Kent takes tough tone on Durban talks

Environment Minister Peter Kent is taking a hard line at UN environment talks in Durban, S.A. despite the perception among environmentalists that Canada is standing in the way of progress.
Environment Minister Peter Kent says Canada will not sign any document that doesn't include all nations emitting greenhouse gases. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Environment Minister Peter Kent is only half-joking when he says he wants to bring home fewer fossil-of-the-day-awards from upcoming global talks on climate change than his predecessors.

He is conscious of the fact that in the past few rounds of negotiations to reduce greenhouse gases, Canada has had the dubious distinction of being singled out repeatedly by environmentalists for standing in the way of progress.

Message from PMO

Our government is balancing the need for a cleaner and healthier environment with protecting jobs and economic growth. The Kyoto Protocol does not include major emitters, like China and the United States, and therefore will not work. Canada will not sign on to a new agreement that does not include all major emitters. We remain committed to reducing Canada's greenhouse gas emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, and we are making good progress.

— Prime Minister's Office

In a lengthy interview in Ottawa with The Canadian Press before heading off to negotiations in Durban, South Africa, Kent said Canada deserves recognition for promoting "responsible" industrial development and for pushing for a global climate change pact that would draw in all the major polluters.

Many developing and emerging countries insist that rich countries should carry the biggest burden because of their historical emissions.

"I'd be delighted if I came back with fewer fossil awards than John Baird or Jim Prentice," Kent said, referring to previous Conservative environment ministers who were frequently presented with the awards, and even won the Colossal Fossil of the Year award at least twice. "We're going in good faith, not to obstruct."

'There is a recognition that Kyoto isn't fair, and it's certainly not effective.'— Environment Minister Peter Kent

But pacifying environmentalists is certainly not on Kent's to-do list.

Many environmental groups, developing countries and the European Union want the Durban talks to lead to a new version of the Kyoto Protocol, the pact that has framed emissions-reductions efforts for the past two decades and is about to expire next year.

However, Canada wants no part of a second Kyoto pact or anything even resembling that arrangement, Kent said, a position shared by Japan, Russia and the United States.

"There is a recognition that Kyoto isn't fair, and it's certainly not effective," he said, since developing and emerging countries — including several of the world's largest greenhouse-gas emitters -— are not held to account by the regime.

Domestically, Kent says, "from Canada's point of view, Kyoto was the biggest mistake the previous Liberal government made," since there was no plan for Canada to live up to its commitments.

In Durban, he said, all countries should commit to negotiating a pact to reduce greenhouse gases over time, and agree to submit their reductions to international scrutiny one every year or every two years.

Binding commitments don't necessarily have to be negotiated now, but that should be the goal, Kent said. And in return, rich countries will figure out ways to finance the $100-billion-a-year Green Climate Fund to help developing countries adapt to warmer climates and cut greenhouse gases, he added.

However, if countries don't agree to allow international scrutiny of their greenhouse gas output, there's no way Canada or other rich countries would agree to the financing, he said.

Kent said he will announce how Canada will be spending its next annual tranche of $400-million to the "fast-start" plan to help poor countries with their climate change efforts. This time, most of the money will be given on a bilateral basis to projects selected by Ottawa rather than through multilateral institutions. And half of the money will be in repayable loans, the minister said.

But further financial commitments to the Green Climate Fund depend on whether there is broad agreement to reduce greenhouse gases by 2020, with verification, he said: "We need to advance broadly rather than simply make financial agreements as one-offs."