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Canada ties new emissions-cuts targets to U.S. goals

The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility, near Fort McMurray in Alberta, is seen at night on October 22, 2009.

MARK RALSTON

Canada has set new targets for cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions that confirm this country will follow the United States' lead on climate-change intervention.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced over the weekend that Canada's new aim is to reduce the emissions linked to global warming by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020 - numbers that mirror those in a bill that is currently before the U.S. Senate.

The old target, which the Canadian government had been using since 2007, was to reduce emissions by 20 per cent over 2006 levels.

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The accord reached at global climate-change talks in Copenhagen in December required signatories, including Canada, to file individual targets to the United Nations by Jan. 31, identifying both a base year and a target.

In keeping with the government's commitment to "continentalize" the emissions-reduction plan and to harmonize Canada's actions with those of the United States, Mr. Prentice submitted figures that match what is being debated by the Senate in Washington.

"We now have formalized that Canada and the United States have the same level of ambition and that we will be moving forward in concert with an identical base year and an identical target," Mr. Prentice said in a telephone interview yesterday.

There is no assurance that the U.S. Senate will pass the legislation that is known as the Waxman-Markey bill.

But, if the United States ultimately chooses different targets than what the bill proposes, Mr. Prentice said Canada will also change course - and has left itself some wiggle room to do so.

The documents filed with the UN say Canada's goal will "be aligned with the final economy-wide emission target in the United States in enacted legislation," said Mr. Prentice.

In the meantime, regulations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions that the Conservative government initially said would be developed in 2008 have been put on hold as Canada waits to see how the United States will tackle the problem. "We need to know whether the United States is prepared to proceed by a cap-and-trade system or a regulatory approach," said Mr. Prentice. "The two of them are quite different and it's impossible to harmonize on a continental basis if one half of the continent, namely the United States, hasn't yet made that choice."

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Environmentalists are discouraged by the move.

"What this government is saying now is that they intend to do nothing until the U.S. government forces them to take action which is an incredible abdication of responsibility, not to mention sovereignty," said Graham Saul of the Climate Action Network Canada.

John Bennett of the Sierra Club said the only plan the government has to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a communication strategy.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers called the 17-per-cent target "very ambitious" for a geographically expansive country with a cold climate.

"The challenge for policy makers is to arrive at the appropriate and achievable balance between environmental and economic performance and continued supply of stable and secure energy," said spokesman Travis Davies.

Opposition critics were perturbed by Ottawa's move.

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"We are way beyond needing a plan. We need to be finding caps and targets for the sectors," said Linda Duncan, the environment critic for the federal New Democrats.

David McGuinty, the Liberal environment critic, said that, if the Waxman-Markey bill does not get passed in the Senate, Canada will be left with no real targets.

And even if the bill passes, said Mr. McGuinty, "I can absolutely assure you that the Americans would never design a climate-change response, a sovereign national response, to the benefit of anything but the United States economy."

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Correction Canada's new greenhouse-gas target is to cut emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. Its previous target was a 20-per-cent reduction over 2006 levels. An earlier online version of this article had those dates transposed.

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Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

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