Canada is formally withdrawing from the Kyoto accord, Environment Minister Peter Kent said Monday.
The decision to do so will save the government an estimated $14 billion in penalties, Kent said. The Conservative government says it has no choice given the economic situation.
Blaming an "incompetent Liberal government" who signed the accord and then took little action to make the necessary greenhouse gas emission cuts, Kent said he was formalizing what the Conservative government has been saying for weeks.
"Kyoto for Canada is in the past. As such, we are invoking our legal right to formally withdraw," Kent said.
The Kyoto Protocol, which expires next year, committed major industrial economies to reducing their annual CO2 emissions to below 1990 levels, while providing financial supports to developing nations to encourage them to follow suit eventually. Canada signed the accord in 1998 and ratified it in 2002 but was not on track to meet its legally binding targets.
The Conservatives have committed to 17 per cent cuts from 2005 levels by 2020, a much lower threshold to meet than cutting below 1990 emissions levels.
Canada 'abdicating' responsibilities
NDP Environment critic Megan Leslie says Kent is fear-mongering about the consequences of staying in the Kyoto pact.
"What this is really about is the fact that our government is abdicating its international obligations. It's like we're the kid who's failing the class so we have to drop it before that happens," Leslie said.
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The cost to staying in Kyoto is "absolutely" made up, she added.
Kent says Canada produces less than two per cent of global carbon emissions, Kyoto doesn't require major emitters like China and India to cut the amount of greenhouse gases they produce.
Kent says Copenhagen and Cancun agreements, which were negotiated in 2009 and 2010 as the world stared down the end of Kyoto, are the future.
Gary Doer, Canada's ambassador to the U.S., says Canada signed onto the Copenhagen agreement because it had the "on-ramp" for more countries to join in.
"We took measures, often which aren't credited in either of our countries, to start by reducing through energy efficiency the emissions from light vehicles," Doer told Evan Solomon, host of CBC's Power & Politics.
Canada had to notify the United Nations of its intent to withdraw from Kyoto by the end of the year or face additional cuts under the accord based on a five-year audit being conducted at the end of 2012. Canada would have been forced to buy expensive carbon credits to meet those targets.
The Conservative government has opposed any extension of the Kyoto Protocol framework in future agreements, arguing instead for a new international agreement that includes commitments from all major emitters, including those in the developing world.
The 194 nations attending the UN climate change summit in Durban, South Africa, agreed Sunday to start negotiations on a new accord that would put all participating countries under the same binding commitments to control greenhouse gases.
Kent returned to Ottawa from Durban Monday afternoon and made the announcement about two hours after landing.
He said he waited to formally pull out of the Kyoto Protocol because he'd promised a top UN official in Durban not to distract from the talks.