Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq says the federal government remains committed to meeting its 2020 target for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, though it is now well off track and has offered no plan to make up the shortfall.
Ms. Aglukkaq lands in Warsaw Monday for the annual United Nations climate summit, where Canada is accused of engaging in a "race to the bottom" on climate policy. The environment minister insists Ottawa has shown leadership in the global battle against climate change, and will honour its commitment to reduce its output of GHG outputs by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. She said the government will soon introduce long-delayed regulations to rein in emissions in the oil and gas sector. , including the fast-growing oil sands.
"We are committed to achieving Canada's targets, and our leadership and our actions and our investment demonstrate this," she said in an interview before she left Ottawa.
"Canada is still taking concrete action; we're taking a leadership role in taking actions on climate change," she said in an interview before leaving Ottawa. "We are achieving results with our sector-by-sector approach."
In a report released last month, Environment Canada said that without new government action, the country's emissions will total 734 megatons in 2020, which is 20 per cent or 122 megatons higher than Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed to at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009.
Ottawa has introduced regulations to gradually phase out traditional coal-fired power plants, and matched U.S. emission targets for motor vehicles. It had promised to introduce regulations covering the oil and gas sector by last July but , as industry balked, those plans have been delayed.
The regulations under consideration would not put Canada on track to meet its targets, and the government has not revealed what further action it intends to take, other than making vague pledges to pursue a "sector by sector" approach. Mr. Harper has vehemently ruled out a an economy-wide plan – whether carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system – that its now-defunct advisory board, the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy, concluded would be the most cost-effective way to hit his target.
Ms. Aglukkaq said any climate policy – whether domestic action or an international treaty – must balance the needs of the environment and the economy.
Critics are skeptical of the minister's assurances on the Copenhagen target.
"This government has no credibility at all when it comes to climate change,and the environment" said New Democratic Party energy critic Peter Julian. "It would take real leadership to hit those targets, and we've seen none from this government."
A report for the UN released this fall noted that Canada is one of a handful of countries – including the United States, Mexico and Japan – that are not on track to meet their self-imposed targets under Copenhagen. China and India are among those countries that are on pace.
The United States and Mexico have produced plans that would to get them back on track while Canada has not, the report noted. Its co-author, Taryn Fransen, said it was "fantastic news" that Ms. Aglukkaq is reaffirming Canada's target, especially amid signs of back-pedalling from Australia and Japan.
It's still possible for Canada to meet the 2020 commitment, she said in an interview from Warsaw on Sunday. But Ottawa and the provinces must act quickly. and aggressively to get there.
Ms. Aglukkaq said Canada wants to see a new treaty concluded at the 2015 summit that would require meaningful and transparent commitments from all major emitters for additional action after 2020. But in the week before the environment minister left for Warsaw, the Harper government raised the ire of environmentalists by applauding Australia's new government for repealing its carbon tax.
"For Canada to react as it did to the Australian announcement makes it look like they are engaging in some sort of race to the bottom on climate policy when what we want to see is a race to the top," Ms. Fransen said.