# Canada, Kyoto, and the conservatives

June 5, 2012, 12:13 pm
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In 1987 Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, during a multilateral conference in Toronto, called the threat from climate change “second only to a global nuclear war,” and called for 20 percent cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2005. Thus would begin a fairly consistent pattern of rhetoric outweighing policy implementation on this issue. Canada had promised to stabilize GHGs at 1990 levels prior to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), at which the embryonic, but target-less, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed. The subsequent Liberal government went further, promising a 20 percent reduction and introducing the first National Action Program on Climate Change. As it became apparent this was rather unrealistic, the target slipped at the Kyoto negotiations in 1997 to six percent below 1990 levels by the five-year commitment period of 2008 to 2012. Though Canada signed the Kyoto Protocol on April 29, 1998, it did not ratify the agreement until December 17, 2002.

Actual policy initiatives on emissions reduction have been slow in coming, but many environmentalists were somewhat heartened by the steps later taken by the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. These included the Action Plan 2000 on Climate Change which committed $500 million to the effort; and, in November of 2000, the release of the Climate Change Plan for Canada, promising (but falling far from delivering) annual cuts of 240 megatonnes of emissions. Total spending on Kyoto neared$4 billion by 2003. In 2004 the One Tonne Challenge was released; it sought voluntary efforts by citizens to reduce their own emissions but came with energy conservation initiatives and other incentives. Later the same year, Environment Canada released its 2002 greenhouse gas inventory, indicating that Canada had emitted 731 megatonnes of greenhouse gases that year, up 2.1 percent over 2001, and 28 percent above the Kyoto target of 572 megatonnes it had promised to reach by 2012. In March of 2005 the federal government reached an agreement with Canadian automakers that contained voluntary commitments to GHG reductions. Later that year a plan was released which both increased government spending and decreased the obligation of large emitters to reduce emissions. The Province of Alberta made it very clear it had no intention of enforcing Kyoto provisions in its jurisdiction, and proceeded to intensify the highly polluting process of extracting oil from tar sands. Indeed, provincial disharmony has been a constant factor in Canadian climate change policy, since the provinces are constitutionally responsible for the governance of natural resources (though the federal government retains much room for jurisdiction on pollution issues), and since the provinces differ in terms of their resource and energy production bases.

Canada’s Kyoto commitments demanded total national emissions of 571 megatonnes (Mt) per year during the period of 2008-2012. With current emissions well over 725 Mt, reaching this target would indeed be a colossal achievement within the time span permitted. More “action plan” than action, Canada’s national efforts fell so far from the mark that the Liberal government’s steadfast public commitment to Kyoto became difficult to take seriously by late 2005. In January of 2006, Stephen Harper’s Conservative party won a minority government, and with it came a shift from a Kyoto-oriented policy platform to an essentially anti-Kyoto platform. This article discusses related contextual and implicational issues.

## New Direction?

Of course, the death of Kyoto has long been predicted by many observers, especially once George W. Bush and his team assumed the helm in Washington. Kyoto has several embedded problems that suggest a premature demise, such as the lack of participation by key states with rapidly expanding economies, a lack of U.S. leadership, and a reliance on market mechanisms to control emissions with insufficient infrastructure to avoid corruption. It has certainly been common knowledge that, without a Herculean effort and the complete participation of every provincial and municipal government, Canada’s commitment of six percent below 1990 levels will be an embarrassing failure; even Liberal officials said as much prior to ratification. Even if we assume a genuine (if incontestably delayed) effort on the part of the Liberals, an expanding economy and population have put the initial commitment out of reach. The Harper government has argued that it faces the stark choice of admitting defeat in terms of the specific goals, or of pretending Canada can meet the targets and facing certain embarrassment at a later date. In this context they should at least be commended for an honest assessment and statement of their capabilities, even if their intentions remain rather unclear at the time of this writing (May 2006).

While Canadian officials insist that Canada maintains a long-term commitment to Kyoto, and indeed Ambrose (because of a prior Liberal commitment) recently presided over the 24th session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) of the UNFCCC in Bonn, it is self-evident that efforts to curb expectations of further Canadian commitments have already been made. Cutbacks to Kyoto-inspired Liberal programs have proceeded at breakneck speed, ostensibly to make budgetary room for a tax subsidy for citizens willing to take public transit on a regular basis. Nearly every statement from Ambrose and Lunn about Kyoto has at least mentioned the sheer futility, and implied folly, of trying to meet the original goals.

