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With or without Kyoto, Canada needs a plan

The Bush administration rejected it outright. Canada never developed a clear plan to implement it. Most of Europe won't come close to meeting its terms, and now it is plain that Russia will not ratify it. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, ushered in with considerable hope by its proponents, is not officially dead. But it is time to prepare the obituaries for an international treaty so flawed that it likely never could have delivered on its goal of significantly reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases implicated in global warming.

Optimistic delegates gathered at the latest United Nations conference on climate change in Milan are continuing their work on rules governing various aspects of the treaty. But they would be better off looking for alternatives, now that a senior aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin has confirmed what Russian officials have been saying for some time. The Kremlin sees no benefits and plenty of economic risks in ratifying the deal.

That should mean curtains for Kyoto, as Russia effectively holds a veto. Canada and 119 other countries have ratified the accord, but it cannot take effect until it has enough signatories to account for 55 per cent of 1990-level emissions from industrial countries. The United States alone contributes 40 per cent, and has no intention of signing. That leaves Russia as the only country with a big enough share for its ratification to bring the treaty into effect.

Laudable as the aims of the Kyoto Protocol are -- who, after all, would be against a safer global environment? -- it is full of holes in logic, including its radically different treatment of rich and poor countries. While Canada and other industrial countries that signed on have pledged to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to reach specific targets by 2012, developing nations with rapidly growing industrial sectors, notably China, India and South Korea, would be under no obligation to reduce their output of pollutants until after that date.

The United States wanted no part of an accord that could not guarantee that worldwide emissions would be reduced even if all the industrialized nations were to climb aboard. The Americans feared massive new costs for their manufacturers and energy producers, and potential economic and social upheaval, without any certainty about what the exercise would amount to at the end of the day.

That is also the concern of Canadians who have expressed skepticism about the accord and about the costly and onerous conditions it imposes. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who views Kyoto as one of his legacy achievements, insists this country should live up to its commitments. But he does so without any knowledge of what costs and economic risks that will entail, or even whether it will be of any benefit.

Prime-minister-designate Paul Martin repeated yesterday what he has said in the past: that while he supported the accord, it would not work without a detailed plan on whether emission-reduction targets were attainable, on how to meet them, on the economic benefits from implementing new technologies and on the costs.

Now that the accord's fate appears sealed -- never certain when the Russians are involved -- the federal government must do what it should have done in the first place. Come up with a clear and achievable plan for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions without inflicting grave economic harm, and let Canadians debate whether the sacrifices that will be necessary to implement it are worth it. Mr. Chrétien tried to dress up a pledge as policy, which was putting the cart before the horse.

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