Canada is set to badly miss its 2020 target for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, in part because of its failure to regulate the booming oil and gas sector, Parliament's environmental watchdog said today.
The scathing report by Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand will add to the political challenges faced by the country's right-leaning Conservative government, which polls show could lose power in the election set for next year.
The government has deep political roots in energy-rich Western Canada and says it will do nothing to harm economic development.
Gelfand 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 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
Environment ministry figures show Canada will in fact exceed the 2020 target by 20 percent if it does not take further steps.
"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.
Critics, who have long bemoaned what they say is the Conservatives' lamentable record on the environment, dismissed any chance of Canada meeting its 2020 target of 612 megatonnes of total emissions of greenhouse gases. 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 Conservatives have been promising to regulate for eight years.
The sector now accounts for more emissions than any other and is expected to contribute 200 megatonnes of emissions by 2020, or 27 percent of the overall amount.
"Despite this prediction, regulations for the sector have been repeatedly delayed," the audit said. The Conservatives have declined to give detailed explanations for the delay, saying merely that they are consulting industry stakeholders.
Green activists cite Canada's failure to tackle soaring energy sector emissions as one of the reasons they want U.S. President Barack Obama to block TransCanada Corp's proposed Keystone XL pipeline from the Alberta tar sands in Western Canada to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Environment ministry officials told auditors they were concerned the proposed oil and gas rules would make Canadian energy companies less competitive than their U.S. 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.