One of Japan’s oldest cities and site of the signing of the Kyoto Accord, a 1997 United Nations treaty aimed at reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Today, it is a one-word symbol for both Canadian environmentalists and their opponents.

When environmentalists invoke the word “Kyoto” it is to underline the commitment made by Canada, as a signatory of the treaty, to doing its part in reducing global warming, and, more specifically, the lack of progress made by the federal government in meeting its obligations. While these groups agree inadequate progress was made during the Chretien and Martin governments, they single out the Harper government for its deep hostility to action on climate change. For environmentalists, “Kyoto” is a used a as a litmus test.

For those on the right, invoking “Kyoto” is akin to uttering another place name, “Yalta,” as an example of misguided internationalism and the subjugation of national interests to a dangerous and sinister movement. For these activists, “Kyoto” is synonymous with betrayal.

One-time Canadian Liberal Leader Stephane Dion famously named his dog “Kyoto” to reflect his environmental credentials and commitment to implement the Accord. Neither the Accord, nor Dion, achieved the success they may have anticipated. The dog, however, lived a long and happy life.

Today, “Kyoto” is remarkable as an example of how, amid today’s culture of polarization, one word can have diametrically opposing definitions. Time will tell whether the term “Kyoto” maintains its symbolic impact, given the new international consensus that formed on climate change action at the successive UN climate change conference in Paris in December of 2015.

Image sourceTim Heaton

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