The United Nations says it will investigate Canada for failing to meet a Kyoto Protocol deadline on greenhouse gas reporting and could bar it from an international carbon-trading scheme if the probe finds Ottawa broke the rules.

The UN Climate Change Secretariat says Canada was notified May 5 that it would be investigated for allegedly violating a Kyoto reporting requirement.

Currently, Canada and other Kyoto signatories are obliged to keep a national registry of greenhouse gases, but Canada doesn't. So far, Greece is the only Kyoto signatory to be found in breach of the protocol's rules.

The registry tracks holdings of greenhouse gas credits and shows compliance with the emissions targets.

Canada was warned last month that it risked an investigation after missing a Jan. 1, 2007, reporting deadline by more than two months.

"The enforcement branch decided, after a preliminary examination, to proceed with a question of implementation with respect to Canada," a UN statement said.

During Wednesday's question period, NDP Leader Jack Layton lambasted Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government for not complying with the commitments.

"The fact is, this government is creating irreparable damage to the climate and for future generations," Layton told the House. "Does the prime minister know no bounds when it comes to accountability?"

Harper said the government is in the process of establishing the registry, but "has been in that process for some time," including when the previous Liberal government was in power.

"Nothing was done on it for the first 10 years," the prime minister told the Commons. "We've taken that responsibility and we're moving forward."

The Kyoto compliance committee, an independent body of legal experts, will meet in late May or mid-June to consider Canada's case.

No financial penalties

The committee could decide to drop the case or to release a preliminary finding. If it finds Canada did not comply with its Kyoto reporting requirements, it could:

  • Publicly declare Canada in non-compliance.
  • Force Canada to submit an action plan within three months for getting back into compliance.
  • Suspend Canada's right to trade in the Kyoto carbon market.

There are no financial penalties for failing to comply with Kyoto rules. And since Canada doesn't participate in any of Kyoto's emissions credits or carbon-trading programs, such a ruling would be symbolic.

At least one environmental group said the UN probe shows Canada's Conservative government doesn't take its international commitments seriously.

"What's really the point here is that this government doesn't think it's important to play by the international rules," said John Bennett, executive director of Climate for Change.

With files from the Canadian Press