The following article appeared in the Globe
A Climate Win Despite Ourselves
By Elizabeth May
December 19, 2005
It's a shame that the most important United Nations climate negotiations
in history happened in Canada during an election campaign. If not
for that bit of bad timing, Canadians could be proud of what was
accomplished. As it was, media coverage focused on a claim of hurt
feelings from the U.S. ambassador over the Prime Minister's speech.
The reality is, pressure from many nations led to the United States'
backing down and agreeing to future UN dialogue on climate change.
(Everyone else, meanwhile, moved ahead for a second round of cuts
within the Kyoto Protocol, to which the Americans have not yet signed
While Canadians were busy lacerating their Prime Minister's performance,
The New York Times saw the big picture: "At least the Americans'
shameful foot-dragging did not bring the entire process to a complete
halt, and for this the other industrialized countries, chiefly Britain
and Canada, deserve considerable praise." The Guardian Weekly's
version: "The White House was forced into a U-turn in climate
change last weekend after appearing to critically misjudge the international
and domestic mood on its efforts to tackle global warming."
The U.S. delegation had been pressing other countries to block
progress. The level of its obstructionism can be gauged by its objection
to allowing former U.S. president Bill Clinton, a family friend
whom I had personally invited, into the conference building. Yet,
against the odds, the landmark agreements in Montreal succeeded
in launching critical talks for a second Kyoto round of cuts.
The first Kyoto targets for greenhouse-gas reductions -- 6 per
cent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012 -- are so frequently cited as
simply "Kyoto" that many believe that the Kyoto Protocol
expires in 2012. Not so: Only the first commitment period ends in
2012. Launching negotiations to have another round of cuts, with
no gaps from the first commitment period, was essential. The Montreal
meeting was really "do or die" for the global climate.
Initially, as climate activists from around the world prepared for
the first UN climate negotiations in North America, no government
was poised to support Kyoto 2. By the conference's close at 6:17
a.m. on Dec. 10, all 157 nations that had ratified Kyoto agreed
to the next round.
While the Canadian media were distracted, the Montreal conference
also approved all the operational rules of the Kyoto Protocol, including
the difficult issues around compliance and enforcement. And the
conference advanced development opportunities for alternative energy
and conservation through something called the "clean development
mechanism" within the Kyoto Protocol. It also put tropical
deforestation on the agenda for global climate agreements for the
As our election looms, the public needs to know where all party
leaders stand on global negotiations and domestic targets. So far,
we know Jack Layton and the NDP are committed to a 25-per-cent cut
below 1990 greenhouse-gas levels by 2020. That's about right for
Canada. Globally, to avoid "point of no return" impacts
on the climate, many scientists have urged cuts to stabilize atmospheric
carbon before the average global temperature increases by 2 degrees.
To do that, we need global reductions of 30 per cent below 1990
levels by 2020, and 80 per cent below 1990 by 2050. Prime Minister
Paul Martin has not committed to a new Canadian target for post-2012.
Voters must know what long-term targets the Liberals are prepared
Where do the other leaders stand? What target would the pro-Kyoto
Bloc Québécois pursue? What of Stephen Harper's opposition
to Kyoto? We must ask explicit questions because Canada's federal
environment minister, whoever he or she will be, will continue as
president of the global negotiations until December of 2006. The
future of global negotiations could be imperilled by an anti-Kyoto
Canadians overwhelmingly support Kyoto. Let's ensure our votes
go to propelling global progress, while achieving our urgent first-phase
Kyoto targets. No other issue has a larger impact on our children's
Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada,
attended the entire climate conference, including the last 24-hour
stretch. Her blog is at http://www.sierraclub.ca.
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