Environment Minister Jim Prentice says climate change regulations capping greenhouse gas emissions are still at least a few years away. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

The federal environment minister says it may be a few years before Canada tables regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Jim Prentice said the world has to first negotiate a new climate change treaty and Canada and the United States must finish their continental agreement on the same issue.

"I think it's fair to say that this all needs to knit together," Prentice said during a teleconference call from Copenhagen.

Prentice is taking part in the last round of climate change talks before the formal United Nations conference begins next month.

He also dampened any hope an international treaty will be reached in December.

"I think even a few months ago there had been an expectation on the part of the outside world that we would arrive at a full international treaty in December in Copenhagen. That clearly is not going to happen."

Instead, Canada is hoping a broad political agreement can be reached next month that will maintain the momentum towards a full international treaty, he said.

But he cautioned it may take most of 2010 to reach that legal accord.

At the same time, Canada is pursuing a continental climate change accord with the U.S. that would include a cap and trade system for greenhouse gas emissions.

That must be completed before Canada tables any regulations to dictate how much Canadian companies will need to cut their own emissions, Prentice said.

"I think it is in our interest as Canadians to ensure that we know what the international framework is going to look like. Our continental framework needs to be consistent with that. And our domestic policies need to be consistent with that," he said.

The Conservative government has promised to cut Canada's emissions by 20 per cent below 2006 levels by the year 2020. Prentice said he's optimistic that despite these delays, Canada will still meet that target.