Fact Check on Kyoto Distortions

It has been a good week for the Harper Communications Machine. Peter Kent is a very effective spokesperson. The lines and spin work well. I like Peter Kent as a person. He is extremely kind in many ways. But his job in Cabinet is not unlike his job as a TV reporter. Read the news. Now he reads the spin.

Whether on CBC’s The Current and The House, or on CTV Question Period he gets away with enormous distortions.

Here are some of the most often repeated. At least when you see them you can hit the comment pages of the media websites and try to correct the garbage.

Distortion Number one: Kyoto doesn’t include most countries.

Fact Check: Actually, 191 countries have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol. In fact, the only country outside of Kyoto is the United States.

The element of truth in the distortion is that the first Kyoto Period, 2008-2012, by design required industrialized countries to hit specific targets and deadlines. This approach was modelled on the successful 1987 Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer. In that protocol, industrialized countries took on emission targets in the first phase, while developing countries could actually increase emissions. Subsequent agreements within the Montreal Protocol brought all countries to phase out ozone depleting substances.

Under Kyoto, the developing countries took on the commitment to reduce emissions in a more general way. Brazil has done far more than Canada without specific targets. So too have India and China.

Distortion Number two: Kyoto has failed.

Fact Check: Most of the countries in the industrialized world have met or exceeded their Kyoto targets. The EU as a unit has exceeded its target. Japan has reduced emissions below 1990 levels but falls short of its target. Canada is the only country within the Kyoto Protocol to have repudiated our legally binding obligations.

Moreover, Kyoto is not merely a set of targets to 2012. It is a very detailed set of agreements that cover monitoring, reporting, credits, adaptation, and other mechanisms that took years to negotiate.

Distortion Number three: The Copenhagen Accord is a substitute for Kyoto. Kent calls it a “breakthrough.”

Fact Check: The Copenhagen Accord was not a result of negotiation in the UN climate talks in Copenhagen. In Copenhagen at COP15, Obama brought a handful of countries to meet him privately, came up with two pages, described as “politically binding.” The document called for cuts to keep emissions below the level that would lead to a 2 degree C global average temperature increase. (Since then the IPCC has evaluated the various non-binding pledges of the Copenhagen Accord countries and found them dangerously high and guaranteed to send emissions to levels that will far exceed 2 degrees C global average temperature increase).

It pledged billions to developing countries for adaptation. When brought back to the conference late Friday night on the closing day, the low lying island states denounced it as sacrificing their futures. The head of the Tuvalu delegation said, “In Biblical terms, you are offering us thirty pieces of silver for our children’s future. Our children’s future is not for sale.”

All through the Friday night through to Saturday mid-morning, pressure was brought on nations to accept the Copenhagen document. The compromise in the final COP15 decision was that the COP “takes note” of the Copenhagen Accord. The Copenhagen Accord is not real. It is political spin and PR.

Distortion Number four: Canada’s position is “reasonable.”

Fact Check: Canada is the only country within the legally binding targets of Kyoto to ignore them. Canada was the first country to invent new targets using the non-Kyoto base year of 2006, when all other countries were using 1990. Canada created the opening for the US to also move to a base-year of 2005, which Canada then followed because it further reduced how far we would have to reduce GHG to hit the target.

Canada was the first industrialized country to refuse to enter into negotiations for a second commitment period under Kyoto. In Cancun at COP16, the possibility of a second commitment period under Kyoto was kept alive. Since then, Canada’s efforts have been to block success. Canada created space for Japan and Russia to move away from a second commitment period.

Distortion number five: We can control greenhouse gases through another, non-Kyoto approach and get large emitters in the developing world on board, such as China, India and Brazil.

Fact Check: Developing nations as a block have threatened that if the industrialized world does not continue to work within the Kyoto framework, they will walk. The negotiations to control GHG run the risk of collapse – just as time is running out to get a binding reductions.

The situation is dire. And last night CTV reported that the Harper government has plans to withdraw as a Kyoto party, but to save the announcement until December 23. This reveals the final level of cynicism and duplicity.

Canadians want real action to protect our children’s future. The Prime Minister knows the vast majority of Canadians will not approve of formally withdrawing from Kyoto, after whatever damage we can inflict at the Durban talks which open tomorrow. So save the nasty news until after the House has risen and most of us are thinking about our children’s Christmas stockings and getting the turkey ready.

It is for our children that we must mobilize. Somehow, we must force even the majority government to back down and accept that we have a moral obligation to negotiate in good faith. We must support a second phase of Kyoto and we must bring down emissions.

Update: I submitted a letter to the Speaker this morning asking for an emergency debate on Canada’s position heading into COP 17.