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Smoke rises from chemical manufacturing stacks in Hamilton, Ont., in February of 2007.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/J.P. Moczulski/Reuters

The federal government still has no solid plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and it's almost certainly too late for it to recover in time to reach its 2020 goals, a new environmental audit says.

"Although the federal government has begun to lower greenhouse gas emissions, right now the reductions are not happening fast enough to meet the 2020 target," Environment Commissioner Scott Vaughan said in a report tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Federal officials have a few new regulatory packages in the works, Mr. Vaughan said. But only one in eight targeted sectors has been given new rules so far. Plus, the regulations take years to develop, and even longer to implement.

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"Given that an additional 178 million tonnes in reductions are needed to meet the 2020 target, it is unlikely that enough time is left to develop and establish regulations that together will contribute sufficient GHG reductions to meet the 2020 target."

Mr. Vaughan chastised the government for doing little analysis on the costs of implementing emissions regulations and paying little attention to whether measures from different governmental departments and different levels of government may clash.

Since Canada has opted for a sector-by-sector regulatory approach to reducing greenhouse gases, officials need to pay close attention to how the rules will affect not just the targeted sectors, but other economic activity linked to those sectors, Mr. Vaughan says.

"This makes it vital to have a coherent game plan ensuring that policies do not operate at cross purposes and instead work to reach least-cost emissions reductions," he said in an essay that prefaced the report.

Environment Minister Peter Kent immediately fired back with a news release, saying his government has done far better than previous administrations in producing concrete plans to reduce emissions.

He said his government is making "significant progress" in meeting its emissions targets and is in talks with the provinces to make sure everyone works together to that end.

"Our government is committed to ensuring an environment that is clean, safe, and sustainable for all Canadians, while creating jobs and promoting economic growth," Mr. Kent said in his statement.

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The audit found that top officials recently created a couple of committees that could lead to better co-ordination, but they are so new that they could not be assessed.

The report said there was little analysis of how much of the emissions burden each sector would be expected to carry, or how specific industries within in each sector would have to respond.

"Without clarifying these elements of its approach, Environment Canada cannot reasonably determine whether Canada will meet the 2020 target and how much it will cost to do so," the audit said.

Mr. Vaughan pointed out that the Harper government pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol because it said the cost to the economy would be too high. So it should be able to show that its plan to regulate by sector would be cheaper.

But no. Mr. Vaughan found that analysis has not been done. "The result is that Parliament lacks a full picture of the combined costs of reaching the 2020 target."

Mr. Kent was ready with a retort for this as well. Through a spokesman, he said the costing of the regulations is part of negotiations with the provinces and industry.

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"Asking for costing in advance of consultations with industry and the provinces would be premature and speculative," spokesman Adam Sweet said in an email.

He said claims that the government itself has admitted it won't reach its targets are off-base and taken out of context.

But at a news conference, Mr. Vaughan said the gap between what the government has accomplished so far and what it aims to accomplish, is "huge."

Even as new regulations come into force, "it doesn't look like they're going to get from here to there because the numbers don't add up," Mr. Vaughan said.

Businesses cannot plan without knowing federal expectations, the audit warned.

"Without an implementation plan, industry, consumers and other levels of government lack a solid basis for knowing how to adjust technology and make formal investment decisions."

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The watchdog recommended that Environment Canada start producing detailed and specific plans on how it will reach its emissions targets. He also wants Ottawa to explain how it will align its measures with the United States, something the federal government says is vital.

Environment Canada responded by saying it agreed in principle with that recommendation, but argued that it already has the reporting mechanisms in place.

Plus, Mr. Kent is committed to regularly publishing a report on the country's emission trends – a federal and provincial accounting of emissions that Mr. Vaughan praised as reliable.

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