Canadian, Ontario governments launch youth consultations on climate issues

It’s almost as if Canadian governments have noticed the international Fridays for Future movement, or the Sunrise Movement in the U.S.! On July 21, both the federal and Ontario government announced the formation of youth councils, to engage with young people on climate issues. The federal Environment and Climate Change Youth Council  was announced in this press release, inviting Canadians between the ages of 18 to 25 to apply by August 18, to participate in consultations regarding climate change, biodiversity loss, and how to better protect the natural environment. “In particular, inaugural members will engage on Canada’s top priorities, including achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and zero plastic waste by 2030.” Applicants must be sponsored/nominated by an NGO or charitable organization which relates to the mandate of Environment and Climate Change Canada. Ten people will be chosen to serve a two-year term on a voluntary basis and meet every four months.  The Youth Council website, with application information, is here.  

In Ontario, high school youth are invited to apply by August 4th to be members of a Youth Environment Council, which will meet monthly from September to April 2021 to hear from expert guest speakers, discuss a range of environmental and climate change issues and provide input to ministry officials, including the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.  Details and an application form are here.

Note to governments: the next Global Fridays for Future Climate Strike will be held on September 24, 2021, under the banner #UprootTheSystem. Demands are explained here.

Teaching climate change in Canada

Education International, which represents 32.5 million educators in 178 countries, launched a “Teach for the Planet” campaign in April 2021, with a Manifesto for Quality Climate Change Education for All .  The Canadian Teachers Federation has endorsed the campaign, raising the profile of climate change amongst Canadian educators.  Earlier, in January 2020, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) held its first Climate Action Summit in response to youth global climate strikes, which resulted in the launch of  OISE’s Sustainability and Climate Action Plan  in February 2021.  Although much of that Plan relates to the operation or governance of OISE as a teaching faculty within the University of Toronto, it also sets out goals and strategies to conduct an inventory of sustainability and environmental content in courses, expand sustainability and environmental content in curriculum, encourage research by faculty, and “consider sustainability expertise as an asset in the hiring of new staff and faculty.”

 “Are Canadian schools raising climate-literate citizens?” (Corporate Knights magazine, Summer 2021), states that at best, K–12 sustainability and climate change content in schools is “uneven,”, and provides an overview of grassroots initiatives amongst educators aiming to improve that situation. Ellen Field, an assistant professor in Lakehead University, is quoted:  “We have a responsibility, especially for those who are educators, to be honest with young people about the reality of the urgency we are facing”. Field  authored an important survey: Canada, Climate Change and Education: Opportunities for Public and Formal Education (2019),  which among many findings, reports that teachers identified the three main barriers to more climate education:  lack of time to include during class; lack of classroom resources; lack of professional knowledge.

Other examples of grassroots activism regarding climate education: Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF), housed at York University in Toronto is a national non-profit that promotes environmental awareness and social responsibility for students and teachers,  and hosts Resources for Rethinking, an online collection of  lesson plans, books, videos related to environmental, social and economic issues.  (The B.C. Teachers Federation also offers a collection of lesson plans ).

Climate Education Reform BC is  a student-led coalition which published an Open Letter to the provincial education minister in April 2021, recommending 6 points, including revisions to climate change for K-12  curriculum, and support for teacher training.  

The Alberta Council for Environmental Education (ACEE) has operated since 2005, and recently adopted the  K-12 Environmental Education Guidelines for Excellence, published by the North American Association for Environmental Education. ACEE also maintains an online resource centre of teaching materials related to climate change, including professional development materials such as the quarterly Green Teacher magazine .

Canada’s youth return to the streets to support global climate protests on March 19

Fridays for Future, the youth-led climate movement inspired by Greta Thunberg, has survived and adapted to Covid with creative online activism.  On March 19, 2021, with the theme ” #NoMoreEmptyPromises”, some youth returned to the streets in modest, socially-distanced demonstrations – 48 strikes across Canada, according to the official FFF statistics. Media coverage included: The National Observer, “Youth activists shut down Bay Street, demanding climate promises be kept” (March 19) , which summarizes actions in Toronto, focused on banking;  “Youth Climate Activists Aim to Rally Support for Indigenous Land Defenders” in The Tyee described the Sustainabiliteens protest in Vancouver, focused on the Trans Mountain Pipeline; and “Fridays for Future Sudbury to take part in Global Climate Strike” in the Sudbury Star.  

