Newly-elected government in Canada outlines its climate priorities; faces first major test in the Frontier mine decision

Canada’s minority government is back in session after the October 2019 election, launched by the Speech from the Throne on December 5.  The Throne Speech traditionally is used to outline government priorities, and signals that Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party will try to stay in power by balancing the demands of the oil and gas proponents in Alberta against the environmental concerns of the rest of the country. The Toronto Star parsed the speech in “What does it mean? The Throne Speech Interpreted “.

On the issue of climate change, here are the actual words of the Throne Speech:

“In this election, Parliamentarians received a mandate from the people of Canada which Ministers will carry out. It is a mandate to fight climate change, strengthen the middle class, walk the road of reconciliation, keep Canadians safe and healthy, and position Canada for success in an uncertain world.”… A clear majority of Canadians voted for ambitious climate action now. And that is what the Government will deliver. It will continue to protect the environment and preserve Canada’s natural legacy. And it will do so in a way that grows the economy and makes life more affordable.

The Government will set a target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This goal is ambitious, but necessary – for both environmental protection and economic growth.

The Government will continue to lead in ensuring a price on pollution everywhere in this country, working with partners to further reduce emissions.

The Government will also:

help to make energy efficient homes more affordable, and introduce measures to build clean, efficient, and affordable communities;

make it easier for people to choose zero-emission vehicles;

work to make clean, affordable power available in every Canadian community;

work with businesses to make Canada the best place to start and grow a clean technology company; and

provide help for people displaced by climate-related disasters.

The Government will also act to preserve Canada’s natural legacy, protecting 25 percent of Canada’s land and 25 percent of Canada’s oceans by 2025. Further, it will continue efforts to reduce plastic pollution, and use nature-based solutions to fight climate change – including planting two billion trees to clean the air and make our communities greener.

And while the Government takes strong action to fight climate change, it will also work just as hard to get Canadian resources to new markets, and offer unwavering support to the hardworking women and men in Canada’s natural resources sectors, many of whom have faced tough times recently.”

 

Reaction from environmentalists and Opposition party leaders appeared in the National Observer, in  “Liberals commit to carbon-pollution target of net-zero by 2050”   (Dec. 5); and in “Throne speech climate commitments dwarfed by spending on Trans Mountain” by the Dogwood Institute .

The Canadian Labour Congress reacted with this generally supportive statement:  “We need bold targets to fight climate change, we owe that to our children …. “We also owe the next generation good jobs and commitments to minimize the impact on workers. Today’s commitments move us towards a greener economy.”   In advance of the Throne Speech, the Green Economy Network, a union network of which the CLC is one member, had made  a harder-hitting statement: “The GEN is demanding that the Prime Minister make climate job creation a priority through investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and green buildings, public transit and higher speed rail transit.”

Also in advance of the Throne Speech, a group led by the Smart Prosperity Initiative  delivered an Open Letter outlining detailed demands for clean economy initiatives. The twenty-six signatories include leaders from business, environmental advocacy groups, and the United Steelworkers and BlueGreen Canada.

One of the first major tests for the minority government, should it last that long, will be the decision required by the end of February on whether to approve the application by Teck Resources for the massive Frontier oil sands project – a $20-billion, 260,000-barrel-per-day open-pit petroleum-mining project near Fort McKay in northern Alberta. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency website provides official documentation, including the July 2019 Joint Review Panel Report , which includes discussion of the  economic and employment impacts of the project (beginning page 883).  Critiques of the Joint Review Panel approval were published in July by The Narwhal here  and the Pembina Institute here .

And now, as Parliament reconvenes and the COP25 meetings are underway, the Frontier mine is becoming the  litmus test of Canada’s climate change policy, as laid out in  “Trudeau will fuel the fires of our climate crisis if he approves Canada’s mega mine”, an Opinion piece by Tzeporah Berman which appeared in The Guardian on December 10.  Also on December 10, Greta Thunberg and fourteen other young people released an Open Letter to government leaders of Canada and Norway, calling on them to block any new oil and gas projects and quickly phase out existing ones. The National Observer explains in  “Greta Thunberg and other youth call on Trudeau to ditch fossil fuels” (Dec.9) .

