Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a global audience Thursday that Canada won’t immediately commit to deep carbon emission reduction targets -- a comment that drew quick criticism from other world leaders.

Harper said that one of the largest obstacles in the way of slashing greenhouse gasses is a lack of technology, despite well-intentioned political statements to the contrary.

“It is very difficult to significantly lower emissions growth,” said Harper, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“They simply cannot be reduced by declaring a target and saying they will be met by power of will, because that isn’t going to happen.”

Other leaders, however, swiftly contradicted Harper.

South African President Jacob Zuma said that attacking the problem of climate change is of the utmost importance.

“On climate change, we need to solve the problem so that we don't perish,” he said.

That concern was echoed by both Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Mexican President Felipe Calderone.

“The cost of doing nothing now will be much higher than to take action today,” Calderone said.

Harper’s comments come as the U.S., China, India and other key nations prepare to submit climate targets by Jan. 31.

The targets follow last month’s climate conference in Copenhagen, where Canada faced heavy criticism over a perceived lack of will to cut emissions.

Though Harper also used the Davos speech to talk about reforming global banks and increasing health aid in the developing world, it was the climate talk which resonated with critics.

“It makes me embarrassed as a Canadian that a prime minister would get up and say, once again, ‘Look, I’m sorry, we can’t do anything.’”

Harper has already backed off a pledge to cut emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. Any climate targets have now been pegged to U.S. endeavors.

Global trade and growth

During the speech, Harper also set the agenda for June’s G20 summit in Toronto.

The agenda will focus on:

  • financial sector reform
  • stimulus programs
  • global trade and growth strategies

Harper said global attitudes towards protectionism, tariffs, and other trade barriers need to change for recovery to be complete.

“Strategies that make it more difficult for somebody to do business inevitably make it more difficult for everybody to do business.”

“It doesn’t matter what global structures we devise for our mutual betterment; if we don’t have the right global attitudes, they will not work.”

The G20 includes a group of the world’s eight richest countries and 12 largest emerging economies. It is now the leading group for world economic decision-making.

During the G20 summit in Pittsburgh last year, member nations agreed to set stricter controls on bankers, remove trade barriers and provide stimulus packages to get the world economy back on track.

Ensuring economic recovery continues

Business leaders and economists at the Davos forum want the G20 to work on making sure economic recovery continues.

Canada is co-hosting the G20 this year in partnership with South Korea, which will hold a second G20 summit in Seoul in November.

Korean President Lee Myung-bak agreed that countries should focus on following up on previous commitments, including financial regulations and revamping the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Lee said developing countries should get a louder voice at the G20.

He also suggested the G20 create a "global financial safety net" that would help countries deal with sudden reversals in capital flows.

The world’s emerging economies often take it especially hard when investors pull their money without warning.

Harper said Canada will also promote a “major initiative” to improve the health of women and children in developing nations, but he did not specify what the program would entail.

The Davos meeting brings together 2,500 bankers, politicians and thinkers in an attempt to set the global economic agenda for the coming year.

With a report by CTV's Robert Fife and files from The Canadian Press