VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canada announced new rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on Monday, targeting future oil sands facilities and power plants, in a plan immediately derided by environmentalists as too little, too late.
Oil sands facilities that go into operation starting in 2012 will be required to capture and store the bulk of their emissions of carbon dioxide, which is blamed for climate change, the Conservative government said.
Existing facilities -- which process the tar-like bitumen from Alberta's massive oil sands into refinery-ready light crude -- and those that start operating before the end of 2011 will have to reduce emissions using cleaner fuels according to the rules that will be finalized next year.
"The oils sands (are) an important national resource but we we've got to expand (them) in an environmentally friendly way," Environment Minister John Baird said in Ottawa.
The rules are needed for Canada to meet its target for reducing greenhouse gases by 20 percent below 2006 levels by 2020 -- a plan that has been panned as inadequate by many environmental groups.
The government also said it will ban the building of new "dirty" coal-fired power plants starting in 2012, with new generating stations required to have carbon capture and storage capacity ready and deployed.
"There is no future for dirty coal," Baird said.
The new plan also confirmed last year's announcement that Ottawa will establish a carbon emissions trading market, including a carbon offset system to help establish a market price for carbon.
The regulations, which will go into force at the start of 2010, will apply to 16 industrial sectors ranging from energy to forestry. "Our regulations will apply to all big industry," Baird said.
Canada has signed the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, but the Conservative government has said the country cannot meet those commitments without harming the economy.
Environmentalists panned Monday's plan as doing little to cut actual emissions because most of the oil sands facilities now in the works will already be operating by 2012.
"They're closing the barn doors and the horse is already gone," said John Bennett of ClimateforChange.
Environmentalists want Ottawa to put hard caps on carbon emissions, but the government plans to use "intensity-based" caps that have producers cut a percentage of emission increases.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said the plan left the industry with uncertainties, and it did not appear 2012 was a mandatory date for the installation of carbon capture technology.
"That's not what we interpret it to be. There will be a new standard. For some of them, there's not going to be infrastructure to do it," CAPP President Pierre Alvarez said.
Alberta provincial government said it supports fighting climate change but cautioned Ottawa that it was attempting to regulate a provincially owned resource.
The new rules follow a government study that was released quietly on Friday and warned that Canada is already suffering the effects of climate change, with more problems coming from devastating storms, droughts and melting permafrost.
"The economic costs resulting from extreme weather events in Canada in the past decade have been greater than for all previous years combined," said the study, which involved work by more than 140 scientists.
Additional reporting by Scott Haggett, Jeffrey Jones and David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson