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Environmentalists and opposition politicians are dismissing the Conservative government's latest pledge to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, with one group predicting they'll actually increase under a new agreement hammered out last year.

The federal government formally notified the United Nations that Canada will cut its carbon emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels over the next 10 years as part of the Copenhagen accord on climate change, Environment Minister Jim Prentice said Saturday.

But a spokesman for Greenpeace says these targets will actually increase emissions, not lower them.

The Canadian targets are similar to those of the United States, something the federal government planned all along, Mr. Prentice said.

"Throughout the Copenhagen negotiations we maintained that our clear policy was to support the outcome of Copenhagen and also to align our clean-energy and climate-change policies with those of the Obama administration," he said.

Although reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 17 per cent will be challenging, Mr. Prentice said he believes it is attainable. He didn't offer any specifics about which actions would be taken to achieve those cuts.

"We'll deal specifically with the oil sands, we'll deal specifically with all sources of emissions, but today the objective of this announcement is to fulfill our obligations under the accord," he said. "We know we can achieve that target, we're prepared to stand behind it and other countries will now have to do the same."

While the government's previous emission targets, announced in 2006, would have resulted in a 3-per-cent reduction in emissions over 1990 levels, these latest targets will actually increase emissions by 2.5 per cent, said Dave Martin, a climate and energy co-ordinator with Greenpeace.

"We're heading in exactly the opposite direction that we need to head," Mr. Martin said. "Not only have they reneged on the target that they adopted a couple of years ago, they have also failed to put in place the regulations that they promised last year."

He said the lack of details on how to achieve those emission cuts is indicative of the real problem the Conservative government has with the climate change issue.

"I think they're really beholden to the oil and gas industry in Alberta and they don't want to address how to make serious reductions to protect the planet and the environment," Mr. Martin said.

Countries who attended the climate-change conference in Copenhagen were supposed to outline their own emission-reduction targets before the UN's final deadline of Jan. 31. The accord, which isn't legally binding, offers money to developing nations to help them fight global warming but doesn't set new targets for greenhouse-gas reductions. Instead, countries are to set their own targets, without mandatory limits.

David McGuinty, the Liberal environment and energy critic, accused the federal government of abdicating its sovereignty on a climate-change plan for Canada by aligning its emission targets and policies with those of the United States. He also said Canada is taking a huge risk by waiting to see what kind of climate-change legislation the U.S. will come up with, once it has worked it way through Congress.

Canada and the U.S. are already working on harmonizing their approaches on greenhouse-gas emissions for passenger vehicles, air and marine transport and heavy vehicles, Mr. Prentice said.

"Everything that we hear from the minister and the Prime Minister is that we're are now effectively taking our marching orders from America's Capitol Hill," Mr. McGuinty said.

Canada should be developing its own legislation instead of waiting to see what the U.S. does, Mr. McGuinty said.

"The risk we've now put ourselves in is that we are to take a policy designed for the United States and wait to see whether it is for our benefit. The chances are, I can guarantee you, in fact, that it won't be for our benefit."

Mr. Prentice said he is focusing his efforts over the next year on helping to negotiate a binding agreement with all carbon emitters, including China and the U.S.

But he cautioned that the process may take a while, noting it took years to translate the Kyoto Accord into binding treaties.

Mr. Prentice pointed out the major emitters such as China, Brazil, India and the United States didn't have obligations to cut emissions under the Kyoto accord. He hopes this time it's different, and that there will soon be news of emission cuts from countries that haven't yet announced their own targets.

The minister refused to speculate on the consequences if some of the developing nations decide not to indicate their willingness to cut greenhouse gases by the Jan. 31 deadline.

"We will wait and see how that unfolds. The United States filed their target yesterday. We filed our target today," he said.

With files from Lisa Arrowsmith in Edmonton

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