Northerners reel as Canada pulls out of Kyoto

Northerners reel as Canada pulls out of Kyoto
From left, Francois Paulette, Daniel T’Seleie of Yellowknife and MP Dennis Bevington at the United Nations climate change convention in Durban, South Africa.Photo: courtesy Francois Paulette.

Representatives from the NWT returning from climate change talks in South Africa are frustrated and exhausted by Canada’s decision to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol amid beleaguered attempts to forge an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions threatening the planet.

“In the ‘70s and ‘80s Canada was playing the lead advocating for peace and playing a big role in that first climate change convention in Rio de Janeiro,” said Francois Paulette. “It’s a far cry from that today. Actually it’s embarrassing for me.”

“In a way it was frustrating, you know, you want to shake somebody and say ‘wake up.’”

The Dene elder from Smith’s Landing First Nation near Fort Smith attended the 17th UN conference on climate change in Durban, South Africa from Nov. 25 to Dec. 7 as an indigenous representative on the environment, sharing the stage with Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“The world sees Canada as this place of an immense territory, vast and beautiful and at times untouched, but at the same time in our backyard the tar sands are producing one third of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and the government wants to produce more,” he told The Journal, noting the federal government’s recent approval of Total E&P’s Joslyn oilsands mine in Alberta.

“What is in store for us? They pulled out of Kyoto.That for me is unimaginable that they would do that.”

Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent formally withdrew from Kyoto last Tuesday morning in the House of Commons, after returning from Durban, making Canada the first country to rescind on the international treaty.

“The Kyoto Protocol does not represent the path forward for Canada,” he said at a news conference. “It’s now clear that Kyoto is not the path forward for a global solution to climate change. If anything, it’s an impediment.”

Paulette said that outside of the summit, the international community targeted the Canadian government with passionate protests.

“Durban turned out to be an exhausting journey because Canada was not perceived to be an ally in the talks,” he said. “People were actually protesting. They were really critical of Mr. Harper and Peter Kent.”

Western Arctic NDP MP Dennis Bevington, who attended part of the meetings in Durban, said the same. At the Globe International Legislators Forum he attended in Cape Town before the summit in Durban, Bevington said he had to defend the provinces, territories and municipalities doing progressive work on the climate in the face of criticism by other countries.

“The federal government’s intransigence is not the case with the provinces and territories and they have support from the general population,” he told The Journal from his office in Ottawa.

“Other countries shouldn’t view this as an impediment to them going ahead. Canada’s position can change and will change through other forces.”

The MP applauded Ontario and Quebec for their work on wind and solar energy, as well as the GNWT for putting $20 million annually towards clean energy initiatives such as biomass.
Bevington said the Globe conference really highlighted what other nations are doing to practically address climate change and switch to clean energy.

“Cape Town was about action, what people are actually doing,” he said. “There was a sense of pride and accomplishment there. At Durban there was a great level of frustration to get a treaty, to agree on it.”

Bevington acknowledged Mexico’s passing a greenhouse gas reduction bill and Australia passing a clean energy act in November of this year.

“Much progress has been achieved in 2011,” he said. “There was a sense that even with countries that didn’t sign Kyoto there was a moving forward and a recognition that this was an economic priority. Even developing countries are saying, ‘why develop fossil fuels?’”

“Canada’s going to get left behind on the green economy stuff.”

The UN climate change meetings ended on Dec. 9 with a global treaty in sight for dealing with climate change that would have legal force and require both developed and developing nations, such as China, India and Brazil, to cut their carbon emissions.

Countries have until 2015 to agree to the terms, with the treaty coming into effect in 2020.

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