11/06/2013 01:02 EST | Updated 11/06/2013 01:03 EST

Climate Change Poll: Many Don't Know Canada Out Of Kyoto Agreement

FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2009 file photo, steam and smoke rise from a coal burning power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. A United Nations report on rising greenhouse gas emissions reminded world governments Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 that their efforts to fight climate change are far from enough to meet their stated goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 F). (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

A majority of Canadians don’t realize that the Harper government has pulled Canada out of the landmark Kyoto Protocol climate change agreement, according to a new poll from Canada2020.

The progressive-leaning think tank found a vast majority of Canadians — 88 per cent — want the federal government to take the lead on climate change, and 71 per cent want the government to make it a “high priority.” Only 16 per cent believe the issue actually is a top priority for the government.

But while the poll found Canadians overall to be concerned about the problem — 77 per cent said they were either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about global warming — the survey also found many Canadians are lacking information about the issue.

When asked if Canada was still a part of the Kyoto Protocol, only 41 per cent responded “no,” while 33 per cent said “yes” and the rest were unsure.

The Harper government announced in late 2011 it is pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, arguing the move will save the country $14 billion in penalties for not making emissions targets.

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Then-Environment Minister Peter Kent blamed the withdrawal on an “incompetent Liberal government” that signed the pact in 1997, but did little afterwards to prepare the country to reduce emissions.

Seventy-six per cent of poll respondents said Canada should sign on to an international climate pact, even if it means doing so before the U.S. and Canada get on board.

The poll found Canadians are also missing information on other aspects of the issue. For instance, 55 per cent of poll respondents had not heard of cap-and-trade system for emissions reductions.

Under cap-and-trade, the government caps the total amount of carbon emissions companies can produce, then issues permits for those levels. Any company that does not emit as much pollution as its permit allows can sell those permits for a profit. Companies wishing to emit more carbon can buy those permits.

The largest cap-and-trade system in the world is the EU’s Emission Trading Scheme, which launched in 2005, and is one of the primary mechanisms by which the EU plans to achieve its Kyoto Protocol emissions targets.

The Canada2020 poll found 51 per cent of respondents in favour of such a scheme, with 33 per cent opposed. The Harper government has described cap-and-trade as "dangerous" and "un-Canadian."

It has also opposed a carbon tax, an issue on which Canadians are split. Forty-seven per cent support hiking taxes on carbon-based fuels in the poll, with 48 per cent opposed.

The poll results "confirm what many Canadians already know: there is a leadership vacuum when it comes to fighting climate change in this country," Canada2020 associate Diana Carney, wife of former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, said in a statement.

"From signing international agreements to the uptake of renewable energy, all across the board Canadians are waiting for the federal government to take responsibility and lead."

The poll sampled 1,502 Canadians in October of this year, and has a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.