does not lead to more comprehensive engagement of key parties who need to be actively part of a global agreement. Nor does it provide for individual countries to take action that reflects national circumstances."

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Mr. Kent repeated that Canada will not accept any extension of the Kyoto carbon limits, which expire at the end of next year. But he did not say whether Canada will formally pull out of Kyoto. Reports by CTV have said that the Harper government will announce a withdrawal from the Kyoto treaty on Dec. 23.

In a meeting this week with the UN's chief negotiator, Mr. Kent promised that he will not provide any "unfortunate surprises" during the Durban talks this week – a clear allusion to the UN fears that Canada could drop a bombshell on the negotiations by announcing its withdrawal from Kyoto. He did not deny, however, that Canada could announce its withdrawal shortly after the Durban summit ends on Friday.

Mr. Kent, departing from his formal text today, promised that Canada will not "obstruct" any country that wants to sign on to an extension of their Kyoto commitments. Many countries, especially in Europe, are worried that the world will slide into a legal vacuum after Kyoto's limits expire next year, since any new treaty is virtually certain to be postponed until 2020 or later.

Mr. Kent emphasized Canada's domestic pledges on carbon emissions. "Canada is already making great progress toward our ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent over 2005 levels by 2020," he said in his speech Wednesday. "This is a target that is aligned with the United States, our closest neighbour and most important trading partner."

As he was speaking, six Canadian activists stood up and turned their backs on him in a silent protest. They wore T-shirts saying: "Turn your back on Canada" and "People before polluters."

Security guards quickly rushed over and escorted them away, leading them through a narrow corridor at the back of the room and evicting them from the conference. They won louder applause than Mr. Kent, whose speech was greeted by a brief smattering of polite applause from the delegates.

The protestors, members of the Canadian Youth Delegation, said the Harper government is blocking international progress in the climate talks.

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"The actions of this government put the future of our country and our generation in danger," they said in a statement. "We won't take that sitting down. As long as Canada is at the negotiation table promoting industry over human rights, we will never see the climate agreement the world needs. It's time to leave Canada behind."

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Africa Bureau Chief

Geoffrey York is The Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent.He has been a foreign correspondent for the newspaper since 1994, including seven years as the Moscow Bureau Chief and seven years as the Beijing Bureau Chief.He is a veteran war correspondent who has covered war zones since 1992 in places such as Somalia, Sudan, Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan. More

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