Environment Minister Jim Prentice is playing down the climate-change pledges made Tuesday by Chinese President Hu Jintao at the United Nations, saying Beijing has yet to commit to clear targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Speaking with reporters at the United Nations, Mr. Prentice said there is still time for the key players involved to work out the details required to reach a new international climate change deal this year.
"Today, to be fair, was a pivotal day because for the first time, in this forum, we've heard from the new President of the United States and the President of China," Mr. Prentice said. "Those two countries are 50 per cent of the world's emissions. They are the two countries that are going to have to bridge this difference."
World leaders are gathered at the United Nations for a special summit on climate change, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not be speaking. He is scheduled to arrive in New York later Tuesday for a dinner with 25 other world leaders hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Mr. Prentice said the Prime Minister asked him to attend today's meetings.
Since taking office in 2006, Mr. Harper has consistently said that Canada will not sign on to a future climate-change agreement unless developing countries like China and India commit to binding targets.
Neither China nor the United States are part of the Kyoto Protocol, the international pact that expires in 2012. Canada did sign and ratify Kyoto, but has said it will not be able to meet its pledge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to an average of six per cent below 1990 levels in the years 2008 to 2012.
The latest government figures, for 2007, show Canadian emissions were 33.8 per cent above Canada's Kyoto target.
The Environment Minister said Tuesday that China's position still isn't good enough.
"The Chinese President made a historic speech … but did not offer binding targets in terms of reductions, but rather targets that are related to specific things that would be done in China relative to energy efficiency, renewable energies and so on," Mr. Prentice said.
Canadian environmentalist David Martin of Greenpeace said that while it is unfortunate China did not offer specific targets, Mr. Hu's pledge to reduce emissions by a notable margin with a specific list of measures, including reforestation, shows China takes the issue seriously.
As a result, Mr. Martin said China has removed one of Canada's main excuses for not acting more aggressively on climate change.
"I think the credibility of [Canada's]arguments against action on climate change was pretty seriously eroded today," he said.
Mr. Martin added that he was disappointed by the lack of specifics in the United Nations speech by U.S. President Barack Obama.
"I think that Obama's statement was very disappointing. There was a lot of talk there, but very little commitment to action," he said. "We need something coming out of Washington, more than just platitudes."