BEIJING - China's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday Canada's decision to quit the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gas emissions was "regrettable" and called on the country to continue abiding by its commitments on climate change.
On Monday, Canada became the first country to announce it would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. Canada, a major energy producer, has long complained that the agreement is unworkable because it excludes many significant emitters from binding action.
The United Nations climate conference reached an agreement Sunday on a new program that was meant to set a new course for the global fight against climate change in the coming decades.
China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases from human activity, has long insisted the Kyoto Protocol remain a foundation of international efforts to curb these emissions causing global warming.
"It is regrettable and flies in the face of the efforts of the international community for Canada to leave the Kyoto Protocol at a time when the Durban meeting, as everyone knows, made important progress by securing a second phase of commitment to the Protocol," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said at a news briefing.
"We also hope that Canada will face up to its due responsibilities and duties, and continue abiding by its commitments, and take a positive, constructive attitude towards participating in international cooperation to respond to climate change."
China's state news agency, Xinhua, denounced Canada's decision.
"Canada's so-called reason for dropping out of the agreement is preposterous and completely an excuse to shirk responsibility," Xinhua said.
The commentary urged Canada to "retract its decision and return to the Kyoto Protocol, so that it can make positive contribution to the cause of global emissions reductions."
Legally binding emissions reductions
At recently concluded climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, China won an extension of the protocol until 2017, but also bowed to pressure to launch later talks for a new pact that would legally oblige all the big emitters to take action.
Under Kyoto, poorer countries including China, take voluntary, non-binding steps to curb the growth of emissions while they focus on economic development, and rich nations must sign up to quantitative cuts in emissions.
The United States has refused to join the protocol and argued that China and other big emerging emitters should come under a legally binding framework that does away with the either-or distinction between advanced and developing countries.
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The protocol, initially adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, is aimed at fighting global warming. Canada's previous Liberal government signed the accord but did little to implement it and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government never embraced it.
"The Kyoto Protocol does not cover the world's largest two emitters, United States and China, and therefore cannot work," Kent said on Monday. "It's now clear that Kyoto is not the path forward to a global solution to climate change. If anything it's an impediment."
Canada's exit no surprise
Monday's announcement was not a surprise. Canada faced international criticism at the recent climate talks in South Africa amid reports it would pull out of Kyoto. Kent had said previously that signing the Kyoto Protocol on climate change was one of the previous government's biggest blunders.
The accord requires countries to give a year's notice to withdraw. Kent said the move saves Canada $14 billion in penalties for not achieving its Kyoto targets.
"To meet the targets under Kyoto for 2012 would be the equivalent of either removing every car, truck, ATV, tractor, ambulance, police car and vehicle of every kind from Canadian roads or closing down the entire farming and agriculture sector and cutting heat to every home, office, hospital, factory and building in Canada," Kent said.
Harper's Conservative government is reluctant to hurt Canada's booming oil sands sector, which is the country's fastest growing source of greenhouse gases and a reason it has reneged on its Kyoto commitments.
Canada has the world's third-largest oil reserves, more than 170 billion barrels. Daily production of 1.5 million barrels from the oil sands is expected to increase to 3.7 million in 2025. Only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have more reserves. But critics say the enormous amount of energy and water needed in the extraction process increases greenhouse gas emissions.
Abdication of responsibility?
Kent's announcement drew immediate criticism from environmental groups. Mike Hudema of Greenpeace Canada said in a statement that it is further signal that the Harper government is more concerned about protecting polluters than people.
Hannah McKinnon of the Climate Action Network Canada said formally withdrawing from Kyoto after the Durban, South Africa conference is a slap in the face of the international community.
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"It's a total abdication of our responsibilities," McKinnon said.
Opposition New Democrat lawmaker Megan Leslie disputed the dollar figures involved and said there are no penalties under Kyoto. Leslie said pulling out saves the Conservatives from having to report that Canada is falling short of its Kyoto targets.
"It's like we're the kid in school who knows they're gonna fail the class, so we have to drop it before that actually happens," Leslie said.
Scientists say that if levels of greenhouse gases continue to rise, eventually the world's climate will reach a tipping point, with irreversible melting of some ice sheets and a several-foot rise in sea levels.
They cannot pinpoint exactly when that would happen, but the two-decade-long climate negotiations have been focused on preventing global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit above current levels by the end of this century.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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