Pulling out, yet needing protection

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Canadian environment minister Peter Kent is currently meeting with the international community to discuss climate change at the Durban Conference. On the agenda is the future of the Kyoto Protocol. The international agreement to reduce carbon emissions is set to expire next year and Russia, Japan and Canada have said they will not negotiate any further contracts. There is even speculation that Canada will pull out of the accord entirely.

Kent says Canada will find other ways to cut back on pollution and carbon emissions, citing Canada's recent commitment to provide $600 million over the next five years to improve air quality. However, pulling out of Kyoto would put yet another blight on Canada's environmental record. Canada is not pulling out of Kyoto because it believes the protocol has shortcomings that need to be addressed, which it does, but rather because economic strength and international power is more important than a sustainable Earth. Our current government has not shown any recent actions indicating that "yes, we do care about the environment."

Under Kyoto, Canada agreed to cut emissions by six per cent below 1990 levels. But by 2009 Canada instead increased emissions 17 per cent above the 1990 levels.

This past year Harper has also cut more than $200 million in funding for environmental research and monitoring. Programs affected included the Canadian Environmental Network and the Ozone Monitoring Network, which played a prominent role in finding the first-ever ozone hole over Canada. As well, the Conservatives continue to subsidize the oil and gas industry, on of the world's most profitable industries, but also one of the most environmentally destructive. The subsidies have been under international scrutiny and in 2009, Harper promised to end all annual public subsidies. That has yet to happen.

In fact, Canada is ranked 28th out of 30 nations for environmental stewardship in an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development study. It is with this type of record that Kent says developing countries have no excuse not to agree to lofty emission reduction targets. They should not be allowed to cite the emission records of wealthy, developed countries as an excuse. He says the large emitters such as China, Brazil and India must also agree to the international binding emission targets before Canada will.

The "I won't do it until they do" attitude of Harper's government is extremely adolescent. Besides, China reduced its emissions 19 percent between 1997 and 2000, while growing its economy by 15 per cent. This is more than Canada has to show for itself. Developing nations are still struggling to develop industry and grow a stable economy. Heavy emission regulations constrain development. Canada and other developed nations are responsible for historic carbon emissions during our industrial revolution, which allowed us to achieve our current position of wealth. In 2007, Brazil president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said, "The wealthy countries are very smart, approving protocols, holding big speeches on the need to avoid deforestation, but they already deforested everything [in their own countries]." It is obvious Canada is not interested in environmental stewardship, but rather power for power's sake. Canada has a head start over developing countries, and is not about to let them catch up, even if thtat means sacrificing the environment. Taking the lead to address global warming should not be seen as cumbersome, but rather an opportunity, allowing Canada to develop economic dominance in the emerging 'green' industry. We need to do what is in our power to ensure global warming doesn't continue to melt arctic icecaps and flood major cities. nasa satellites show that the permanent ice cover is diminishing at a rate of nine per cent per decade and sea levels have been rising dramatically. By 2030 sea levels are estimated to rise 10-20 centimetres.

Kent states that Canada will be its own watchdog when it comes to measuring emission reduction targets. Canada's new carbon emission reduction goal is less ambitious than the previous Kyoto agreement. The new target will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent below the 2005 level within the next 9 years. Canada will set its own limits that will not impede economic development, says Kent. Canada has a bad record of policing itself. Continuous audits by Canada's commissioner of the environment and sustainable development and the auditor general indicate failings in the federal government to protect the environment. Critiques by the commissioner include lack of action to protect biological diversity and decrease global warming, inability to protect and restore the Great Lakes, inadequate management of fisheries, pesticide and toxic chemical control as well as not adequately safeguarding Canadians from the risk of smog. Without the international community's pressure Canada most likely will not adhere to its environmental policies.

Harper government, Kyoto protocol may not be for you, but climate change is here, and Canada needs to take action-- no more excuses.