OTTAWA - Confronted by a looming 2020 deadline for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, the Harper government will ramp up its efforts to reduce climate change pollutants, Environment Minister Peter Kent said Wednesday.
Kent made the commitment as he announced that Canada had reached the halfway mark toward meeting its target for cutting emissions from 2005 levels.
Critics, however, say the Conservative government is overstating its accomplishments and understating just how much work is left to be done.
“After six years in power, the federal government’s policies still leave a huge gap between where Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are headed and the government’s promise to reduce climate pollution," said P.J. Partington, a policy analyst with the Pembina Institute’s climate change program.
"Continuing to rely solely on sector-by-sector regulations will be too slow and too inflexible to meaningfully close that gap in the next eight years."
Kent acknowledged that much of the reduction to date has been the result of the combined efforts of environmentally conscious consumers and actions taken by provincial governments.
Canadians are buying more fuel-efficient vehicles and the provinces and territories have been finding ways to encourage both individual Canadians and businesses to use less energy.
But the minister said Ottawa will be stepping up to the plate in the coming months and years to regulate high-emitting industries.
"We do recognize that the provinces have played a part (in reducing emissions)," Kent said.
"But the federal government has played its part and will over the next eight years assume an even larger part in getting those emissions down."
Kent pointed to regulations that are expected in the next few weeks to curb emissions from coal-fired electricity generators. The minister had promised that the regulations would be ready by the end of June, but on Wednesday blamed the delay on opposition antics in the House of Commons and a slow-moving bureaucracy.
The government is also in talks with the oil and gas sector with the expectation of introducing regulations for the oilsands by some time next year, Kent said.
Under the Copenhagen Accord, Canada had committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.
Much of the reductions to date are a result of adding land-use changes and forestry operations into the calculations. Previously those projections were excluded.
By including those figures this year, the federal government is giving Canadians a false sense that more is actually being done to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, said Climate Action Network Canada.
"It is important to recognize the effect of adjusted accounting rules this year, which make it appear that we are further along that we actually are," said Dr. Christian Holz, the network's executive director.
"When it comes to federal policies, little to no progress has been made towards their weak goals."
The rest of the cuts come from advances in new building construction and more efficient new vehicles.
The Opposition New Democrats question whether Canadians should believe anything included in the 2012 emissions trends report.
"I don't think you can trust the Conservatives to tell you the truth on climate," said NDP environment critic Megan Leslie, who accused the minister of taking credit for the actions of the provinces, consumers and a slowing economy.
The federal government has not released specific targets that it wants to achieve in reductions from the oil and gas sector, but will instead encourage industries to use "best performance standards" to lower emissions, Kent said.
At the moment, for example, oilsands companies have indicated that they would like to reduce their emissions to the current levels seen by conventional oil and gas operations, he said.