World

Climate talks not looking good, says Kyoto expert

While a top United Nations climate official is expressing confidence industrial countries will renew their commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions, a member of the original Canadian delegation to the Kyoto climate talks in 1997 is doubtful.

Canadian with 1997 Kyoto delegation says situation too complex

Environmental activists with flags on their backs bury their heads in the sand on Durban's beachfront, highlighting nations failing to act effectively to prevent climate change. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

While a top United Nations climate official is expressing confidence industrial countries will renew their commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions, a member of the original Canadian delegation to the Kyoto climate talks in 1997 is doubtful.

Paul Heinbecker, now with with the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., told CBC News Network on Saturday that the outcome of the latest climate conference now underway in Durban, South Africa will be "a lot less than people are hoping for."

That's contrary to what UN official Christiana Figueres said recently, noting the talks are in "good shape" as the richer industrial nations seem ready to hammer out a deal on how they’re going into the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. The conference, with ministers representing more than 130 countries, is now at its mid-point.

Richer nations, such as Canada and the U.S., have conditioned the continuation of Kyoto on an agreement by nations such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa to also accept binding emissions targets for themselves in the future. There were earlier reports that Canada was prepared  to withdraw from the Protocol.

Figueres points out that China appears to be signalling a change of heart.  Xu Huaqing, a senior researcher for China's Energy Research Institute, was quoted Friday in the China Daily, stating that his country may set absolute caps on its emissions, as early as 2020.

China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Heinbecker said the 2011 talks are very different from the 1997 ones.

"At least everybody seemed to be on the same page," he noted compared to 2011.

Heinbecker said at the time, the Liberal government of Jean Chretien was a signatory but essentially, "didn’t do much to implement [the Protocol]" which he says was the cue the current Conservative government also took.

He said the world is also a lot more complex than it was then.

"While we’ve become very integrated and global … we don’t have a president of the earth [and] you can’t take people to court if they don’t keep the international agreement."

Heinbecker also points out that the climate problem is being tackled in a patchwork quilt way: "Some of it is regional and some of it is national and it makes it ever more complicated and inconsistent and incompatible with [international agreements]."

One thing Heinbecker underlined was the need to get the protocol signed calling it a "moral issue."

"The people who created the problem are the people in the West," he said, adding that asking less industrialized nations to take on equal billing is the equivalent of "inviting people to your dinner and then asking them to split the bill."

 

With files from The Associated Press