BANFF, Alta. - The world's most powerful environment ministers will ride in buses powered by natural gas and greenhouse gas credits have been exchanged to negate their environmental impact on Banff, a World Heritage Site, during meetings here this weekend.
The ministers, from Canada, the U.S., France, Italy, Germany, Japan, the U.K. and Russia, still will produce tonnes of the emissions as a result of air travel, car and hotel accommodation during the three days of meetings .
However, under the scrutiny of environmental organizations gathered here, the ministers have attempted to avoid embarrassment by purchasing carbon-dioxide credits from a solar-powered housing project in South Africa that will make the gathering "an emission-neutral meeting," said David Anderson, Canada's Minister of the Environment
The ministers will also dine on organically grown food.
However, conservation organizations met with Mr. Anderson yesterday and criticized the federal government for an apparent softening of its position on the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas reduction and climate change.
The climate change issue is being limited to a 45-minute discussion at a breakfast meeting tomorrow, one of a number of private meetings between the ministers to be held at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Environmental groups say observers should be allowed in.
"I'm sorry, they can't have observers in there," Mr. Anderson said. "We want to have full and frank discussions. It just impossible to have proper discussions of this type, informal discussions, and have it open to the media and open to the public."
Environmental groups also criticized as vague the wording of the Minister's official communiqué, which has already been leaked to the media. In a draft copy made available to Agence France- Presse, the ministers reaffirm their commitment to sustainable development -- which reconciles environmental protection with economic development -- as laid out at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro 10 years ago.
"It's just total ambiguity. We are looking for concrete commitments," said Jim Pissot of Yellowstone to Yukon, a conservation group lobbying to create an unrestricted wildlife movement corridor from Wyoming to the Arctic.
"This is not a meeting to discuss Kyoto. I've had two weeks of going from end to end of the country talking to Canadians about the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, so I don't know what they're talking about," Mr. Anderson said in response to the criticisms.
Mr. Anderson indicated in Calgary on Thursday that the Chrétien government might not ratify the Kyoto accord this year as it originally intended.
Alberta opposes the Kyoto deal and says it may launch a legal challenge to Ottawa's authority to force provincial compliance, citing provincial jurisdiction over resources. At a meeting of energy ministers in May, Alberta will propose a U.S.-style plan to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gases.
Signed in Japan in 1997, the Kyoto accord commits Canada to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 6% below 1990 levels. Opponents forecast dire economic consequences and note that the deal exempts such developing nations as India, Brazil and China, which are among eight out of 20 of the world's leading producers of greenhouse gases that are not bound by Kyoto.
The Banff meetings continue tomorrow, focusing on developing a consensus platform to take to a world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg in late August.
As host of the meeting, Canada paid $5.50 a tonne, or $2,750, to cover the cost of carbon-dioxide emissions the ministers will generate at the meetings. The money will go to PEER Africa (pty.) Ltd, an engineering firm building an energy-efficient housing project in South Africa.
A similar purchase of credits, totalling $7,700, was paid by Canada to offset greenhouse gases associated with the recent Health and Environment Ministers of the Americas meeting in Ottawa.
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