Canada, the country furthest from meeting its commitment to cut carbon emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, may save as much as US$6.7 billion by exiting the global climate change agreement and not paying for offset credits.
The country’s greenhouse-gas emissions are almost a third higher than 1990 levels, and it has a 6 percent carbon dioxide reduction target for the end of next year. If it could not meet its goal, Canada would have to buy carbon credits, under the rules of the legally binding treaty.
Canada, which has the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves, would be the first of 191 signatories to the Kyoto Protocol to annul its emission-reduction obligations. While Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent declined to confirm on Nov. 28 that Canada was preparing to pull out of Kyoto, which may ease the burden for oil-sands producers and coal-burning utilities, he said the government would not make further commitments to it.
“Canada is the only country in the world saying it won’t honor Kyoto,” Toronto-based Greenpeace energy and climate policy analyst Keith Stewart said.
Under the previous Liberal government, Canada was one of the first countries to sign Kyoto in 1998. The current Conservative government made a non-binding commitment at 2009 UN talks in Copenhagen to reduce emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, in line with a pledge by the US, its biggest trading partner.
The biggest polluters in the nation of 34 million say they will cut emissions without a treaty.
“Kyoto no longer works,” said Rick George, chief executive officer of Suncor Energy Inc, Canada’s largest oil producer.
“Whatever happens with Kyoto won’t change our direction” of reducing the environmental impact of oil production, he said.
For Suncor and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd, technology improvements will have a bigger impact on Canada’s greenhouse gas output than an international climate-change treaty, University of Calgary School of Public Policy director Jack Mintz said.
“Technology is the only way we’re going to make significant progress,” Mintz said in an interview. “A lot of companies are already anticipating that the federal government will look at new regulations. Kyoto hasn’t been a strong treaty.”
Canada would likely avoid penalties if it exited the treaty before the end of the year, said Matt Horne, climate change policy director at the Pembina Institute, a Canadian think tank focused on sustainable energy. Kyoto’s first commitment period from 2008 until next year requires reductions only from so-called “Annex I” countries, the world’s wealthiest and most developed. It does not include developing nations, including India and China, the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emitter.
“Penalties apply in the second commitment period,” Horne said. “More importantly though, Canada’s international reputation will be tarnished.”
The US$6.7 billion cost of complying with Kyoto compares with an estimated C$75.9 billion (US$74.54 billion) in combined budget deficits projected through the fiscal year ending March 2015. By rejecting the accord, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is putting the country’s economy at risk, Green Party leader Elizabeth May said in an interview.
“We’re condemning ourselves to rising costs from extreme weather events, as well as opportunity costs like the failure to have a renewable-energy industry,” she said. “The world would be grateful for Canada to be constructive instead of the government consistently repudiating Kyoto.”