Canada has stalled in its efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and meet international targets set by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
In a report released Monday, Environment Canada says that, without new action, the country will fall short by a wide margin on its pledge to reduce GHGs by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020, and adds that there has been virtually no progress in the past year toward that goal.
The government forecast comes as Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq is scheduled Tuesday to address the United Nations climate summit in Lima, where countries are attempting to reach a consensus that would pave the way for a post-2020 agreement to be concluded in Paris next year. Unlike the United States, the European Union and China, Canada has offered no new target for emissions reductions.
"They are making no progress and they [couldn't] care less," Liberal environment critic MP John McKay said in an interview. He said Mr. Harper appears to be willing to rely on the provinces to lead the effort on climate change in Canada.
In its annual "emission trends" report, Environment Canada says the country can expect 727 megatonnes of GHG emissions by 2020 unless new measures are taken. The target laid down by Mr. Harper in Copenhagen five years ago was for 611 megatonnes by 2020.
In an interview prior to leaving for Lima, Ms. Aglukkaq said the government remained committed to GHG reductions, adding there are still six years in which to meet the 2020 targets. But she reiterated Ottawa's stand that there would be no action to address the emissions in the oil sands – the fastest-growing source – unless and until the Americans are prepared to regulate their oil industry.
The Environment Canada report shows emissions in the oil and gas sector growing by 45 megatonnes between 2005 and 2020, nearly offsetting the 50-megatonne reduction expected in the electricity sector, largely as a result of Ontario closing down coal-fired power plants. However, the growth in oil-industry emissions could slow if current low prices force companies to reduce expansion plans.
Ms. Aglukkaq noted last week that emissions have been falling in Canada, even as the economy grew. But Environment Canada indicates that the reduction likely bottomed out last year – though the actual figure won't be available until next spring – and will climb steadily until 2020 without new action.
The Conservative government passed regulations in 2012 to phase out traditional coal-fired power plants in Canada, though that policy won't result in large savings until after 2020 when existing plants reach the end of their commercial lives. It also joined with the Americans to regulate greater fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, and is now moving to regulate a carbon-based gas used in refrigeration – hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) – that is a powerful greenhouse gas but represents a tiny portion of Canada's emissions.
But Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said the Conservative government is clearly uninterested in taking the kind of climate action that would achieve its international commitments, even as President Barack Obama's administration in the United States makes real progress on its similar 2020 target.
"No one here in Lima expects anything from [Ms.] Aglukkaq when she speaks to the plenary," Ms. May said in an e-mail. "Canada has made itself irrelevant."
However, provinces are taking action, and several – including Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and B.C. – have sent environment ministers to the UN gathering.
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice has promised to release a new climate policy by the end of this month. And in a statement Tuesday, governments in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia said they would work with California to pursue medium-term goals to further reduce GHG emissions.