Canada's Kyoto Withdrawal

Canada is well known to be radically out of step with its Kyoto carbon reduction commitment, and so Ottawa's announcement yesterday that it would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol was not a huge surprise. Since the adoption of the protocol in the late 1990s, there has been a widening chasm between what Canada promised to do and the development of Alberta tarsands, in which the future prosperity of the country would seem to be at stake. Of course the global economic meltdown in 2008 also took its toll, prompting Canadian citizens--like citizens everywhere in the advanced industrial countries--to down-prioritize their concerns about the environment.

Even so, Canada's decision to withdraw from Kyoto is important and eye-opening for two reasons. First, with Canada out, the United States no longer stands isolated as the only country in the world to be thumbing its nose a Kyoto; it now has company, albeit somewhat dubious company. Second,  the logic behind Canada's decision to withdraw from Kyoto is enlightening.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, which requires participating industrial countries to make specified emissions cuts by 2012 from 1990 levels, determinations of compliance will be made in 2014, when countries' greenhouse gas emissions inventories for 2012 are complete. Countries out of compliance will be required to purchase emissions credits to cover the amount their emissions exceed targets.

At present, Canada's emissions are about 30 percent higher than they are supposed to be, and next year's are sure to be even higher than that. So, by the government's reckoning, if Canada stayed in the protocol, it may be required to purchase emissions credits in the amount of $14 billion in 2014-15. A study cited in today's Toronto Globe and Mail puts the number at $19 billion.

The Kyoto Protocol allows for withdrawal, but with one year's advance notice for the withdrawal to take effect. So yesterday's announced withdrawal by Canada positions the country to be out by the end of next year, the year of inventory reckoning. It bears noting, however, that all the other participating industrial countries will face that reckoning, at just the time Durban requires them to reach agreement on a universally binding carbon reduction agreement. Emissions credits that out-of-compliance countries will be required to buy in 2014-15 will be a rich source of funds for green-tech offsets in developing countries, giving those countries an incentive to get with and stick with the global greenhouse gas reduction program.

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