By Louise Egan
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada acknowledged on Thursday that it will miss its target for greenhouse gas emissions by a wider margin than expected unless it takes further action to offset emissions in the oil industry.
The admission in a report by the environment ministry comes as the Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is actively pushing development of the Keystone XL pipeline, which critics say will encourage production in the Alberta oil sands, a top emitter.
Canada signed the Copenhagen Accord in December 2009 and committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
It estimates the country will produce 734 megatonnes (MT) of greenhouse gases in 2020, or 122 MT higher than its promised target.
The new numbers are higher than the government's forecasts one year ago when it expected emissions to be at 720 MT in 2020.
"The projections indicate that further efforts will be required in order to meet the Copenhagen target," the report said.
The estimates are based on emissions data from 2011 and existing regulations.
Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the report showed significant progress since 2005 and that emissions would have been 128 MT higher by 2020 if no action had been taken.
"Our government is taking action to address climate change. We introduced world-leading coal power regulations and harmonized with the United States on vehicle emissions regulations - and we are getting results," she said.
The government has delayed plans to bring in regulations for the burgeoning oil and gas sector.
Emissions in the Alberta oil sands have come under close scrutiny as Canada awaits U.S. approval of TransCanada Corp's planned Keystone pipeline, which would ship crude oil from the oil sands to the Gulf of Mexico.
U.S. President Barack Obama said in a New York Times interview in July that Canada could do more to mitigate carbon emissions. Harper proposed in a letter to Obama in September that the two countries harmonize regulations in the oil and gas sector, government sources said.
Environmentalists, opposed to the development of the huge oil sands deposits in landlocked Alberta, lamented the environment ministry's report.
"Another year of delay and inaction from the federal government means we're even farther from our national goal than we were in last year's edition," said P.J. Partington, a climate policy analyst at the Pembina Institute.
"It's time for the Harper Government to change this picture before it's too late. The most crucial component of a credible plan to get Canada back on track is strong regulations for the oil and gas sector."
(Editing by Stacey Joyce)