CBC reports that the federal government formally notified the United Nations that it plans to reduce emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020. As recently as December during the climate change conference in Copenhagen, Canada's target had been a 20% reduction from 2006 levels by 2020. The change may amount to a "distinction without a difference", but has nevertheless frustrated many who want to see Canada be more aggressive in its efforts to combat climate change.

The new target is identical to that submitted to the UN by the United States. It is therefore consistent with the federal government's oft-repeated goal of aligning Canada's climate change policy with that of the U.S. (not surprisingly, Canada submitted its target one day after the U.S. had done so). In sharp contrast, the European Union has confirmed it commitment to cut emissions 20% from 1990 levels by 2020 and has reiterated that it will raise the reduction target to 30% if other large emitters set similar targets.

It is unclear whether Canada's new target is materially different from the old, as both the base year and the percentage reduction changed. Prime Minister Harper had previously said that Canada's old target was virtually identical to the new target.

Few are surprised by the change. Even as he presented the old target to the world in the run-up to Copenhagen, the Prime Minister reserved the right to "make some minor adjustments" to the target. Late last week, Environment Minister Jim Prentice teed up the change by emphasizing that the government wanted to "see our targets and the American targets equated, we want to see our base years equated."

The announcement has many in the environmental community incensed. Dave Martin, a climate and energy coordinator with Greenpeace, told the Toronto Star that the change was further evidence that "we're heading in exactly the opposite direction that we need to head." The new targets are equivalent to a 2.5% increase in emissions from 1990 levels. Canada's obligation under the Kyoto Protocol was to reduce emissions by 3% from 1990 levels by 2012.

More importantly, Mr. Martin expressed frustration that, "not only have they [the federal government] reneged on the target that they adopted a couple of years ago, they have also failed to put in place the regulations that they promised last year."

The failure to implement emission reduction legislation has plagued Canada, both under the Liberal government that signed the Kyoto Protocol and under the current Conservative government. Hopefully the latest target will not be just another international promise that Canada is unwilling or unable to keep domestically.