Follow Canada’s FFF movement on Twitter here, on Facebook here . A Fridays for Future Newsletter  (subscribe here ) is a new addition to the ongoing global social media presence.

“#Fridaysforfuture: When youth push the environmental movement towards climate justice” appeared in The Conversation Canada in September 2019, describing Canada’s movement before Covid hit. Since then, some notable articles have appeared, including:

The Future Is in Our Hands— Not Theirs” on pages 22-23 in the CCPA Monitor, (February 2020), describing the youth-led Our Time movement.

The Starfish list of the Top 25 Environmentalists under 25, which profiles young climate leaders across Canada. The youth-led Starfish organization also publishes its own online journal, which provides an insight into the issues which are top of mind for youth.

The National Observer maintains a series titled Youth Climate Voices.  It includes a profile of the Indigenous-led project Let’s Sprout in “How to grow a young climate leader  (March 8). “A simple life will make you happy, says young Albertan who traded oil for solar” (March 1) profiles the career transition of a 31-year old former oil and gas worker, and highlights his solar training at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton.

 The IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development) maintains a research theme called Youth voices, which published “What the Next Generation Needs From a Green Recovery”  (Feb. 25),  an interview with Aliénor Rougeot , leader of Fridays for Future Toronto.  She states that “youth would like to be a part of a constant feedback process—instead of us needing to give unsolicited feedback in the streets.”  Her thoughts on Canada’s current climate change policies: “….I’m a little bit afraid of the government seeing youth councils as junior partner councils. They shouldn’t treat it as a separate consultation, but more as “these are the main people we need to get to.” ……. “If you do want a Youth Advisory Board or something similar, simplify the process by making sure to give us a time commitment that is clear …. Try to compensate when you can—it makes a big difference for students or people that do a lot of this work unpaid.”

Another IISD interview appears in “Solving the Injustices Caused by Climate Change” (Feb. 25), in which Jhannel C. Tomlinson focuses on the concerns of rural Jamaicans, particularly women. Ms. Tomlinson is an active participant in at least four youth-led activist groups in Jamaica while she pursues her PhD. 

And a report commissioned by the Alberta Council for Environmental Education was released by Climate Outreach in February, reporting on the climate literacy and attitudes of 170 Alberta students in grades 4 – 12 (ages approx. 8 to 16).  The report, titled Youth Narrative and Voice offers 10 principles and suggested climate narratives to address the eco-anxiety of students which was identified in workshops across the province. The recommendations have been forwarded to the provincial Minister of Education, in the hopes they will be considered in the curriculum review  currently underway.

Climate Youth in the Courts: Victory in Ontario, dismissal in Canadian court, and an appeal to the Supreme Court of Norway

The Environmental Law Centre of Alberta has been monitoring climate litigation cases worldwide, but events have overtaken their latest summary blog Climate Litigation in Canada and Beyond –Where Are We in 2020?  (Nov. 9) , which discusses the dismissal of the LaRose case in the Federal Court of Canada (more on that below). On November 12, Justice Carole Brown of the Superior Court of Ontario issued a landmark decision , allowing the case of Mathur et al.  to proceed to trial under Canada’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.  The case is thoroughly described in a Backgrounder from the Ecojustice, who represent the seven youth. Their claim is that their rights were violated when the Ontario government under Doug Ford  passed the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act in 2018, weakening GHG emissions reduction targets for the province. According to Ecojustice, “The lawsuit aims to strike down Ontario’s current 2030 target as unconstitutional and enshrine the right to a safe, healthy climate as part of the right to life, liberty and security of the person in Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This would require the Government of Ontario to set a new target in line with the scientific consensus, and revise its policies accordingly.”  The decision to allow the case to proceed is a first for Canada.

Federal Court of Canada dismisses an earlier youth-led case, LaRose vs. Her Majesty the Queen

On October 27, Justice Michael D. Manson of the Federal Court of Canada dismissed the case of LaRose vs. Her Majesty the Queen, and in the words of law professor Jason MacLean, slammed the door on big, “holy grail” climate cases in Canada. The LaRose case was filed in 2019 by 15 youth who used the Public Trust doctrine under section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to argue that the federal government is violating their rights to life, liberty and security of the person, and failing to protect essential public trust resources. Further, they call on section 15 of the Charter regarding equality, alleging that  youth are disproportionately affected by the effects of the climate emergency.  Although Justice Manson agreed that “the negative impact of climate change to the Plaintiffs and all Canadians is significant, both now and looking forward into the future,” he declined to allow the case to proceed because the questions raised “are so political that the Courts are incapable or unsuited to deal with them.” Lawyers for the case will appeal.  The legal organizations supporting the LaRose case reacted to the decision: the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation (CELL) here , and U.S.-based Our Children’s Trust here . Our Children’s Trust also maintains a timeline and compilation of documents here.