16 young people file landmark petition for climate action under the U.N. Rights of the Child

On September 23, climate activist Greta Thunberg made an emotional, unforgettable speech to the on the U.N. Climate Summit in New York City. The full Youtube video is here ;  her words are reproduced by The Guardian in an Opinion Piece titled “If world leaders choose to fail us, my generation will never forgive them”, and stating: “We are in the middle of a climate breakdown, and all they can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.”  A summary from The Guardian is here .

petition-kids_michael-rubenstein-800New landmark climate litigation

Also on September 23, Greta Thunberg and fifteen other young people from around the world submitted a groundbreaking legal petition to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Respondent countries Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey are the largest polluters amongst the 45 countries in the world which have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and agreed to an additional protocol that allows children to petition the UN directly about treaty violations.

The young people contend that these five countries are violating their rights under the Convention by failing to curb emissions and promoting fossil fuels, despite have known about the risks of climate change for decades.  They are asking the U.N. Committee to make specific recommendations to the five nations about what they need to do to meet their treaty obligations, including changing laws to speed up the response to climate change and applying more diplomatic pressure on big polluters like the United States and China.

The complaint was prepared and filed on behalf of the youth petitioners by the international law firm Hausfeld LLP and the nonprofit environmental public interest law organization Earthjustice – whose press release is here . A dedicated website, Children vs Climate Crisis provides biographies and statements from each of the children, a copy of the 101-page Petition ,and a 338-page Appendix  with detailed statements of the impacts on the petitioners’ lives.

The Earthjustice website  is hosting a petition in support of the children’s case.

Youth-led Global Climate Strike in September asks for workers’ support – updated

Greta Thurnberggreta on sailboatWhat a difference a year makes!

 

The #FridaysforFuture youth movement began in August 2018 when the Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, began her solitary climate strike . Since then, millions of students (and their adult supporters) have been inspired to copy her action in almost every country in the world, including Canada.  In May 2019,  Thunberg  and other young climate activists sent out a call for a global climate strikes  in the week of September 20 – 27,  timed to coincide with the United Nations Climate Summit  in New York on September 23.

The youth movement has explicitly called for the support of adults and workers in the global climate strike.   One of the first unions to offer support was Ver.di in Germany, as reported in “Youth and Workers Uniting Behind This Crisis’: German Labor Union Urges 2 Million Members to Join Global Climate Strike  in Common Dreams  (Aug. 6).  The Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) , in cooperation with 350.org,  has issued an appeal on the LNS website, asking unions to participate and providing  A Climate Strike Toolkit for Workers: How to Support the Young People Who Are Striking to Save Our Planet .   The Global Climate Strike website  also offers their own Guide to organizing a workplace climate strike.  The University and Colleges Union in the U.K. is submitting a resolution at the Trades Union Congress  conference in early September, asking all members to support the Sept. 20 action with a 30-minute strike.

victoria facebook postFrom the state of  Victoria Australia,  the Victoria Trades Hall Executive Committee posted on Facebook with their August 9 resolution which endorses the September 20 global climate strike and “commits to organize our members to participate as much as possible.”

Updates, as of August 30: 

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), in its Bulletin #88,  has compiled statements and actions from unions around the world in support of the calls for a “Global Climate Strike”, with ongoing updates here  . For Canada, the TUED list includes the B.C. Teachers Federation , who will be using their September 23 Professional Development Day to hold a “Rally & Teach-in for Climate Justice” in Victoria; and the Toronto and District Labour Council is included for its endorsement of the global strike at the General Delegates Meeting on August 1, 2019.

The Toronto Labour Council has posted a statement on the Climate Emergency on their website, calling on Labour Councils across Canada to be involved in local and national efforts on climate action,  including on September 27th. The statement carries on with the initiatives outlined in their 2016 action plan, Greenprint for Greater Toronto: Working Together for Climate Action . Not included in the TUED list, but also from Canada:  the Confederation Syndicats Nationaux in Quebec are planning to coordinate union support across the province, according to their Convention document from June 2019, La Planete s’invite au travail  (in French only).

Management attitudes to Climate Strikes: Workers’ strike will reveal if firms really care about climate change” in The Irish Times (July 8) reports on the results of a journalist’s informal emailed survey to 20 global companies, asking about their company policies concerning climate protests .  Either vague responses or no response was received from Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Bloomberg, IKEA, BP, Exxon Mobil, BlackRock, and Virgin Group . Of the few who responded:  Patagonia is quoted as saying that it “actively encourages its employees to take part in environmental protests and has a global policy of providing bail for workers arrested during such actions. In September it plans to expand digital efforts to connect customers with local green groups.”  Germany’s GLS ethical bank said “it will close on September 20 so all employees can march ‘against the climate catastrophe'”. And Shell stated that “it backed peaceful protest and its employees could seek leave to join such action.”