This does not amount to abandoning Kyoto, but to demanding a renegotiation of a commitment that was, according to the new regime, made under false pretenses in the first place. Should the effort to re-open commitments fail, which it probably will, Canada has another option, which is simply to fail to meet the targets, and then get serious about a renegotiated post-2012 scenario. The more drastic option of pulling out of the Protocol, which could be done legally in a matter of two or three years, seems less likely at this point, when the Conservatives hold a minority in Parliament. Indeed, some of the policy advisors I approached insisted that even with a majority government there is no long-term plan to pull out of Kyoto, though that will be proven in time. At present, however, public discourse over Kyoto seems hampered by the emergence of bipolarity on Kyoto, ranging from near-religious support to outright dismissal. This is unfortunate. Indeed, one could argue that ideological blinkers have been limiting the policy spectrum for some time. Given the realities of petroleum-friendly governments in both Washington and Ottawa, some ideas are best discarded, if only for a better view of the policy option landscape.

Many casual observers have been hampered by the erroneous belief that federal or national leadership is just a matter of time on climate issues. The belief here is that visible extreme weather events will force politicians to lead. Yet political logic suggests that politicians will not cut off the main branches on which they sit; in the Conservatives’ case, this includes the oil wealth and tar sands development in Alberta and an ideological platform encouraging deregulation. Some might argue that the Harper government, with its clearly right-leaning platform, is the only party that can actually apply serious pressure to large final emitters (LFEs), since the latter will have no “further-right” party to support in retaliation. I find this somewhat fanciful, but perhaps this will play out over the next year. Short-term and relatively minor infusions of cash into research and development aside, we will not see major leadership initiatives by either Ottawa or Washington on climate change. In the Canadian case, even in a minority government where the opposition is in favor of Kyoto, this is already evident. I am tempted to view the lack of serious leadership at the national level as a permanent feature that will outlive the next national elections in both Canada and the United States. In short, the lack of national leadership on climate change issues is a safe assumption we can make when looking forward.

Given the leadership lacuna at the national level, a decentralized vision of strategy has begun to emerge. This remains one of the most sensitive political issues in a federalist state. For example, if much of the action on climate change will take place at the city level, the federal government needs to find innovative ways to support local initiatives without soliciting provincial territorialism. This is easier said than done. Nonetheless it is evident that mayoral leadership in the United States is impressive: some 231 mayors representing more than 45 million Americans have signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement; 20 Canadian counties, towns, and cities (including Calgary and Edmonton) belong to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Transgovernmental approaches will similarly hold greater promise than multilateral ones at this stage. For example, in 2001 the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers adopted a joint Climate Change Action Plan, committing to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emission to 1990 levels by 2010, and 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. This commitment was renewed as recently as May 2006. It is time to recognize that most leadership on this issue is not national but regional and municipal. Canadians would be foolish to rely upon the inevitability of national leadership. Nonetheless, if the latter is to proceed, it will be within the realm of consultative relations with the provinces.

## The Need for Federal-Provincial Co-ordination

The lead-in to Kyoto is often referred to as a textbook example of how not to conduct the complex interplay between foreign affairs commitments and federal-provincial relations. Arguably, it was a squandered opportunity for serious cooperation. There are of course several interpretations of this, with some suggesting the provinces’ recalcitrance as the main culprit and others insisting Ottawa made all the wrong moves in its lackluster effort to achieve provincial harmony. From an outsiders’ viewpoint, it is rather obvious that both the federal government and several provincial governments are to blame for the essential disconnect. The 1995 National Action Program on Climate Change, resulting from federal-provincial ministerial dialogue, did nothing to decrease emissions, which were almost 10 percent above 1990 levels in 1999. A 1997 agreement, sans Quebec, to stabilize emissions by 2010 had some promise, but the federal government unilaterally declared its intention to agree to a three percent reduction instead of stabilization at Kyoto. Once there, it went a step further, effectively doubling that commitment to six percent. No doubt this description misses much of the nuance behind the process, but it remains an event that most provincial historians note as a federal betrayal.

