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Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna delivers opening remarks at a meeting with her provincial counterparts on Jan. 29 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Canada is poised to fall well short of its 2020 climate goal and will need aggressive new action to meet the 2030 target adopted by the Conservative government before the last election, the country's environment ministers say.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna hosted her provincial and territorial peers to discuss a pan-Canadian strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure the country does its part in the effort to limit global warming to less than two degrees above preindustrial levels. She said it was the first time in a decade that a federal environment minister met with provincial and territorial counterparts to discuss climate change.

The federal government released new projections Friday, based on policies as of last September, that show Canada's emissions would sit at 768 mega- tonnes (MT) in 2020, 23 per cent above the target of 622 MT that the Harper government set at the 2009 UN summit in Copenhagen.

Environment Canada projects emissions will be 815 MT in 2030, 55 per cent higher than the 524-MT target that the Conservatives committed to just last May.

The forecasts do not take into account Alberta's climate policy, announced in November, that includes an economy-wide carbon price, an eventual cap on oil sands emissions, and a phaseout of coal-fired power; nor does it include Ontario's cap and trade plan, which the provincial government will roll out in the coming year.

Those new measures will have only modest impact by 2020 but deliver significant emissions reduction by 2030 – although still not enough to meet the existing goal of reducing GHGs by 30 per cent from 2005 levels, environmental economists say.

"The data is clear – it confirms that more needs to be done to close the gap between where we are today and where we need to be," Ms. McKenna said. "But we see this as an opportunity. We all agree that, in the 21st century, Canada's prosperity must be built on the principle that the economy and the environment go hand in hand."

The federal minister stressed that the move to a low-carbon economy represents global opportunity for Canadian companies and workers, as worldwide investment in renewable energy and energy efficient technology will soar in coming years. "Canada needs to be part of this."

A recent study by Ottawa-based Analytica Advisors found Canada's share of the global clean-tech market dropped from 2.2 per cent to 1.3 per cent between 2005 and 2013, a loss of $125-billion in potential exports.

The ministerial meeting was a prelude to a first ministers' conference on climate to be hosted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the first week of March.

Ms. McKenna said ministers discussed carbon pricing and other means of reducing emissions, but added it was too early to say whether Ottawa would set a minimum carbon price that all provinces would be expected to meet.

She said the federal government will focus on new spending on infrastructure – and especially "green infrastructure" that could include electric-vehicle fuelling stations, public transit and transmission lines to bring clean electricity to new markets.

But the federal and provincial governments face a tough job in knitting together a national strategy from a hodgepodge of provincial approaches that reflect vastly different circumstances and energy sources.

Even with Alberta's new climate plan, GHG emissions in that province – the country's largest emitter – are expected to rise over the next several years, fuelled by still-growing production in the oil sands. "Our plan proposes to bend the curve on oil sands emissions," Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said.

But climate activists, some First Nations group leaders and municipal leaders in Quebec and British Columbia have focused on Alberta's dramatic emissions growth over the past 15 years in their opposition to pipeline megaprojects like Kinder Morgan's expansion of the Trans Mountain line to Vancouver, and TransCanada Corp.'s Energy East project to New Brunswick.

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