Environmental experts in the U.S. say Canadian and United States climate change legislation should be linked to be most effective, but cautioned that developing laws concurrently would be difficult.

Federal environment minister Jim Prentice said last week Canada is pursuing a continental climate change accord with the U.S. that would include a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions.

But speaking before a House of Commons committee on the environment, three experts on the U.S. effort to pass a climate change bill suggested Canada might be better off working on its own legislation then working to link it to whatever legislation the U.S. passes.

"It is essential there should be linkage," said Janet Peace with the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

"But it is difficult for U.S. policy makers to factor in harmonization goals [between Canada and the U.S.] because there are so many obstacles here at home, and they are concentrating on getting the process going there."

Peace also warned that environmental legislation is currently taking a back seat to health-care reform as a priority in the U.S.

Derek K. Murrow, the director of policy analysis with Environment Northeast, said Europe has an edge in that the EU gives them an overarching government to push through legislation, while the lack of a North American government makes linking policies "challenging" here.

Private member's bill on hold

Peace and Murrow appeared before the committee as part of the discussion regarding Bill C-311, the NDP's private member's bill on climate change, which calls for Canada to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

The 13-page bill has passed through two readings in parliament but was sent back to the committee for further discussion last month.

Conservative committee member Jeff Watson said Tuesday the proposed bill sets targets without prescribing a means of achieving them, calling the legislation "meaningless."

But Liberal committee member Justin Trudeau said the discussion over the bill was occurring in the absence of legislation from the Conservatives.

"We'd love to be debating the specifics of a government plan, but there is no plan, so we're talking about a private member's bill," said Trudeau.

Federal environment minister Jim Prentice said last week it may be a few years before Canada tables regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Intensity-based targets

The Conservative government has pledged to lower greenhouse gases 20 per cent from 2006 levels by 2020, targets that have drawn criticism from the other parties for being based not on fixed emissions, but on intensity-based targets, meaning emissions would be relative to the economic output of various industries.

Dennis Tirpak, a senior fellow associate with the International Institute for Sustainable Development, told the committee there could be problems with linking an intensity-based system with one based on fixed targets like the one the U.S. passed over the summer and currently under review requiring a reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.

"It is possible, but it would be very difficult, because intensity targets are linked to GDP," said Tirpak.

The EU has urged other developed countries to match its pledge to cut emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020, and has said it would cut up to 30 per cent if other developed countries follow suit.

With files from The Associated Press