As always, relations between Canada and the United States and their public optics are interesting facets of the story. Much of the Canadian federal oscillation prior to and during the Third Conference of the Parties (COP3) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) seemed to be predicated on shifts within the Clinton administration. Likewise, Harper will be sensitive to the popular suspicion that his approach is based largely on the Bush/Cheney approach to energy policy. Also constant are concerns that a majority government will be impossible to achieve if the rest of Canada perceives the government as excessively Albertan. But open consultation and, on some key issues, negotiation with the provinces will be as essential as it will be strained. The recent rapprochement between Ottawa and Quebec (the federal government has made several initiatives to court the favor of Québécois concerned with their cultural identity) will be put to an interesting test in this regard; Quebec’s moral high ground on this issue (afforded by its immense hydropower development) is particularly irksome to westerners.

There is more than mere political territoriality involved here. When it comes to GHG reductions, common terminology may be found, but common understandings will be a much more painful and localized process. For example, Manitoba has claimed it is well on the path to exceed Kyoto commitments, but there remains ample controversy over the exact level of GHG contributions made by hydropower. Indeed, it is often simply assumed that we have commonly agreed upon methodologies for measuring emissions, and even this is false (especially on a global scale, but across a large state such as Canada as well). Similarly, debates over carbon sequestration sinks leave much room for both innovation and compromise. Canada should push its expertise in this vital scientific field, through the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBTA) of the UNFCCC and through the promotion of educational development in Canadian universities. Technological solutions will never, in themselves, provide sustainable development, but they can certainly point towards sustainability. However, provincial interests will almost certainly distort their utility.

One ray of hope here is that a national emissions cap and trading regime can be established that will unite provincial jurisdictions. This should be taken cautiously, however. Doubtlessly, the promise of a robust international emissions trading regime has generated an entirely new field of economics, based almost entirely on derivatives and futures. The idea is borrowed from U.S. efforts to cap air pollution, but in its Kyoto variation it has spawned a virtual feeding frenzy of potential investors, chartered accountants, financial advisers, and lawyers. It has, in short, already taken off at astronomical speed toward becoming a major industry in itself—if it ever actually works, outside of a domestic or European Union context. However, it would be imprudent to put too much stock in carbon emissions trading as either a profitable activity or a sincere effort to reduce global warming. This was a market-based incentive compromise that is often lambasted by the right (who feel it gives undue credit to overpopulated developing states and de-industrialized Cold War losers) and the left (who view this as yet another way to escape the demands of emissions reductions at home and carry on business as usual). Even possible Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) contributions have raised serious concerns amongst environmentalists that the CDM could be used to “avoid Kyoto action” while contributing to projects in the southern hemisphere with dubious ecological (i.e., in terms of forest carbon sinks) and human rights implications, such as the Plantar eucalyptus tree plantation in Brazil.

Meanwhile at the national level, Canada is far from implementing an effective trading system. Beyond Alberta’s media campaigning and Ontario’s hesitance, Quebec’s insistence that it be rewarded for hydro resources has also curtailed any effort to establish a national emissions trading regime. One thing is certain: the Harper government will not indulge the end-result of the multilateral trading system as agreed to, sans the United States, which would see companies and/or provinces and/or the federal government buy “hot air” credits from de-industrialized states such as Russia. This should not be difficult policy to sell. Hopefully the Harper government will move toward a national system, but this will require compromise and commitments by provincial governments.

Ultimately, it is senseless to prolong the debate over the most appropriate political level of environmental governance in Canada. It is quite clear that all levels are heavily involved and none has sufficient leadership capacity to firmly take the helm. Local initiatives, which are flourishing, offer the best hope for an effective GHG reduction program. Ronnie Lipshultz offered five essential arguments in favor of local approaches that focus on the bioregional level of implementation. They allow for the scale and practices of ecosystems; more effectively assign property rights to local users of resources; locate local and indigenous knowledge; increase participation of stakeholders; and display greater sensitivity to feedback. But there is no doubt that some form of national or federal level leadership is instrumental, since “pollution lies substantially within federal jurisdiction. Pollution and the protection of habitat are very much a part of providing peace, order, and good government”. Edward Parson concluded a major research project on environmental governance with the thought that “[a] promising direction for resolving competing claims of environmental authority at multiple scales would be to construct cross-scale networks of shared authority and negotiated joint decisions that mirror the complex cross-scale structure of environmental issues. Canada’s loose federal structure may facilitate such an approach, or indeed compel it if redrawing the lines of formal environmental authority is out of the questions”. He adds that the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment held such promise in the 1980s and early 1990s, as it “helped build technical capacity in smaller jurisdictions; it invested provincial and territorial officials with a national perspective when they held the rotating chair; and it provided key research and analysis to address technically challenging problems shared by multiple jurisdictions”.