The LaRose case was summarized in “Kids facing effects of climate change are taking their governments to court” in The Conversation (Nov. 2019), with an explanation of the public trust doctrine.  After the decision, a brief summary appeared in  “Federal judge tosses youth climate case against Ottawa” (National Observer, Oct. 27). In  “Why the youth climate court case failed and what’s next for Canadian climate policy” (The Conversation, Nov. 3) Jason MacLean, Assistant Professor of Law at the University of New Brunswick, summarizes the case and concludes that the federal court’s decision “slams the door”, but also looks for broader hope in the prospects for more specific, smaller climate cases – referring to “The Unsexy Future of Climate Litigation” (Journal of Environmental Law, 2018) for his framework, and citing the current example of the Grassy Mountain coal mine project in Alberta as an example of such a specific case.

Previous attempts by Canadian youth to fight for climate rights in courts include ENvironnement JEUnesse, which is currently under appeal after being denied the right to proceed by the Quebec Superior Court in 2019 .

Rebellion is a new documentary episode by The Nature of Things, a flagship production of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It profiles some of the youth involved in the Canadian court fights.

Youth in Norway take their climate case to the Supreme Court

In a case known as People vs. Arctic Oil , Young Friends of the Earth Norway (also known as Nature and Youth) have challenged their government’s 2016 decision to license oil drilling in the Barents Sea of the Arctic. Their challenge, now before the Supreme Court of Norway in November, is being described by Greenpeace Norway (a co-plaintiff),  as internationally precedent-setting, potentially as important as the Urgenda decision in the Netherlands. The New York Times reported on November 5  that it is  being called “the case of the century” in the Norwegian press. The court case finished in mid-November, with a decision expected in early 2021.

The Sabin Center Climate Case Litigation Database offers an archive of all official documents in the Norwegian case, and  Greenpeace Norway provides a chronology and a layman’s summary of the case decisions in English.  The Greenpeace website also provides the new information that the government’s decision to issue oil licenses was based on incorrect economic analysis and that  “Ministry of Petroleum and Energy has been sitting on updated calculations they did not present to the Parliament, which shows that the profitability of the oil fields is questionable.”    

Labour working for a Green New Deal in Canada and the U.S.

Updated on January 20 to include Naomi Klein’s new article, “Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” in Dissent (Winter 2020 issue). 

our times jan2020cover re green new dealIn the January 2020 issue of Our Times magazine, “Save this House: A Green New Deal for Canada, Now!”  provides an overview of Canadian labour’s initiatives around a Green New Deal. It highlights the on-the-ground activism of two unionists: Tiffany Balducci, (CUPE member, president of the Durham Region Labour Council and in that role, part of the Green Jobs Oshawa coalition seeking to re-purpose the shuttered General Motors plant  for socially beneficial manufacturing) and Patricia Chong, ( member of the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance and co-facilitator of  the “Green is Not White” environmental workshops which are co-sponsored by the ACW research project).

Asked to define and envision what the Green New Deal will look like, Chong states:

“If the climate crisis is defined as a problem where we need to move money from greenhouse-gas producing industries to non-GHG producing industry, then the answer is to move the money around. If the climate crisis is defined more broadly as a problem that also includes environmental racism, Indigenous genocide, and capitalism, then the solution is also going to be very different. ….When we talk about a Green economy, we do not want to replicate the inherent inequities we already have.”

The article also names the unions which support a Green New Deal for Canada:  “Unifor, Amalgamated Transit Union, British Columbia Teachers Federation, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and CUPE Ontario. The article concludes with a reference to the Private Member’s Motion on a Green New Deal for Canada, introduced in the new 43rd session of Parliament by Peter Julian, the NDP Member of Parliament for New Westminster-Burnaby British Columbia. His motion, introduced on December 5,  defines a Green New Deal as a 10-year national mobilization to: •  reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions •  create millions of secure jobs•  invest in sustainable infrastructure and industry •  promote justice and equity for Indigenous peoples and all “frontline and vulnerable communities.”   Specifically concerning GND jobs, it calls for :

……(vii) ensuring that the Green New Deal mobilization creates high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hires local workers, offers training and advancement opportunities, and guarantees wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition, (viii) guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all Canadians, (ix) strengthening and protecting the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment, (x) strengthening and enforcing labour, workplace health and safety, antidiscrimination, and wage and hour standards across all employers, industries, and sectors, (xi) enacting and enforcing trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments with strong labor and environmental protections to stop the transfer of jobs and pollution overseas, and to grow domestic manufacturing in Canada….  More details are at the Our Time website ; Julian was one of the candidates endorsed by Our Time in Canada’s 2019 federal election.

