TORONTO (CUP) — A treaty that many scientists say is essential to prevent massive environmental destruction is running into big problems, and like the South Park song, many environmentalists are saying it’s time to blame Canada.
The Kyoto Protocol aims to decrease greenhouse gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels, which would not stop global warming but would prevent some of its more dire consequences, like flooding of coastlines around the world and a rise in global temperature.
But there’s a catch: In order for the treaty to go into effect, 55 countries which produce 55 per cent of the greenhouse gasses must ratify it. The top two per-capita producers of greenhouse gas — the United States and Australia — have backed out, and now the number-three per capita producer, Canada, has stepped back from promises to ratify the deal by June.
“We want to ratify, we hope to ratify, our goal is to ratify, but ratification will not take place until we’ve had full consultation with the provinces, the private sector, companies and the general public,” said Minister of the Environment David Anderson.
But environmentalists say the time to talk is over. They point out that it took more than a decade to build Kyoto, and that if the pact collapses, global warming will be out of control by the time a new agreement emerges. They worry that Canada’s delay will influence the two other big countries that would spell doom for Kyoto if they fail to ratify.
“Russia and Japan have been very close to Canada, and we remain very close,” Anderson admits. “There’s no question what we do would be influential on those countries.”
Unlike the business and manufacturing lobby, which claims Kyoto will cost $40 billion and result in 450,000 lost jobs, both Anderson and the environment lobby believe global warming is an indisputable scientific fact and that the cost of not doing anything is the major concern.
But the similarities stop there.
“This is not a government that is serious about reducing pollution,” said Greenpeace spokesperson Jamie Heath, who notes that greenhouse gasses have been allowed to rise to 14 per cent above 1990 levels. “We’re more than a decade into this. It’s not like it came up last week.”
Matthew Bramley of the Pembina Institute, a climate-change think tank, notes that the issue has been studied to death, and talk of consultation is just another stalling technique.
“There’s no reason to hesitate. Let’s just get on with the work,” he said, noting the consequences of doing nothing are too much to risk.
“To put that rise [in temperature] in perspective, the difference between an ice age and the present day is only four or five degrees in global average temperatures. That gives you a sense of the kind of magnitude of changes you can expect if the earth’s temperature rose by three to four degrees, which would be in the middle of the range that scientists predict.”
Anderson says Canada will only ratify the deal after consultation, after a true estimate of costs have been developed by all levels of government, likely in April, and after a plan is built to spell out how Canada will meet Kyoto obligations.
“We would not ratify until we had a good expectation of a plan that would ensure that no part of the country would be unfairly forced to bear a larger part of the burden,” he said.
As for why emissions have been increasing for the last decade, Anderson says a 30 per cent growth in the economy is responsible, and notes that the emissions have risen only a fraction of GDP.
But Heath wonders why the government didn’t have a plan to ratify Kyoto already in place if it was really serious about adopting the agreement in June, as it had initially claimed it would.
“It’s not a choice we have to make between the environment and the economy; the choice is if we are going to put our economy back on a sustainable path,” he said.
Heath notes that municipalities have already made big changes that show how easy it is to reduce greenhouse gasses, and wishes the provincial and federal governments just rolled up their sleeves and started implementing proven solutions.
He sights the fact that Calgary powers its light urban transit and its biggest mall with windpower, and the fact Toronto is harnessing the methane from its dumps instead of letting the gas into the atmosphere, as two key examples of how easy it would be to reduce climate change.
“After you are in power for as long as the Liberals you either have an environmental record to stand on or you don’t,” he said. “They should re-commit to ratifying Kyoto by the G8 leaders summit (in June) and should just start talking about how they will meet Kyoto targets.”