Canada's Environment Minister, Peter Kent, has refused to confirm or deny rumours that the country has decided to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding treaty on climate change thus far.

According to reports, the country will formally pull out of the treaty by December 23, in a move described by civil society newsletter ECO as "an unacceptable breach of trust".

On Monday morning in Canada, Kent dodged questions from journalists on the issue, saying, "I'm neither confirming nor denying... this isn't the day, I mean, this is not the time to make an announcement."

When contacted for comment, the Canadian government forwarded a transcript of the press conference to Business Day.

Kent said signing onto Kyoto in the first place was "one of the biggest blunders" the previous Canadian government had made. Kyoto represented the past, but "Copenhagen and Cancun are the future," he said, referring to the controversial Copenhagen Accord and Cancun Agreements which provide for only weak commitments.

"What we're looking to achieve in Durban... is to convince all of the participants to, one, live up to the commitments made in Copenhagen and Cancun, and to encourage all of the major emitters to step forward and to engage in the real measurement, the real verification and the real reduction of greenhouse gases around the world," he said.

While major developing economies have come under pressure to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, the Stockholm Environment Institute, an environmental thinktank, said last week that developing countries were actually taking more action than developed countries, but that all parties could cut further.

Civil society observers slammed Canada.

Virginie Lambert Ferry, of Greenpeace Canada, said it appeared that the government was trying to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol before January 1, in order to avoid facing penalty action for not meeting its commitments.

"People are used to this kind of behaviour from Canada, but it sets a bad precedent," she said.

ECO newsletter, written by NGOs and distributed daily at the climate talks, said Canada's actions would further isolate the country.

"With the intention to abandon Kyoto next month, Canada is negotiating in outrageously bad faith here in Durban. Countries should be asking why Canada is sitting at the Kyoto negotiating table with a hardly-secret plan to withdraw from the protocol... Canada's position is both dangerous and immoral," said ECO.

Canada's position is seen by many as protective of its tar sands resource, the second largest source of oil after Saudi Arabia. But because tar sands require more energy to extract, it is associated with far higher greenhouse gas emissions.

REUTERS