05/19/2015 05:10 EDT | Updated 05/19/2016 05:59 EDT

Stephen Harper Hoping To Silence Critics With New Greenhouse Gas Emission Targets

"It's more than we might have anticipated, but I don't know it's going to leave jaws agape in Washington or anywhere else."

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new greenhouse gas emissions targets may not win him any raves at next month's G7 summit, but it could help him stave off a bit of criticism.

Harper is expected to attend the June leaders' summit where his German hosts will focus on climate change as their neighbour and fellow G7 member, France, prepares to host a major environmental summit in December.

Canada has faced widespread international criticism for being a climate- change laggard, but last week the Harper government announced it would aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

France and Germany are holding their cards tight on that announcement.

For now, the United States is says it wants see more before it passes judgment.

Barry Rabe, a climate policy expert at the University of Michigan, says Canada's target appears more ambitious than expected, but is still not enough to win plaudits in foreign capitals.

The target may be an indication that Canada is sensitive to some of the past international criticism it has faced because it was higher than expected, he said.

"This is not trivial," he said. "It's more than we might have anticipated, but I don't know it's going to leave jaws agape in Washington or anywhere else."

Neither the French nor German governments have made any public comment on the Canadian announcement of what is called its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDC.

A U.S. government official, who commented on the condition of anonymity, offered only the faintest praise in response to Friday's announcement by Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who characterized the target as fair and ambitious.

"We welcome the news of Canada's submission of its INDC along with other countries' submissions to date, and we look forward to reviewing its contents," said the U.S. official.

The U.S. has committed to an emissions cut of 26 per cent to 28 per cent from 2005 levels by 2025.

Rabe said both the U.S. and Canada are "cherry picking" 2005 as a baseline.

"At one level, it suggests that Canada may be willing to be more of a player in this next round than was thought even a month or two ago," Rabe added.

But he questioned whether the Harper government has a credible plan for actually hitting its target.

"I would not overstate its consequence until we have some sense of how the Canadian government, the Harper government or anyone else is actually planning to put something into the system to make sure those numbers are achieved."

A senior Canadian aid agency official, who asked not to be identified, said the latest target is simply a continuation of a poor record of performance that goes back to previous Liberal governments.

"I think Canada's position on the international stage is not well regarded," the official said. "I'm being generous there.

If rich countries don't go further with their emissions cuts, they will ultimately have to do more to help the poorer, underdeveloped countries that are going to be hardest hit by climate change, the official said.

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