Environment Minister Peter Kent said he is cautiously optimistic a new global climate agreement can be reached by 2015, following the conclusion of a UN summit in Durban, South Africa.
The 194-party conference agreed Sunday to start negotiations on a new accord that would put all participating countries under the same binding commitments to control greenhouse gases. It would take effect by 2020 at the latest.
The deal also set up the bodies that will collect, govern and distribute tens of billions of dollars a year for poor countries. Other documents in the package deal with scores of technical issues and lay out rules for monitoring and verifying emissions reductions, protecting forests, transferring clean technologies to developing countries.
"The Durban Platform sets out a process to negotiate a new climate change treaty that would create binding commitments for all major emitters," Kent said Sunday.
Canada had pushed to include countries like Brazil, South Africa, India and China, whose emissions are rising along with their growing economies, in any new deal.
Kent reaffirmed the Canadian government's opposition to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol — which was set to expire at the end of next year but will be extended under the Durban Platform — and that it would not renew its commitment to the accord.
Currently, only industrial countries have legally binding emissions targets under the Kyoto agreement.
Kent also said the government would not contribute to a global fund designed to help developing nations mitigate the effects of climate change.
"Nor will we devote scarce dollars to capitalize the new Green Climate Fund — part of the Durban agreement — until all major emitters accept legally binding reduction targets and transparent accounting of greenhouse gas inventory," he said.
Paul Heinbecker, who led the Canadian delegation to the 1997 Kyoto talks, described the Durban agreement as significant.
"It keeps the multilateral negotiation process alive," he told CBC News. "Had the talks collapsed in Durban, it isn't clear where the world would have gone next."
'Poster child of inaction'
The campaigns director for the environmental group Climate Action Network Canada said the Durban accord is a step in the right direction but it "has not yet succeeded in moving the world away from a dangerous trajectory toward well above two degrees of global warming."
Without a serious "ramping up of ambition and action from developed countries, the deal we need will remain elusive," Hannah McKinnon told CBC News.
She also suggested Canada remains an environmental pariah on the world stage.
"The Canadian government has been the poster child of inaction at these talks," McKinnon said.
She also said more work needs to be done on the Green Climate Fund to ensure it does not become an "empty shell."
Durban debrief: What do you think of the new agreement? Have your say.
The director of the climate change program at the Pembina Institute, a non-profit think tank, welcomed Sunday's agreement as a significant step forward but said its success is dependent on the actions of individual countries.
"Failing to make progress will leave the world increasingly exposed to the risks that rising sea levels, increasing temperatures and more severe storms pose to our environment and economy," Matt Horne said in a release Sunday.
He also said Canada was marginalized at the conference because of its failure to present "constructive solutions or meaningful actions."
Restoring the country's environmental credibility will require stronger action from federal, provincial and municipal governments, Horne said.
Sunday's breakthrough at Durban capped 13 days of hectic negotiations that ran a day and a half over schedule, including two round-the-clock days that left negotiators bleary-eyed and stumbling with words.
The proposed Durban Platform offered answers to problems that have bedeviled global warming negotiations for years about sharing the responsibility for controlling carbon emissions and helping the world's poorest and most climate-vulnerable nations cope with changing forces of nature.