The coming week in Durban, S.A., will be a crucial test of whether world leaders can reach agreement on a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which expires next year.
The South Africans hosting the conference do not want the negotiations to fail on its watch, but Canada is making that job hard.
A statement made during question period in Ottawa on Friday seems to illustrate the conflict in Durban.
"Canada is working towards a single new international climate change regime that will include commitments by all major emitters," Environment Minister Peter Kent said in question period on in Ottawa on Friday.
Many environmental groups, developing nations and the European Union, which want to forge a new commitment similar to the Kyoto Protocol arrangement, where wealthy developed nations bear the largest burden of the emissions cuts while attempting to bring developing nations along with financial supports.
Protesters with flags for different countries bury their heads in the sand during a climate change summit held in the city of Durban, S.A. Schalk van Zuydam/Associated Press The expectation, one that has been neither denied nor confirmed by Kent, is that Canada will withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol before the end of the year, fuelling speculation, anger and some very undiplomatic language among negotiators at the conference.
"If a developed country that has the financial and technological capacity to do much more decides to leave Kyoto, it's obviously to do less [about cutting emissions]," argued Andre Correa do Lago, the head of the Brazilian delegation at the climate change conference this past week.
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While Canada is attracting most of the negative attention in South Africa, it is not alone in its distaste for the perceived inequities of the Kyoto Protocol and the new treaty being negotiated to replace it. Russia and Japan are no fans of continuing the status quo.
"But really, those are the only countries that would prefer to see something else other than the one legally binding treaty that we have on climate change," said Dale Marshall, climate change policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation. Observers say the Canadian government would prefer to see a treaty based on discussons at the 2009 conference in Copenhagen and further elaborated in Cancun, Mexico, last year.
The talks in Cancun ended with modest agreements on preventing deforestation and supports for developing nations but deferred the more difficult work on cutting carbon emissions to the Durban meeting.
Canada's position has damped down enthusiasm for Durban among Canadian environmentalists. Neither Marshall nor anyone else from the Suzuki Foundation will be at the conference.
"We have countries, like my own, that are not interested in doing anything about this — that are holding back progress. It's frustrating for me personally because I work on this issue," Marshal said. "But really, the big thing that is most disconcerting for me is the fact that we have rich countries like Canada that aren't doing their fair share and it's impacting those that have no ability to solve the problem."
Kent is in Durban for the talks this week and will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. ET Monday; the conference wraps up Friday.