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The following article appeared in the Globe and Mail.

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 on.)

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 first time.

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 to pursue.

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 Canadian government.

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 future.

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


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