OurTime_logoThe youth-led organization  Our Time exists to campaign for a Green New Deal.  An overview of their approach appears in “The future is in our hands— not theirs” in the January/February issue of CCPA’s The Monitor (pages 22-  23). Written by two Manitoba organizers from the Our Time campaign , it includes  the youth-led actions of Canada’s Fridays for Future climate strikers, and focuses on the Our Time campaign in the West.  The authors conclude: “Our Time and the CCPA-Manitoba recognize the need to build stronger relationships with the Indigenous community and beyond. We know that any struggle for a Green New Deal must take direction from those who are most dispossessed by fossil capitalism and most exposed to climate change. We do not wish to reproduce in our organizing spaces the undemocratic relationships of exploitation that have gotten us to this point. We need to unlearn the oppressive practices we frequently deploy, often unconsciously, even when our hearts are in the right place.”

Green New Deal proposals in the U.S.:

brecher no workerIn late December 2019, Labor Network for Sustainability released its latest paper regarding the Green New Deal:  a briefing paper written by Jeremy Brecher , No Worker Left Behind:   Protecting Workers and Communities in the Green New Deal . From the introduction: “This paper aims to identify policies that could be actionable by GNDs at national and state levels.… It focuses only on: “GND policies specifically designed to protect workers and communities whose jobs and livelihoods may be adversely affected by deliberate managed decline of fossil fuel burning and other GND policies.”   The document does not endorse one plan over the other – the purpose is to identify and inform trade unionists so that they can make their own determinations.

No Worker Left Behind   includes relevant excerpts from the following U.S. plans:  • Colorado Just Transition law • Center for Biological Diversity Presidential Action Plan • Washington State Initiative 1631 • Senator Bernie Sanders “The Green New Deal – Sanders Details” • Governor Jay Inslee “Community Climate Justice Plan,” adopted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren after Inslee withdrew from the presidential race. • Vice-President Joe Biden “Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice” • BlueGreen Alliance “Solidarity for Climate Action” • Sunrise Movement “Candidate Scorecard Framework” • Peter Knowlton “Jobs for Climate Justice Demands” • Sens. Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, and Edward Markey “Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act” • Political Economy Research Institute, “The Economics of Just Transition” • Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Labor Network for Sustainability, “Beyond a Band-Aid”.

A broader discussion of the Green New Deal appears in Naomi Klein’s new article, “Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” in Dissent (Winter 2020 issue). Although the article focuses on the  U.S. Green New Deal in a historical and political context , Klein continues to cite her “favourite example” of the GND as the Canadian Union of Postal Workers initiative, Delivering Community Power , which she describes as “a bold plan to turn every post office in Canada into a hub for a just green transition.” She continues “….To make the case for a Green New Deal—which explicitly calls for this kind of democratic, decentralized leadership—every sector in the United States should be developing similar visionary plans for their workplaces right now.”

Klein also repeats themes from previous writing, including :

“A job guarantee, far from an opportunistic socialist addendum, is a critical part of achieving a rapid and just transition. It would immediately lower the intense pressure on workers to take the kinds of jobs that destabilize our planet, because all would be free to take the time needed to retrain and find work in one of the many sectors that will be dramatically expanding…This in turn will reduce the power of bad actors like the Laborers’ International Union of North America, who are determined to split the labor movement and sabotage the prospects for this historic effort.”

Finally, her concluding call to action:

“The Green New Deal will need to be subject to constant vigilance and pressure from experts who understand exactly what it will take to lower our emissions as rapidly as science demands, and from social movements that have decades of experience bearing the brunt of false climate solutions, whether nuclear power, the chimera of carbon capture and storage, or carbon offsets.”

Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” is adapted from Klein’s klein we own the future coverchapter  in We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism—American Stylea new anthology edited by Kate Aronoff, Michael Kazin, and Peter Dreier and released by the New Press in January 2020.  Several other recent articles  have appeared in The Intercept are available on her own website here , and her book, On Fire: The Burning case for a Green New Deal was published in September 2019.