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On climate change, Canada (finally) comes clean

Sierra Club activists wearing flags, representing over 20 countries, take part in a protest by hiding their heads in the sand in the city of Cancun, Mexico Friday Dec. 3, 2010. The group was demonstrating their belief that countries participating in the United Nations Climate Change Conference, taking place in Cancun, are not doing enough to stop climate change.


On Wednesday, Montreal French-language newspaper Le Devoir reported a remarkable development in the climate change file: "Japan won't agree to extend the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 even if that means isolating itself at the UN climate change talks next week in Cancun, Mexico, a senior Japanese negotiator said [last week]"

And, the same day, its more affluent competitor, La Presse, quoted Hideki Minamikawa - a deputy minister for global environmental affairs at Japan's Environment Ministry - as follows: "Even if the Kyoto Protocol's extension becomes a major item on the agenda at Cancun and Japan finds itself isolated over it, Japan will not agree to it … The biggest problem is that an agreement has not been reached on a framework in which all major emitters will participate."

In La Presse, the headline on the article read: "Japan turns its back on Kyoto," while Le Devoir headlined, "Japan tosses Kyoto in the garbage can." In either case, this was big climate change news and, by Thursday, the story had made its way into English in the Guardian.

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By Saturday, that paper - which has its hands full with WikiLeaks these days - was reporting:

"The UN climate talks in Cancún were in danger of collapse last night after many Latin American countries said that they would leave if a crucial negotiating document, due to be released tomorrow, did not continue to commit rich countries to emissions cuts under the Kyoto Protocol….The potential crisis was provoked by Japan stating earlier this week that it would not sign up to a second period of the Kyoto Protocol.

Other countries, including Russia, Canada and Australia are thought to agree but have yet to say publicly that they will not make further pledges."

The Guardian correspondent, John Vidal, must have missed the press conference of Christiana Figueres, who is chairing the Cancun conference. As Le Devoir reports from that conference:

"Yesterday, Canada stirred a veritable commotion [in Cancun]by aligning itself with Japan to block the extension of the Kyoto protocol beyond 2012 - an extension that would see a new period of obligatory reductions in greenhouse gases agreed to by the 36 parties to the treaty.

It was the chair of the conference herself, Christiana Figueres, who confirmed the identity of the three countries opposed to extending Kyoto beyond 2012. She spelled out that Russia, the final country to have ratified Kyoto - thereby giving it international binding legal effect - had joined with Japan and Canada to form what from now will be known as the 'Group of Three.'"

I expect that, before too long, Canadian readers of English language newspapers, too, will be reading the outraged reaction to this development of the groups that have regularly been awarding fossils to Canada. Yet, as my esteemed fellow blogger Bruce Anderson pointed out the other day, most Canadians will not be overly shocked that the Harper government is refusing to extend a climate change treaty that did not include Brazil or India, for example - not to speak of the world's two greatest emitters, China and the United States. A treaty that the Chrétien government signed without doing any impact studies.

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After signing on the dotted line, with no realistic prospect of implementing this treaty, the Chrétien government and its successors virtually ignored its provisions, thereby leaving Canadian taxpayers exposed to billions of dollars in penalties if the treaty manages to survive. That this looks increasingly doubtful today is good news for Canada. It will be unmitigated good news if it spurs delegates at Cancun to redouble their efforts to forge a treaty that includes 192, not 36, parties to replace it.

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