By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC news website
The Canadian government has published its strategy on climate change, which acknowledges that the country will not meet its Kyoto Protocol commitment.
Environment minister John Baird said Kyoto was too expensive
Its new target is to cut emissions by 20% between now and 2020.
Environment groups have labelled the strategy a sham, and say that when combined with industrial policies, the country's emissions could rise.
Canada is the first nation to publicly abandon its Kyoto target without leaving the protocol.
The US and Australia are the only two countries with Kyoto targets to have left the 1997 treaty.
The Kyoto treaty committed Canada to reducing emissions by 6% from 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012, but emissions are currently about 30% above the 1990 figure.
Many other nations inside the protocol, such as Spain and Ireland, are a long way from their own targets; and the Canadian decision opens up the possibility that others will follow suit and choose not to meet their commitments.
Announcing the strategy, environment minister John Baird blamed previous governments for failing to cut emissions.
"The plan we are presenting today does meet Kyoto, if today was 1997," he said.
"But the reality is that I didn't decide to do nothing in 1997. I can't take responsibility for 10 lost years, but I can fully, and our government is prepared to fully, accept our responsibilities today."
The government believes the strategy may reduce Canada's economic growth by 0.5%, but that striving to meet Kyoto would be ruinous.
Environmental groups and the opposition expressed outrage.
"The national target is wholly inadequate," fumed Matthew Bramley of the Pembina Institute, an environmental research foundation.
"It falls short of Canada's legal commitment and falls short of what is needed for the environment."
The opposition Liberals, target of Mr Baird's criticism for inaction during their period in office up to the beginning of 2006, pledged to re-instate the Kyoto target.
What has particularly aroused the ire of environmental groups is the language of "intensity" which runs through the government's strategy.
First outlined publicly by the Bush administration on the other side of Canada's southern border, the concept relates energy use, or greenhouse gas emissions, to economic output. The higher the ratio of energy use to output, the higher the intensity.
If oil output from tar sands rises, emissions could increase
Heavy industries such as electricity generators, oil and gas production, metal smelting, pulp and paper, mining and cement manufacturing account for more than half of the Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.
Companies in these sectors will have to cut energy intensity by 6% per year for three years, and thereafter by 2% per year.
Some observers point out that if the output of these industries rises sharply - and oil output from Alberta's tar sands is an obvious example, with the potential to increase by more than 6% per year - overall emissions could actually rise.
"If targets are tied to economic growth, then actual greenhouse gas emissions can continue to rise, so long as they decrease relative to economic expansion," noted prominent environmental campaigner David Suzuki.
"The ultimate goal must be to truly reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions... if you don't actually reduce those emissions in absolute terms, then the problem will keep getting worse."
Business leaders, on the other hand, approved of the strategy.
"I believe intensity is the only pragmatic way to go in an energy-intensive country like Canada," said Steve Snyder, chief executive of the power company Transalta.
"Having said that, the goals are tough, the time frames are fairly aggressive, so we'll have to work hard to hit these targets."
The Canadian strategy has emerged at a time when the international community is struggling to find a new path to reducing emissions when the current Kyoto targets expire in 2012.
It is also grappling with the knowledge that the treaty has been far less effective than was envisaged by its architects - and that it contains no effective mechanism for compelling member countries to meet their commitments.
With a number of major governments publicly opposed to binding international targets, and with voluntary agreements such as the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate springing into existence, Canada's decision will make the development of a meaningful new global deal even more difficult.
Some EU states are also some distance from their Kyoto targets