For updated news, check the Global Climate Strike websiteand for Canada, the #Fridays for Future Canada  or #Climate Strike Canada Twitter feeds.  And even the mainstream media will be awake to the global climate movement.   The “Covering Climate Now” initiative, led by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Guardian, has gathered  commitments from print and online newspapers and magazines, as well as television,  to run one week of focused climate coverage, to begin September 16 and culminate September 23.    Canadian participants include Maclean’s magazine  and The Tyee

 

Canadian kids out in force for the global Fridays for Future climate strike on March 15

March 15 montreal

Montreal climate strike

The global movement that is the #Fridays for Future climate strike, inspired by Greta Thunberg, exceeded all expectations for the number of demonstrators and the number of locations on March 15.  In Canada, students marched in 55 cities, with the greatest showing in Montreal –   150,000 strikers  – a greater turnout than Paris, London, Sydney , or almost any of the hundreds of cities and towns which participated.  The Energy Mix highlights the global successes in   “1.4 million students in 128 countries make March 15 #schoolstrike a global phenomenon” (March 15) .

 

Here are some accounts of the strike in Canada:  From the National Observer: “Canadian children school adults about climate crisis” (March 15), which reports particularly on Montreal and Vancouver; “Quebec students join global marches to demand climate change action” (March 17) which reported that 150,000 students were on strike, representing 120 student associations.  This amazing number is widely confirmed – including  by an article in La Presse  (in French). Also,  “CCL Youth join March 15 youth strike for climate”  from the Citizens Climate Lobby;  “We know we are at a crossroads” in The Tyee (unique photos of the Vancouver strike); “Students in Canada prepare to strike for the climate” (March 14) in Rabble.ca  .

march 15 vancouver2CBC coverage consisted mainly of photos and brief interviews from across Canada, including: “Tens of thousands rally in Montreal”, and “Montreal students block schools ahead of climate protest”    (which prompted the school board to cancel classes). From  Halifax ;  New Brunswick ; Ottawa  ;Regina St. John’s Newfoundland ; Toronto; and Vancouver here   and here .  

 

Who are these young Canadian strikers?  Of the many youth organizers across Canada, two  have received special attention. Sophie Mathur of Sudbury, aged 11, was the first Canadian to take up the call of Greta Thunberg and has been profiled several times, even before the March 15 global strike. Early articles:  “Strike For Climate: Fridays For a Future” appeared in Below 2C on  October 31 2018  and “Young climate activist to strike Friday in Sudbury” in the Sudbury Star  on November  2, 2018 . Most recently, on March 8,  Sophie was one of five climate strikers interviewed by  Sierra Club International, for International Women’s Day.

Rebecca Hamilton of Vancouver, aged 16,  is a founding member of Sustainabiliteens  , which organized the school strike in Vancouver. She is profiled in a new Greenpeace Canada series “12 Questions with #YouthClimateStrike organizer Rebecca Hamilton”. Both Sophie Mathur and Rebecca Hamilton were interviewed by CBC Radio in “Ignoring climate change is like ‘putting off homework,’ says teen in School Strike for Climate” on The Current on March 15   (transcript and audio), and also on CBC radio Day 6 on February 2, along with Dominique Deveaux of  Fredericton, here  .

march 15 trudeau tweetPoliticians Reactions and support for student strikers:  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to the strikers on Twitter, as did Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna on her personal  Facebook account,  but there was no official reaction from the Canadian government. George Heyman, British Columbia’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change also used  his Twitter account to express that he is “inspired by the concern and commitment of the students”. Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party, issued a statement of support  which lists Green Party candidates who are supporting strikes in their local ridings.

Reactions from Unions:  In Canada,  the B.C. Teachers Federation tweeted a thanks to the students from their  Annual Meeting , and at that AGM,  activist Seth Klein addressed March 15 seth kleinthe meeting  about the role of teachers in fighting climate change.  The international confederation of teachers’ unions, Education International, has also supported the student climate strikers, with this Statement of Support (Feb. 28, 2019) and this blog post of February 22.  A CBC report of March 1 also states that staff and faculty of Laurentian University in Sudbury have signed a letter of support for the strikers.

