Environment Minister Peter Kent says countries shouldn't rush into a second chapter of Kyoto because they are worried about a vacuum in global efforts to control greenhouse gases.
Kent is taking part in the international climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa this week. More than 190 countries are deep in talks about the kind of treaty that will replace the Kyoto Protocol when it ends in December 2012.
Kent told reporters on a conference call Thursday that Canada would support signing a new comprehensive treaty as early as 2015.
"Canada has said all along we need a new climate change regime which includes all major emitters just as soon as possible, and if we can get it by 2015 that would be good. If it takes somewhat longer, that would be fine," Kent said.
The future of a new climate change treaty is hanging over the conference in Durban. About 150 developing and small states are pushing for a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol that provides binding commitments to keep a global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius or less.
They argue they're already feeling the effects of a changing climate in extreme weather events that have caused floods in some places and drought in others. They fear if a second phase of Kyoto isn't negotiated now there will be years of global inaction to stem rising temperatures.
Canada, the U.S., Japan and Russia argue a new agreement has to include countries like Brazil, South Africa, India and China, whose emissions are rising along with their growing economies.
On Thursday Kent warned those countries not to hide behind the argument that a second phase of Kyoto has to happen.
"We are concerned that some countries may use the second Kyoto commitment to delay engagement on a new climate change regime," he said.
Canada lacks 'street cred'
Steven Guilbeault from the environmental group Equiterre, who is also in Durban, says the possible legal vacuum is "extremely problematic" at these talks and he agrees that any global agreement should start as early 2015. But he says Canada doesn't have any credibility in its argument that countries shouldn't try to negotiate something to fill in the gap between 2012 and 2015.
"It's easy to say that, but the fact is Canada is not ready to do more [to cut our emissions]," Guilbeault said. "So we don't have any street cred here. 2015 is an empty PR catch phrase."
But clear even if countries agree to a new treaty to reduce emissions by 2015, it could take a long time for all countries to actually start to reduce their emissions.
Canada's chief climate negotiator, Guy Saint-Jacques, predicts it could take more than a decade.
"If you look at the Montreal Ozone Protocol, their implementation is over a ten-year period."
Talks easier without Canada: May
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who is also in Durban, says Canada's involvement in the negotiations has been overshadowed by reports it plans to withdraw from Kyoto a year before it officially ends.
"We have had the shadow of the spectre of Canada legally withdrawing from Kyoto," she told reporters in a press briefing along with other Green Party delegates from around the world.
"It's something that I regard as the most egregious thing yet," May said.
May is in Durban as part of the Papua New Guinea delegation because the Harper government would not include any opposition MPs in Canada's delegation.
She says Canadian arguments don't have a lot of clout in the climate talks.
"I've heard some people suggest that given how badly Canada has performed, and how negative and obstructionist our delegation has been in meeting after meeting, it will be easier if Canada is not in the room."