RUMOURS are swirling that Canada may pull out of the Kyoto Protocol before Christmas, according to civil society organisations attending the COP-17 climate change talks in Durban.

Canada did not respond to requests for comment, but observers said it should either deny or confirm the rumours. Should Canada pull out, it would be in the same position as the US, which signed the treaty but has not ratified it.

The Kyoto Protocol is the only binding international instrument which restricts greenhouse gas emissions, and its first commitment period ends next year . But the danger is that Canada would continue to take part in negotiations, watering down commitments, and then refuse to honour even a weaker agreement.

Canadian TV station CTV reported on Sunday that the country would announce its withdrawal from the protocol in December. Canada is the only country to have ratified the protocol and then openly reneged on the commitments made under it.

"We think Canada has a choice to make," said Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, at a press conference. "It ought to make its intentions clear."

He said Canada should either disavow the rumours and commit itself to being a full partner on both of the negotiation tracks, "or it should man up and say yes the rumours are true, we do intend to pull out of Kyoto, and as an honourable country we're not going to participate in the Kyoto Protocol and try to water down commitments. Canada should not have it both ways," Mr Meyer said.

This was the "third strike" for Canada, he said, as the country has previously reneged on its commitment to cut emissions and has set weak targets for 2020.

"It's important that all countries are in this process, but at the end of the day other countries can and should go ahead without Canada," he said.

Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent told parliament last week he would not sign a document in Durban which extended the Kyoto targets.

"Canada goes to Durban with a number of countries sharing the same objective, and that is to put Kyoto behind us," CTV reported Mr Kent as saying.

But while setting more modest targets for his own government, he was determined that big polluters among developing countries should agree to cut back on their own emissions, said CTV.

European Union delegation chief Tomasz Chruszczow said Canada's withdrawal would not affect the talks on a second commitment period for the treaty.

Rumour has it Canada is committed to its lucrative tar sand oilfields, which greatly increase its greenhouse gas emissions.

ActionAid's Ilana Solomon said a Canadian withdrawal would "enhance mistrust between rich and poor nations".