Canada was one of the first countries to sign the Kyoto protocol. It was also the first to formally withdraw from it.
The Chretien Liberal government ratified the protocol in 2002, and it officially came into force in 2005. Canada’s obligations under the Kyoto protocol were to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 6% below 1990 levels during the period of 2008 to 2012, in order to fight global warming. In December 2011, just one year before the expiry of the agreement, Environment Minister Peter Kent announced Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto protocol. Coming one day after the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, this announcement surprised and disappointed the international community.
For Canadians, it should come as a disappointment but not a surprise.
When the Harper Conservative government came into power in 2006, it was made clear from the onset that it was not a proponent of Canada’s participation in the Kyoto protocol. Harper strongly opposed the protocol, and instead advocated for a “made-in-Canada” approach to setting targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions. According to the CBC, recent estimates are that Canada’s emissions are now more than 30% higher than the Kyoto target that Canada committed to.
So what does this mean for the future of climate change policy in Canada?
In the near future, it is unlikely that strong climate change policy will emerge in Canada, especially given the oil sands and government intentions to expand energy exports. According to one Greenpeace activist, “the decision to leave Kyoto… is a further signal that the Harper government is more concerned about protecting polluters than people.” The Pembina Institute estimates that by 2020, greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands alone will account for 12% of national emissions.
Effects of global warming and climate change are already being seen at home, with the melting of the Arctic sea ice in the Northwest Passage. In July 2012, the Canadian Ice Service estimated the region’s ice cover at 33%, compared to the 1981-2010 median coverage of 79%. The melting of the Arctic sea ice is attributed mostly to greenhouse gas emissions. The melting of the ice and consequentially the opening of the Northwest Passage has serious political implications for Canada, including sovereignty issues over both the land and natural resources.
If these visible effects of climate change within Canada itself are not incentive enough to implement effective climate change policy, then what will be?
Climate change is not a concern of the future; it is one of the present. There is a critical need for the international community, especially leading industrialized countries such as Canada, to actively institute and participate in policy to mitigate the effects of global warming.
Minister Kent has already explicitly stated that Canada will not participate in a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol. As the first phase expires and new agreements are established, this should be reconsidered. It is an opportunity for Canada to not only re-engage, but also engage as a leader within the realm of climate change policy. The climate is changing, and the increasingly evident consequences are emphasizing the need for effective mitigating policy.
When it comes to climate change policy, the old adage “it’s never too late” does not hold true; the time for Canada to act is now.
Laura Davidson is a 2014 MPP Candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance. She also holds an Honours BA in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario. Her current policy interests are environmental and social policy.