By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada is acting too slowly to combat climate change and has little chance of achieving its modest 2020 target for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, Parliament's environmental watchdog said on Tuesday.
The report by Environment Commissioner Scott Vaughan is awkward for the right-of-center Conservative government, which green activists say is more interested in industrial development than in protecting the environment.
The government, which pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change last year, is promising to reduce emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
Vaughan said the government is not moving quickly enough to introduce the necessary regulations and noted that an official forecast in July 2011 showed emissions in 2020 would in fact be 7.4 percent above the 2005 level.
"Although the federal government has begun to lower greenhouse gas emissions, right now the reductions are not happening fast enough to meet the 2020 target," he wrote.
Vaughan said the federal environment ministry has no plan to show how various departments and agencies would cooperate and has not provided estimates of how various sectors of the economy should cut emissions.
In response to Vaughan's report, Environment Minister Peter Kent said the government was making "significant progress" on meeting its 2020 target.
Kent, like other ministers, says he will not contemplate actions that might cut jobs or hurt the economy.
Critics say some government actions are actively retarding environmental progress.
Last month the government said it would streamline the process for environmental assessments of major industrial projects such as oil pipelines.
The Conservatives - keen to start selling Canadian crude oil to China - are also firmly in favor of two pipelines proposed to take oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the Pacific Coast.
Green activists and aboriginal groups oppose the projects, citing possible disastrous consequences of a spill. They are also unhappy about the amount of energy it takes to extract bitumen from northern Alberta's clay-like sands.
Government ministers have referred to some environmental protesters as foreign-funded radicals and have asked the tax police to probe some green charities to ensure they are not funding more political activity than is permitted. Kent last week accused unnamed charities of engaging in money-laundering.
The official opposition New Democrats said Vaughan's report showed the government of Stephen Harper is stuck in the past.
"This tired and disconnected government is still trying to block progress ... future generations will have to pay for Stephen Harper's mistakes," said Meghan Leslie, the party's spokeswoman on the environment.
Vaughan noted that Ottawa had no plans to curb emissions from the oil and gas sector, the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
"We know that emissions from that sector are among the fastest-growing in the country. Emissions from the oil sands are expected to triple ... by 2020," Vaughan told a news conference.
"So given all those challenges, as well as the time it takes to put these regulations in place, we've said it doesn't look like they're going to get from here to there because the numbers don't add up."
Regulations for the electricity sector, the third largest emitter, will not come into effect until 2015.
The largest emitter is the transport sector. Ottawa has already announced plans to limit emissions from autos and heavy trucks.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway)