As recently as last week Canadian officials mulled whether to weaken the government's commitment to cut emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, according to a leaked document.
OTTAWA -- As recently as last week Canadian officials mulled whether to weaken the government's commitment to cut emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, according to a leaked document.
The Conservative government -- which says Canada cannot meet emissions targets set by the Kyoto Protocol on climate change -- last October unveiled legislation that would cut emissions by between 45 and 60 percent of 2003 levels by 2050.
But a secret government document leaked to green activists shows the officials last week proposed cutting emissions by 45 to 60 percent of 2006 levels by 2050 instead. Emissions rose steadily from 2003 to 2006.
The document was dated April 13, 2007. Critics dismissed the paper as a joke and said it showed Ottawa had no intention of taking the environment seriously.
"Canadians want Canada to meet our legal obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. This latest document is just complicated doublespeak designed to hide the fact that the government is turning its back on the environment," said John Bennett of Climate Action Network Canada.
Polls show Canadians are increasingly concerned by the state of the environment, in part because they are starting to see the effects of climate change.
Last year's winter was one of the warmest on record and the higher temperatures are heating up the Arctic and allowing the spread of insects such as the mountain pine beetle that are destroying vast swathes of forest.
Eric Richer, a spokesman for Environment Minister John Baird -- who is set to unveil a plan to curb emissions by heavy emitters such as energy producers and the power industry -- said Wednesday that Baird had not seen the leaked 13-page paper.
"It never made it to the minister's office. The announcement will be coming shortly," Richer said.
Kyoto committed Canada to cutting emissions of greenhouse gases by 6 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. Conservatives say meeting this target would bankrupt Canada's economy, which is driven by large polluters such as as the energy industry.
Emissions of greenhouse gases are 27 percent above 1990 levels and 35 percent above the Kyoto target, with virtually all of the increase taking place under previous Liberal governments. The Conservatives won power in January 2006.
"Without significant changes, Canada's greenhouse gas emissions will rise to 47 percent above its target in 2012 and 53 percent above in 2015," the document said.
If all went to plan, Canadian emissions could be expected to start declining no later than 2012, it said.
Rather than imposing hard emissions cuts on heavy emitters, the government wants to impose intensity-based reduction targets that would cut the rate at which enterprises pollute the atmosphere.
"The regulatory framework has been designed to balance economic growth and jobs with improving Canada's environment," the document said, but gave no specific figures.
As well as actually cutting emissions, polluting firms would also be able to contribute to a climate change technology fund or buy emissions credits from other firms in Canada.
Liberal environment spokesman John Godfrey said it was "just crazy" to plan to cut emissions from 2006 levels as opposed to those of 1990.
"The plan has absolutely no credibility," he said. The Liberals last month unveiled a plan that would force the energy industry to cut its carbon emissions by up to 46 percent or pay billions of dollars a year in penalties.