Though it still meets today, this Council could certainly be rejuvenated with political will. This entails federal, provincial, municipal, and aboriginal participation, and in the case of an issue so obviously global in scope, the participation of the foreign policy community is essential as well; in total this has been referred to as the “microfederalism of environmental policy”. Given the lack of national leadership, this is not necessarily a bad thing; some combination of unwieldiness and pragmatic cooperation is the hallmark of democracy, and few of us are convinced of the need for radical centralization at this stage. Public opinion is fairly strong on this issue, and non-governmental organizations can keep genuine pressure on politicians at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels to engage in serious discussions. It is perhaps shameful that Canada needs to reinvent this process at this late stage; yet the alternative at the governmental level is doing nothing.

## Looking Further Ahead

I would suggest also that Canada is not doing enough to sell renewable energy abroad, despite the economic opportunities this entails. Though undoubtedly improving, Canadian commitment to solar power, wind power, geothermal activities, and hydrogen fuel cell development has been limited. While wind technologies are beginning to penetrate utility markets and catch the eye of domestic policymakers, and companies such as Ballard have emerged as world leaders in the development and employment of fuel cell technologies, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) remains actively engaged in developing the oil and gas sector abroad, from Bolivia to Kazakhstan.

Given the immense potential for solar power and biomass development in Africa and elsewhere, it might be wise at this juncture to investigate more seriously the option of redirecting resources into these emerging fields. The assumption that developing states must pass through a fossil-fuel dependent stage in their paths toward “modernity” discourages more creative efforts to facilitate development. Given the potential contribution Canada can make with technology transfers, and the fact that any global agreement based on emissions reductions will indeed prove futile in the face of expanding industrialization in Asia and Latin America, it would appear obvious that Canadians can best pursue their long-term interests by encouraging states to either limit or rapidly bypass the oil-based technological culture that characterized North American and European development.

Meanwhile, the symbioses between globalization and global warming are increasing the likelihood of bioinvasions at both the microbial and species levels, causing shifts in pathogenic virulence. There is evidence that warming trends will induce species migration northward, and this raises concerns about disease and threats to native species. However, such “unassisted migration” will prove difficult for rare species of plants and trees, and adaptation or extinction is as likely. Not so for insects: warming patterns have vastly extended the range of the mountain pine beetle, ravaging Yoho National Park in British Columbia and threatening forests in the State of Washington; officials in Alberta are “setting fires and traps and felling thousands of trees in an attempt to keep the beetle at bay.” (One former government official involved in the negotiations over softwood lumber tariffs mentioned the possibility that the agreement reached in 2006, which was certainly not in tune with the Canadian government’s initial demands, was provoked at least partly by the pine beetle?or, rather, the urgent need to clear forests and, as a result, the need to resume large-scale exports.) In the infamous case of zebra mussels, which have clogged entire swaths of the Great Lakes, we might see northward migration as appropriate reproduction temperatures are more common. Flooding could expand zebra mussel territory even further. It is believed that “…climate change will affect the incidence of episodic recruitment events of invasive species, by altering the frequency, intensity, and duration of flooding… by allowing aggressive species to escape from local, constrained refugia.” In general, we may be in for some nasty surprises, but this uncertainty is also an opportunity to promote the cause for climate change policy as well, directly appealing to threats-to-livelihood issues on which various levels of governance should be compelled to act.

## Conclusion

I have only touched on the range of actors necessary for a serious, post-Kyoto Canadian effort to combat global warming to take shape. It is certainly necessary to involve the business community and the NGO community (neither of which often appreciate the finer qualities of the other) as well as aboriginal groups. Indeed, these sectors will involve themselves without invitation through courting public opinion. The big question may well be whether the Conservative government has either the legitimacy or instinctive openness (beyond repeated bromides to the values of decentralization) to pursue such a broad agenda when it is related to a topic they do not find particularly galvanizing in the first place. Meanwhile, the Kyoto machine chugs on, with hundreds of government employees carrying on as though the Kyoto Protocol is an assumed contextual variable in international affairs; busy with Conference of the Parties (COP) preparations, and sub-COP preparations, and the Ad Hoc Working Group for Further Commitments for Annex 1 Parties Under the Kyoto Protocol preparations, and the intricacies of providing security for participants at COP12/Second Meeting of the Parties (MOP2) in Nairobi next year, and the many other facets and minutiae of these global governance efforts. They are joined by citizens who have adapted a Kyoto-based litmus test for environmental concern, and still await national leadership to get us there. It may be time to look elsewhere for both leadership and cooperative possibilities; indeed this is happening with unprecedented frequency at the level of civil society and even, to a limited extent, in the private sector.

