Fact Check on Kyoto Distortions

When I wrote “Fact Check on Kyoto Distortions” on November 28, 2011 for my blog, I covered the most frequently cited, misleading/dishonest bits of spin on the subject. That blog covered the top 5, but now there are more. It’s time for “Fact Check on Kyoto Distortions—The Sequel.”

Distortion number six:  If Canada does not withdraw from Kyoto, we will owe billions in penalties.

Fact Check: Sadly, there are no effective compliance mechanisms under Kyoto.  There are no financial penalties.  I say “sadly” because effective compliance mechanisms were available to the negotiators in 1997.  The 1987 Montreal Protocol to protect the Ozone Layer had a great enforcement tool –  trade sanctions.

If any party to the Montreal Protocol on ozone were to violate its commitments to reduce and ultimately eliminate use of ozone-depleters, the other nations in the protocol could punish the offender with trade sanctions.  In 1995 the World Trade Organization was created.  Although there were no rulings on the matter, its Trade and Environment Committee raised the question of whether there were any environmental treaties that compromised trade, concluding that the enforcement mechanisms under the Montreal Protocol might violate the GATT.  By 1997 in Kyoto, Canada refused to sign onto any Protocol that included trade sanctions, as did many other countries.  This is why Kyoto’s enforcement mechanism is essentially a wet noodle. The only sanction is that in negotiating a second commitment period target, whatever amount of the first target that country missed, it would have to add an additional one third of a ton as penalty.  But since the target is individual to each country and since it is a product of negotiation, it would be easy enough to negotiate the next phase target in a way that anticipated the .3 ton top up.

So how does the Minister of Environment get away with saying something that is patently untrue?  He chooses his words carefully.  This is how Peter Kent explained it in a recent opinion piece in the Financial Post:

“The math is clear: The total number of carbon credits required multiplied by the average cost of a carbon credit is $14-billion. And the facts are simple: You cannot enter the second commitment period without completing the first, and we either pay the $14-billion or we would be in violation of the protocol.”

Kent is careful to say that the $14 billion is the cost of compliance. Hypothetically, if we were suddenly to decide we wanted to meet the 2012 target Prime Minister Stephen Harper repudiated back in 2006, when he cancelled all programmes to reach the Kyoto target, it would only be possible through buying credits.  Sure, it might cost the $14 billion Kent has claimed, but no one in their right mind would do that, and there is nothing in the Kyoto Protocol to force Canada to spend a dime.

Distortion number seven: “You cannot enter the second commitment period without completing the first.” (see Kent quote above)

Fact Check:  It certainly sounds logical, but it is not true.

There are two ways in which the statement can be interpreted and neither is true.

  1. The first issue is the matter of staying in the Kyoto Protocol as a party, but not agreeing to second commitment period targets.  Japan and Russia are doing just that, but neither face penalties.  Japan is still hoping to hit its target, and is already below 1990 levels of emissions (while Canada is 28% above 1990 levels).  Japan is unlikely to hit its target, but has said it will stay in Kyoto, participating as a party.  It will be both out of compliance and refusing to take on second commitment period targets.  It will not face penalties because (see above), there are no penalties under Kyoto.  Canada is not the only Kyoto Party out of compliance; but we are the only country planning to legally withdraw.
  2. The second way of framing Kent’s distortion is to say that Canada could not take on a new round of legally binding targets without first meeting the 6% below 1990 target by 2012 we legally obligated ourselves to meet under Kyoto.  This is also not true.  The targets in the second commitment period are a matter of negotiation.  To get Canada committed to new legally binding emission reductions, other countries would likely be accommodating.  As an example, back in 1997, Australia refused to sign onto Kyoto unless their target was 8% above 1990 levels, when all other industrialized countries were pledging to cutting below 1990 emission levels. Australia’s increase in emissions was allowed through negotiation.  There is nothing in the protocol that requires being in compliance with the first commitment period before negotiating the second.

Distortion number eight:  Canada has withdrawn from Kyoto.

Fact check:  Canada has filed a legal notice of intent to withdraw.  It will take legal effect in December 2012.  Until then, Canada is a Kyoto party.  Let’s cancel that letter and start being responsible global citizens.