The International Trade Union Confederation issued a statement of support  which states that “Unions in Australia, Belgium, France, Italy, the UK and elsewhere are taking part and many others are active in mobilising their members” and “Taking inspiration from young people, union representatives in workplaces will, in the last week of June, invite employers to sit down with the workers in workplaces to discuss plans to reduce emissions and climate proof workplaces.”

canada may 3 climate strikeCanada’s next big student protest has been set for  May 3.  Updates will be posted on the Facebook Events page hereIn the meantime, 350.org has posted “5 ways you can support the school climate strikes”.

greta thunberg yellow

And last word goes to Nobel-nominee Greta Thunberg, from her Facebook post following the March 15 strikes:

Once you have done your homework, you realize that we need new politics. We need a new economics, where everything is based on our rapidly declining and extremely limited carbon budget.

But that is not enough. We need a whole new way of thinking. The political system that you have created is all about competition. You cheat when you can because all that matters is to win. To get power. That must come to an end. We must stop competing with each other. We need to start cooperating and sharing the remaining resources of this planet in a fair way. We need to start living within the planetary boundaries, focus on equity and take a few steps back for the sake of all living species.
We are just passing on the words of the science. Our only demand is that you start listening to it. And then start acting.

So please stop asking your children for the answers to your own mess.

Generational justice and climate change: we can all strike for our future

The constitutional challenge by the government of  Saskatchewan to the Canadian government’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act of 2018  is underway – hearings were held in February and a decision is pending, with a similar challenge by Ontario to be heard in April. The main purpose of the court challenges is to nullify the federal government’s national carbon tax program , the signature issue of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.  But the case has also given youth activists an opportunity to address the intergenerational justice of Canada’s climate change policies, as described in “Canada obliged to protect future generations from climate change, test case on carbon tax hears”   (Feb. 20)  in The Narwhal.

The preamble of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act of 2018  states: “…Parliament recognizes it is the responsibility of the present generation to minimize impacts of climate change on future generations.”   This gave the Intergenerational Climate Coalition, led by  Generation Squeeze ,  a platform, as recognized intervenors, to argue that: “Failure to price pollution discriminates against younger Canadians, because it puts in jeopardy our reasonable aspiration to thrive in 2030 and beyond” and “the health threats to children and future generations are vastly disproportionate to their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions”. A press release in December 2018 describes the coalition and summarizes their arguments – mostly based on health consequences of climate change.

This issue of intergenerational  justice was also addressed by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood in “The all too ugly truth: Climate change is generational genocide” , published  in Behind the Numbers in February.  Echoing the strong and direct tone we have come to expect from Greta Thunberg,  Mertins-Kirkwood states: “For the generations poised to inherit our warming world, the complacency and greed of their predecessors is no longer being tolerated. From Autumn Peltier’s presentation to the United Nations to the climate strikes organized by school children across Europe to the Quebec youth suing the government for failing to protect the environment, young people are refusing to sit by while this existential crisis deepens.”  He continues: “The perpetrators of the climate change genocide include the fossil fuel industry and climate-denying politicians, of course, but also the silent majority of fossil fuel consumers who actively ignore the mounting scientific evidence or otherwise take no responsibility for the path we are on. It is this generation’s campaign of destruction that is being inflicted upon all other and future generations.”

Youth are asking for help:  The main point of Mertins-Kirkwood’s article is to urge us all to act:  First, by recognizing and acknowledging how we have contributed to the problem; Second, by making climate change “a central concern for everyone in your life” ; and third, by supporting  those fighting for a better future, through donations, but also by amplifying youth voices “online and beyond”.  Greta Thunberg has also stated:  “If you think that we should be in school instead, then we suggest that you take our place in the streets, striking from your work. Or, better yet, join us, so we can speed up the process.”

How to respond? “Intergenerational” organizations exist to support the actions of youth activists:  for example, in Canada, Canadian Parents for Climate Action, and  For our Grandchildren Canada ; in Australia, Australian Parents for Climate Action and  1 Million Women .   Fridays for Future Canada   is coordinating the school strikes, but there are many more  youth-led activist groups, many of whom are asking for support and donations.   Some Canadian examples:  Canadian Youth Climate Coalition ; ENvironment JEUnesse  (Quebec group for under-35’s suing the government) ; PowerShift Young and Rising  ; Youth Climate Lab ; The 3% Project .

Youth in at least 22 communities in Canada are participating in the Global Fridays for the Future climate Strike on March 15.  As George Monbiot wrote in Resilience,  “Young climate strikes can win their fight. We must all help”.

fridays for future strikes

An excellent example:  At their most recent climate strike, elementary school students in Sudbury were presented with a letter  of support from the faculty members of Laurentian University.