A battle over ratification of the Kyoto Protocol is being fought out in Canada between the national government on the one hand and on the other business leaders who claim that it could inflict severe damage on the Canadian economy. The dispute has escalated since Jean Chretien, the prime minister, announced at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg plans to put the protocol to a vote in parliament this year.

The widely-held belief that it will win approval from parliament has resulted in criticism from powerful opponents. “It’s the goofiest, most devastating thing that was ever conceived by a Canadian government,” said Ralph Klein, premier of oil-rich Alberta. Gwyn Morgan, president of EnCana, an energy producer, accused the government of “being led down the garden path by an EU plan to gain commercial advantage over other countries.” And a government assessment, prepared with the provinces and industry, concluded that by 2012 the effect of Kyoto would fall somewhere between leaving GDP unchanged or cutting growth by as much as 2 percentage points.

The study also assumed that Canada would get credits for clean energy exports. But this would require re-opening of Kyoto talks, a prospect flatly rejected by EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström.