June 2, 2014 5:50 pm

Will Canada follow the U.S. lead on cutting carbon emissions?

WATCH: The U.S. administration is taking on its massive power industry  and force a reduction of carbon emissions by 30 per cent over the next 15 years. Critics say the Canadian government will fall short of its targets because there’s no political will to make a tough call. Jacques Bourbeau reports.

President Barack Obama’s administration on Monday set out an ambitious goal of cutting carbon emissions in the United States by 30 per cent by 2030, targetting the country’s coal-reliant energy industry.

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The plan targets U.S. reliance on coal as a source of energy, which is drastically higher than in Canada, where hydro and other renewable sources provide the majority of the country’s power.

READ MORE: White House seeks to cut earth-warming pollution from power plants

Canada’s main carbon culprit isn’t its coal-fired energy plants, it’s the oil and gas sector–something Stephen Harper and the Conservative government are more concerned about promoting and expanding.

Anders Hayden, an assistant professor in the political science department at Halifax’s Dalhousie University, said U.S policy shifts do have an effect on Canadian decision making. But when it comes to energy, Canada’s priority is growing the industry and not putting caps on it.

“Canada has always been concerned about getting too far ahead of the United States,” Hayden told Global News. “We don’t want to move too far and make our own industries uncompetitive if they Americans aren’t acting.”

READ MORE: New N.B. climate change plan for sets 2050 greenhouse gas target

Hayden explained the Conservatives have been saying they’re going to do something about regulating emissions from the oil and gas sector since 2007, but have consistently delayed implementing any changes.

“We’re going guns a blazing in the wrong direction by seeking to maximize the development of the oilsands,” Hayden said. “And right now, there’s no way to do that and bring your emissions down.”

“As long as we make that our economic priority, we don’t have an answer.”

While there have been some positive changes, such as the reduction of emissions of the closure of coal-fired power plants or less reliance on the resource, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise.

BELOW: How does Canada rank when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion? 

“Right now, we don’t have technological answers to be able to get the oil out of the sand in a way that doesn’t use huge amounts of fossil fuels. There’s no way to do that right now that is cost effective,” Hayden said.

And the more the oilsands output increases, so does the level of carbon emissions.

Andrew Leach, the Enbridge Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Alberta, told Global News cutting the oilsands in half, Canada still wouldn’t meet its target.

“Even if you shut down the oil sands entirely, and assumed you didn’t get any other emissions reductions in the economy, you wouldn’t meet Canada’s target,” he said. “Long story short, Canada’s got a long way to go.”

READ MORE: Desmond Tutu takes uncompromising stand against oilsands, urges cooperation on environment

Canada’s projected target is around is around 612 million tonnes of carbon emissions, but the oil and gas sector accounts for about one-third of that, Leach explained.

In fact, Canada will miss it’s 2020 goal by more than 127 megatonnes — a target set in 2009 at the climate change meeting in Copenhagen.

He said if Canada could meet its target without changing the amount of emissions coming out of the oil and gas industry, but it would come at big cost to all other industries.

But the cost of cutting carbon, especially for Canada’s oil and gas sector, won’t be cheap.

Targetting the oil and gas sector specifically would further increase the cost of production.

Leach said an additional 10 to 20 cents per barrel could be enough to push the industry out of Canada and into the U.S.

Considering that Canada produced 3.2 million barrels a day in 2012, from both the oilsands and conventional oil production, 10 to 20 cents a barrel would work out to an additional $320,000 to $640,000 per day.

While the oilsands are a major cause of Canada not meeting its emissions targets, Leach said you can’t go after just one industry.

“You have to look wider in the economy. We have to be able to say this is a problem with everything we do in the economy, it’s not just an oilsands problem.”

Canada has made progress reducing greenhouse gas emissions in other sectors, but Hayden said that is being undone by what’s coming out of the oilsands.

One of those areas is actually the use of coal as a source of energy.

The Harper government, in response to Monday’s announcement in Washington, D.C., said took a similar action in 2012.

READ MORE: Harper on U.S. climate-change coal crackdown: been there, done that

Ontario, which relied significantly on coal, shut down the last of its coal-fired plants in April.

But Canada’s action on coal-fired plants hasn’t changed across the board.

Alberta, which has the second highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita of all the provinces and territories after Saskatchewan, is the most reliant on coal.

Its 19 coal-fired plants account for as much greenhouse gas as some of the largest producers in the province’s oilsands, according to a report last week.

INFOGRAPHIC: How does Canada compare to the rest of the world when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion?

Global carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion

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