Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says the federal government is not ruling out finding ways to achieve net zero sooner than the existing 2050 goal, but would not say whether there would be a definitive commitment to move up the target.

The government’s current target is to hit net zero emissions — the point at which the amount of greenhouse gas emitted is equal to the amount that is removed from the atmosphere — by 2050, a goal shared by the other G7 countries. But in March, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prompted United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to encourage developed countries move up their net-zero timelines to 2040.

While Wilkinson told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday, that the Canadian government is “always looking to be more ambitious,” he wouldn’t say if or when there would be a definitive answer about aiming to hit net zero a decade sooner than planned.

“At this stage, our target is 2050,” he said. “It is an ambitious target.”

“Let’s be clear, getting to net zero in an economy like Canada's, which is big and cold, is not simple,” the minister added. “Our target is 2050. But we are always, as I say, looking for ways in which to accelerate the progress that we can make.”

When pressed on whether achieving net zero by 2040 is even possible considering the conditions in Canada — namely a resource heavy economy and a cold climate — Wilkinson said it would be a challenge, but not impossible.

“As I say, our target is 2050,” he said. “It's hard for me to comment on that because at this stage, all of our plan is focused on driving emissions. It is an enormously ambitious target for a country like Canada.”

“But I certainly do not rule off the table finding pathways through which we can actually go more quickly,” he also said. “And in some areas we are finding that we can go faster than we thought.”

Wilkinson cited the example of Alberta phasing out coal several years sooner than it had anticipated.

“So in many sectors, I think people are finding that sometimes the pathways are easier than we think they are,” he said.

Wilkinson’s conversation with Kapelos took place as hundreds of wildfires rage across the country, in an unprecedented start to the wildfire season. Climate scientists have said climate change is making extreme weather events more common, and the natural resources minister said more frequent fires is expected to be the “new normal.”