OTTAWA Prime Minister Stephen Harper will address a special session of the United Nations today aimed at launching a second phase to the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.
It will be the largest meeting ever of world leaders on climate change and will give a strong indication of whether there is support for extending the global pact beyond 2012.
Mr. Harper, a critic of Kyoto, is expected to expand on the pledges he made this month in Sydney to make Canada a "clean energy superpower" through new technology such as renewable power, clean coal and injecting carbon emissions back into the earth.
The UN meeting comes just three days after a federal panel, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, concluded the Harper government's climate-change policies "would leave Canada in non-compliance with the Kyoto Protocol."
Some opposition MPs say they are surprised Mr. Harper is attending today's meeting.
"It's just so ironic as to be laughable," Liberal MP David McGuinty said.
A new survey of 1,000 people released today by polling firm Harris/Decima indicates strong support for staying in the Kyoto Protocol as opposed to alternatives proposed by the United States, which did not sign Kyoto.
When asked if Canada should be siding with European countries who want to further Kyoto-like targets or with countries like the U.S. and Australia who want non-Kyoto targets, 61 per cent sided with Europe and 25 per cent supported the alternative.
The survey was conducted on behalf of the Ottawa-based environmental group Climateforchange.ca, which is run by veteran environmentalist John Bennett. It was conducted Aug. 15-21 and has a margin of error of 3.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20. The poll also indicates that 67 per cent of those surveyed believe that if Canada falls short of its 2012 Kyoto targets, that shortfall should be added to Canada's post-2012 commitments.
Such a transfer is permitted under the protocol, and environmentalists and opposition MPs are increasingly pointing to this approach as an option for Canada to stay within Kyoto even though it is not on track to meet its targets by 2012.
On Thursday and Friday, Environment Minister John Baird is expected to attend what some view as a rival climate change meeting in Washington. U.S. President George W. Bush has invited representatives of the UN, European Union and the world's 15 largest emitters of greenhouse gases to discuss what should happen when Kyoto's first phase expires in 2012.
Environmentalists fear the U.S. is attempting to replace Kyoto's mandatory rules for cutting emissions with a more lenient regime.
Mr. Bennett said the Harris/Decima survey shows Canada should make the UN, rather than Washington, the focus for its climate change talks.
"Canada is the only country that ratified the Kyoto Protocol that is not attempting to meet its target," Mr. Bennett said.
"If the Prime Minister wants to be speaking on behalf of Canadians, he needs to go to the United Nations and announce that his government is actually going to cap greenhouse-gas emissions for industrial polluters and do everything it can to reach the Kyoto targets."
The Washington meeting is aimed at addressing one of the long-standing criticisms of Kyoto, citied frequently by Mr. Harper and others.
The criticism is that large polluters such as China and India do not have targets in the current phase of Kyoto because they are considered developing nations.
Earlier this month, when these countries agreed to "aspirational" pledges to reduce greenhouse gases at an APEC meeting in Sydney, Mr. Harper insisted it was a major accomplishment.
Chinese President Hu Jintao let it be known, however, that the UN was his preferred avenue for discussing climate change.