The Harper government is pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, but in a way that does not affect the oil sands emissions - the largest source of Canada's climate warming pollution, say environmental critics.

Speaking in Winnipeg, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq promised to introduce new regulations on methane emissions produced by the oil and gas industry, as well as new rules for natural gas-fired power generation and emissions from the chemical industry.

"First, Canada intends to develop regulations aligned with actions recently proposed by the United States to reduce methane from the oil and gas sector," Aglukkaq said Friday.

"Actions in this area would lead to significant reductions in emissions while ensuring Canadian companies remain competitive."

And while the new target is a decrease, missing from the federal government's action plan to curb greenhouse gases is the oil sands, says Environmental Defence's climate monitoring expert, Dale Marshall.

"Every sector needs to take responsibility for their emissions. And the Tar Sands in particular is a big reason why Canada is not meeting our climate change goals."

“This is the biggest challenge the world is facing,” Marshall added.

oil sands pollution tar sands Kris Krug National Observer
[Exhaust from oil sands facilities near Fort McMurray. Photo by Kris Krug.]

The U.S. has pledged to cut its greenhouse emissions by up to 28 per cent by 2025 from 2005 levels. Marshall says Canada's plan gets to that same reduction more slowly.

“It’s the weakest target in the G7. It will take Canada to take another five years for us to meet the kind of the reductions in the US,” he said.

A number of environmental groups reacted negatively to the Harper government's announcement of its new targets.

“There is a difference between saying things and doing things. Unfortunately, the federal government is only good at the former,” said John Bennett, the national program director of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation. "A 30 percent reduction is a weak target that illustrates the government's gross lack of leadership on the climate file."

Amin Asadollahi, oilsands director at the Pembina Institute, said: “Given Canada’s history of setting climate targets while failing to implement regulations to meet them, today’s announcement doesn’t mean much without a credible plan of action to back it up.

Asadollahi said that today's announcement must be matched with stringent new policies and regulations, and with a plan to coordinate action with the provinces, to ensure the efforts of some jurisdictions to cut greenhouse gas pollution are not undone by the growth of emissions elsewhere.

“Despite claiming for years that Canada would align with the U.S. on regulating greenhouse gas pollution, the federal government has now set a target that would leave us trailing behind our neighbour if it continues on its current pathway of emissions reductions." Asdollahi added.

Greenpeace Canada called the Harper government climate targets meaningless without policy commitments to back them.

Keith Stewart, head of the Climate and Energy Campaign for Greenpeace Canada, commented: “The Harper government has not only ignored its existing reduction target, but the pro-tar sands policies it has adopted are taking us in the opposite direction."

Canada will take its new targets to a United Nations conference later this year in Paris, where a new international emissions regime is to be negotiated.

Whether Canada will be able to meet those new targets is an open question.

Despite a previous promise to cut emissions 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, Environment Canada reported last month that national greenhouse gas emissions rose between 2012 and 2013 to 726 megatonnes, the fourth consecutive annual increase.

Even if the target is met, it may not be enough.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world's chief scientific body on the issue, has said that worldwide greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by between 25 and 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 if the world wants to avoid the worst implications of global warming.

With files from Canadian Press.

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