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A version of the following article appeared in the Hill Times

The Commons Report: Parliament to Planet

By Elizabeth May
February 19, 2005

It will be far too easy for Canadians to dismiss as irrelevant the announcement made February 16, 2005 by Prime Minister Paul Martin. If you missed it, the major piece of news on the day the Kyoto Protocol came into effect as international law was that Canada will host the next major meeting of the climate negotiating fora known as the Conference of the Parties. After all, nothing is less exciting than a major conference unless it is a major United Nations conference. I have attended enough of them to know that from time to time the atmosphere makes one long for the excitement of watching paint dry.

It would be easy to dismiss this announcement, but it would be wrong.

The meeting to take place in Montreal in December 2005 is described prosaically as COP11, and, for added excitement, it is also MOP1. Every year since the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change entered into force there has been a mini-Parliament within the climate treaty.

Virtually every nation on earth is a party to the framework convention, having both signed and ratified it. This includes the United States. Every meeting is labeled a Conference of the Parties and is demarcated by its sequential number. Some are merely referred to by the cities in which they have been held. Notably COP3 was in Kyoto, Japan and was the site of the cliff-hanger negotiations that led to the Kyoto Protocol.

COP6 was in The Hague, adjourned in a stalemate in the fall of 2000 between the Clinton Administration and the EU, only to re-open in the summer of 2001 in Bonn with the Bush administration pulling in a different direction – trying to sabotage any progress at all. We have had, in other words, good COPs and bad COPs. What we have never had is a North American COP.

There have been meetings in Bonn and Berlin, Milan and Marrakech, Buenos Aires (twice), Delhi, Kyoto, and the Hague -- but never in North America. I have always harboured a notion that had the first binding targets to control greenhouse gases been negotiated in Kansas City (or at least in a city whose name George Bush could pronounce) chances if its acceptance would have improved.

The significance of this meeting is large. As noted, first, it is in North America. The U.S. Administration made it clear at the last COP in Buenos Aires last fall that it was not keen on Canada offering to host COP11. Secondly, arguably this is the most significant of the COPs since 1997 in Japan. As the Kyoto Protocol has now entered into force, that treaty’s internal process also kicks off at COP11. The first Meeting of the Parties (MOP1) under Kyoto will take place concurrently. Thirdly, as everyone knows, the Kyoto targets are only modest first steps to more aggressive global action.

The COP11/MOP1 meeting will be critical in setting sights on the next round of negotiations. As the only industrialized country in North America to ratify Kyoto, Canada can play a leadership role – bridging the concerns of developing countries with those of progressive members of the industrialized world. The G-8 Summit this year, hosted by Prime Minister Tony Blair, will also focus on climate change. Blair has been placing a lot of political capital on bringing the Bush Administration back into a responsible position.

While such hopes may seem dim, there are encouraging signs from within the U.S. Republican Party, if not form the White House. Republican Senator from Maine, Olympia Snowe recently co-chaired the report of the Institute for Public Policy Research out of the U.K. ( That report set out the latest science on the risk of abrupt climate change. It claimed a credible case for having reached a “point of no return” in catastrophic interference with the climate system if carbon dioxide levels increased from the pre-Industrial Revolution level of 275 parts per million (ppm) to an unheard of concentration in the atmosphere of 400 ppm. If these numbers are new to you, you can start becoming very nervous.

Current levels – due to the increased emissions of greenhouse gases primarily from burning fossil fuels have now reached 379 ppm. Senator Snowe is joined by other Republicans, notably Senator John McCain, who are pressing for immediate reductions in the U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide. As well, many Republican Governors, including California’s Schwarzenegger are pulling in the direction of Kyoto-like targets.

With the world’s leading scientists and negotiators meeting within a stone’s throw of the U.S. border, perhaps their media and Congressional leaders will actually attend. It is critical, of course, that Canada’s domestic plan to deliver on our Kyoto commitments is clear and backed up by regulations well before the doors open on COP11.

Assuming solid domestic action, December 2005 will be a time for Canadians to focus on the next set of negotiations and give progress to meaningful reductions the full court press when dealing with China, India, Brazil -- but most especially the lone hold-out of industrialized major polluters.

Elizabeth May is the Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada.


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