The federal government says it won't sign on to a new international climate change deal if the world's major emitters are not involved, while continuing to avoid questions on whether it will formally withdraw from the ten-year-old Kyoto Protocol.

Environment Minister Peter Kent played coy Monday when asked during a press conference whether the government will indeed pull the plug on Kyoto, as CTV News reported Sunday night.

During question period in the House of Commons, NDP MP Peter Julian called the government's decision "environmental vandalism," and accused the Conservatives of both harming the environment and killing future "green" jobs.

"Canada's obligations under this agreement are legally binding. Canada's obligations to fight climate change are morally binding. Canada's obligations to future generations should be clear to all," Julian said.

"So how can the Conservatives justify abandoning Canada's legal and moral obligations to fight climate change, and how can they betray future generations so irresponsibly?"

Industry Minister Christian Paradis said the government is sticking to its commitment of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by the year 2020. However, he said the Kyoto agreement won't work because it excludes some of the world's top emitters.

"Our government is balancing the need for a cleaner and healthier environment with protecting jobs and economic growth," Paradis told question period.

"We need an effective agreement. Effective means it must include large emitters. The Kyoto Protocol doesn't include major emitters like China and the United States, and therefore it will not work. Canada will not sign on to a new agreement that does not include all major emitters."

Earlier Monday, Kent called a news conference to announce the government's intention to renew the clean air regulatory agenda, which puts $600 million over five years towards research, monitoring and enforcement of regulations governing greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

Kent told reporters that he was "neither confirming nor denying" that Ottawa will pull out of its Kyoto commitments.

Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the government should have come clean sooner about its intentions.

"Either it should disavow these rumours and say they are false, or it should man up and say ‘yes, the rumours are true, we do intend on pulling out of Kyoto.'"

The federal government is expected to announce its intention to withdraw from Kyoto on Dec. 23.

Pulling out of the accord will spare Canada the penalties, and public shame, for failing to reach the agreed-upon targets.

But when Kent was asked about Kyoto on Monday, the environment minister only said that Canada would not make a second commitment to the accord.

"Kyoto is the past," said Kent.

Talks now underway in Durban, South Africa, are the future, Kent said.

Negotiators have gathered in Durban in hopes of hashing out an international agreement on cutting greenhouse gases around the globe. Ministers, including Kent, will join the talks in about a week's time.

In Durban, Canada counts itself among countries that want to step back from Kyoto, in favour of a new approach.

Under Kyoto, developing countries and emerging countries like China are not held to account in the same way that developed countries are.

Kent has indicated that Japan, Russia and the United States agree with Canada on the need for a new way forward.

Critics have suggested that the Canadian government will be making the wrong move, if it chooses to back away from Kyoto.

Gillian McEachern of Environmental Defence said that if Canada does renege on its Kyoto commitments, it will be setting an undesirable precedent among the countries that signed on.

"We signed and ratified Kyoto and if the decision is made to formally pull us out of it, we will be the only country in the world to have ratified it and then absolutely walked away," McEachern told CTV News Channel from Ottawa.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May told CTV's Power Play on Monday that the move is "very cynical."

NDP environment critic Megan Leslie told Power Play the decision is "cowardly."

"We are going to be the only country that signed on and backed out," she said. "What a legacy."

CTV's Mercedes Stephenson said the Canadian government is likely prepared for the fact it will also face criticism from abroad.

But taking a hard line on Kyoto could resonate with some domestic voters.

"I spoke with Conservative sources this morning who also told me that their base will be very happy about this announcement that it's in line with their beliefs that something new needs to be negotiated, something that includes the world's biggest polluters," she told CTV News Channel on Monday.

With files from The Canadian Press