Oil goes into a tailings pond at the Suncor tar sands operations near Fort McMurray, Alberta

Canada to miss emission targets thanks to booming energy sector

Canada will seriously underachieve on its 2020 climate change commitments due in part to its failure to regulate the booming oil and gas sector, the country's environmental watchdog said.

Environment ministry figures show Canada will in fact exceed the 2020 target for emission reductions by 20 per cent if it does not take further steps, according to a scathing report by Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand.

The report found the government did not even have a plan for how it would meet Canada's commitment under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord to reduce emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.

"Federal measures currently in place will have little effect on emissions by 2020 ... there is strong evidence that Canada will not meet its international greenhouse gas emission reduction target," Gelfand said in an official audit covering the period between January 2011 and July 2014.

Canada’s 2020 target is 612 megatonnes of total emissions of greenhouse gases, but the environment ministry says 2020 output is currently on track to hit 734 megatonnes.

Emissions are growing fastest in the oil and gas sector, which the country's right-leaning Conservatives have been promising to regulate for eight years. The industry now accounts for more emissions than any other and is expected to contribute 200 megatonnes of emissions by 2020, or 27 per cent of the overall amount.

"Despite this prediction, regulations for the sector have been repeatedly delayed," the audit said.

The Conservatives, who polls show could lose power in the election set for next year, have declined to give detailed explanations for the delay saying merely that they are consulting industry stakeholders.

Environment ministry officials told auditors they were concerned the proposed oil and gas rules would make Canadian energy companies less competitive than their US counterparts.

The audit said Ottawa "does not have a documented implementation plan for its own actions to reduce emissions ... there are no benchmarks against which to monitor and report on progress".

It also said some federal measures would have less impact than predicted. For example, regulations for coal-fired power plants due to come into effect next year have been watered down and will only cut emissions by half as much as expected by 2020.

The second-largest emitter is currently the transport sector. Ottawa has already announced plans to limit emissions from autos and heavy trucks.

Green activists cite Canada's failure to tackle soaring energy sector emissions as one of the reasons they want US President Barack Obama to block TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline from the Alberta tar sands in Western Canada to US refineries on the Gulf Coast.

They have urged Obama to reject the company's application at the State Department to build the 1,180 mile (1,900km) cross-border line. The administration has delayed making a decision.

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