Thankfully, we have more than Kyoto with which to approach global warming, both in terms of mitigation and adaptation. Trans-governmental and community-level programs can both set regulatory examples and reduce emissions. Internationally, there are extant technology agreements such as the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, Methane to Markets, the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, and the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. There are also many other international agreements that have a direct or indirect impact on shaping climate change-related policies, and we would be remiss to mourn the failure of Kyoto without some optimistic referral to the opportunities they offer. Indeed it would take a very long policy paper to outline them all; Meinhard Doelle has listed several in a recently published book on climate change and international law, including world trade, human rights, law of the sea, and biodiversity conservation. In some cases, there is a blatant advocacy role; the Coalition of Small Island States has thrust global warming onto the human rights agenda, and Canadian Inuit and other northern dwellers have begun a similar process. There is some room to work within the context of regional economic agreements such as NAFTA to pursue climate change-related policies. In other cases there are incidental benefits; for example, efforts to curtail the loss of biodiversity must be explicitly tied to habitat preservation, which protects carbon sinks.

## Notes

1. See CBC News for a timeline on major Canadian policy initiatives on climate change. Government websites have been stripped of much of their content following the changes introduced by the Harper government.
2. Note that the CEPA overhaul is not a Conservative initiative, as it is up for review regardless of the government in power. There is concern also that the revamping of CEPA might eliminate the move in late 2005 to add the “Kyoto six” greenhouse gases (namely: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride). While in opposition the Tories were opposed to their inclusion, especially with regard to the first two GHG sources.
3. LFEs are found in the primary energy production, electricity production, mining, and manufacturing sectors. This covers about 700 companies operating in Canada; 80-90 of these companies account for approximately 85 percent of GHG emissions by LFEs. Even the Liberals had exempted automobile manufacturers, however (though a voluntary reductions agreement had been reached, as mentioned above).
4. Herb Dhaliwal, Minister of Natural Resources, September 5, 2002: “Canada has no intention of meeting the conditions of the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases even though the government hopes to ratify it this fall.” Quoted in Bruce Cheadle, “Canada to Sign Kyoto, but Won’t Abide by it,” Toronto Star, September 5, 2002, online, available at the Toronto Star.
5. Note that per-capita emissions rates have not grown at the same rate as overall national emissions; therefore population growth itself is an obstacle to meeting the Kyoto commitments as they are presently framed. See Kettner et al., 2006.
6. This scenario was stressed by co-panelist Tim Kennedy.
7. “It was only after the United States rejected the Kyoto Protocol that the EU was able to promote emissions trading as a legitimate strategy to meet the Kyoto target. Emissions trading was reframed from an illegitimate attempt to shirk responsibilities to reduce domestic emissions into the best option to salvage the Kyoto Protocol without American participation.” (Cass, 2005).
8. See Suzuki Foundation, Risky Business: How Canada is Avoiding Kyoto Action with Controversial Projects in Developing Countries (Vancouver, October, 2003).
9. This is referred to as “norm entrapment” in the regime literature (Risse, 2000). On the need to move toward serious discussions of adaptation, see Bell (2006).
10. See the relevant website at CIDA. Subsequent statistics in this paragraph were taken from this source.
11. The pine beetle has swept across British Columbia and scientists fear it will “cross the Rocky Mountains and sweep across the northern continent into areas where it used to be killed by severe cold… U.S. Forest Service officials say they are watching warily as the outbreak has spread.” The United States is less vulnerable because it “lacks the seamless forest of lodgepole pines that are a highway for the beetle in Canada.” By the time we hear more about the beetle highway, it may be too late to recover. Quotes from Doug Struck in an article written for the Washington Post and reprinted in The Montreal Gazette, “Our Forests Are a Feast,” March 5, 2006, p. A10.
12. The latter involves the United States, Australia, India, Japan, China, and South Korea, and seeks ways to develop innovative technologies to reduce emissions rather than to set strict targets for emission reductions.

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Glossary

### Citation

Internation, T., & Stoett, P. (2012). Canada, Kyoto, and the conservatives. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/150877