BALI, Indonesia - Canada's environment minister served notice on big industrial polluters Wednesday that they have six months to report on their greenhouse gas emission levels before being hit with binding reduction targets as of 2008.

Environment Minister John Baird delivered his long-awaited emissions timetable at an international climate-change summit where he and his government have faced frequent criticism.

Green groups pounced on his announcement as a public relations exercise and derided his climate-change plan as ridden with holes and inconsistencies.

But the minister was adamant that 700 big-polluting companies will be held to new emissions standards starting next year. He described the move as a key step toward his stated goal of reducing Canada's overall emissions by one-fifth over the next 12 years.

Companies will have to deliver data on their emissions by May 31. Their reports will be audited and the figures will be used to impose new targets on them starting later in the year.

"We're getting tough with the people who poach and plunder our national heritage,'' Baird told a news conference Wednesday.

"We're working hard to get the job done.''

The dates and details were published in the government's Canada Gazette last week but were only announced publicly at Bali.

Companies to be slapped with emissions targets are in industries such as electricity, oil and gas, pulp and paper, smelting and refining, iron and steel, cement, lime and chemicals manufacturing. Some mining companies are also included.

Independent analysts from the financial sector, environmental groups and even the federal bureaucracy have raised a number of concerns with the Conservatives' stated target for 2020.

Many say the plan is full of loopholes and insist it will not result in the 20-per-cent emission reduction that Baird has promised.

Another major area of contention is that the 20-per-cent target is based on reductions from 2006 levels, when much of the world uses 1990 as a yardstick.

One environmentalist said Wednesday the government's regulatory framework indicates the targets will be toothless until 2010. Under a plan Baird tabled last spring, industries will be asked to reduce pollution over the next three years but the regulations will only kick in as of 2010.

Matthew Bramley of the Pembina Institute also criticized the government's use of so-called intensity targets. Loosely put, intensity targets are a per capita measurement system that allows a company's overall pollution to increase as long as its emissions drop for each product it makes.

"There's just a huge amount of spin ... It's extremely misleading,'' Bramley said.

"The oil sands sector will be able to meet these targets while tripling its actual emissions.''

But the federal government is adamant its plan will deliver its stated emissions cuts in the following way:

  • Companies must cut emissions by six per cent annually under the softer, intensity-based model in 2008, 2009, and 2010.
  •  They must then deliver real annual emissions reductions of two per cent every year after.

That target does not take Canada close to the one most developed countries are pushing for at the Bali summit: 25-to-45 per cent reductions from 1990 levels by 2020.

Baird calls that target unrealistic, and Canada is fighting to keep it out of the UN conference's final draft.

The government says such a target would require Canada to cut emissions by 38 to 53 per cent within a decade -- when the country's emissions are still going up.

"I'll put reality on the table,'' Baird said.

"To suggest that we could get a 52-per-cent reduction in Canada in 12 years -- there is no one in the world who believes that is possible.''

Ottawa says it's gearing up for another fight -- it is expecting stiff resistance from some businesses.

But one federal official warned: "There are going to be significant fines for companies that miss their targets."