Canada Alters Course on Kyoto

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 3, 2006

TORONTO, May 2 -- Canada's Conservative government on Tuesday slashed funds for environmental programs designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions, a move that critics said gutted support for the Kyoto accord on global warming.

Environmental groups said Canada, one of the early signatories and a high-profile proponent of the 1997 pact, is now in line with the Bush administration, which has dismissed the international agreement and expressed doubts about humans' contributions to climate change.

The cuts were included in a federal budget, submitted to Parliament by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, that would also cut the national sales tax and business taxes, create a variety of individual tax credits and beef up spending for the military and law enforcement.

In planning the budget, Harper had a federal surplus -- one Canada has maintained since 1998 -- to work with, and the funding priorities reflect his campaign promises to replace government programs with tax cuts. The budget replaces a federal day-care program with a $90-a-month child-support payment, cuts a $4.6 billion program for aboriginal welfare, and omits about $3.2 billion already allocated for environmental programs through 2010 to pay municipalities and businesses to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.

Instead, Harper's ruling party said it would develop a new "made-in-Canada" program to reduce smog and offered a tax credit to try to increase public transit usage. The government's environmental plan -- one paragraph in a budget document replacing 25 pages in the previous government's budget -- drew immediate protest.

"These are dramatic cutbacks," said Jack Layton, head of the opposition New Democratic Party. "Every Canadian out there has become more and more aware of the crisis of climate change, but our government is going in the other direction."

"Canada doesn't have a climate change program anymore," said Dale Marshall, a policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental group. Canada is currently chairing the meetings on the Kyoto accord, and it is "embarrassing to have a chair that doesn't even believe in the agreements," he said. "Other countries, in the European Union, are absolutely committed to meeting their Kyoto targets and are on track."

Canada, which has long clung to its "green" image, hosted early work that led to the Kyoto Protocol, in which 163 countries and regional organizations pledged to meet quotas to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that many scientists believe are warming Earth, melting glaciers and brewing more-intense storms.

Despite Canada's vocal support for Kyoto, its greenhouse emissions have risen by 24 percent since 1990, leading Harper's environmental minister, Rona Ambrose, to declare meeting the goals "impossible."

Ambrose had already cut a variety of programs aimed at meeting the Kyoto standards, including a much-publicized plan that encouraged individual conservation efforts. Business and oil-producing groups from the oil-rich province of Alberta applauded the government's pullback on Kyoto.

"We shouldn't be spending billions of dollars fighting a problem that may not be there," said Morten Paulsen, a spokesman for a Calgary-based group called Friends of Science, which has criticized the Kyoto accord. He said that arguments that global warming is caused by carbon dioxide are unproven and that "we believe they are a white elephant."

Douglas Macdonald, a senior lecturer at University of Toronto Center for the Environment, predicted that the Harper administration would not actually withdraw from the Kyoto accord, which Canada formally ratified in 2002.

"That would be too visible," he said. "They are more interested in smoke screens. Canada had been one of the leaders pushing for Kyoto. Now the government is saying we won't take it seriously."

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