Home retrofits deliver biggest bang for buck: IEA

Building retrofits a top job producer in green economy recommendations

Energy retrofits would include some of the technologies used in passive homes, like this one being built by Ian Robertson of AA Robins Architect. | Chung Chow

Buildings account for about 12% of greenhouse gases (GHGs) produced in Canada.

While that is a relatively small slice of the GHG pie compared with transportation or the oil and gas sector (about 25% each), reducing GHGs in the built environment through government-sponsored retrofit programs would get the most bang for the buck, in terms of quick GHGs reductions and economic stimulus, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA is recommending national building retrofit programs to its member countries as one of the best instruments for a post-pandemic clean economy stimulus.

It would have the added benefit of lowering energy costs for homeowners and businesses.

“The largest amount of new jobs would be in retrofitting buildings and other measures to improve their energy efficiency,” the IEA states in its recently release Sustainable Recovery Plan, developed in conjunction with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It estimates nine to 30 jobs are created for every $1 million invested in home retrofits.

The IEA recommends energy transition and decarbonization projects that are shovel-ready, or which can otherwise be underway within three years, since the goal is to try to hold global GHGs at or below 2019 levels.

“Existing efficiency programmes … can be rapidly expanded and new projects can be shovel-ready within weeks or months,” the IEA says.

Kevin Lee, CEO of the Canadian Homebuilders Association, adds that such a program would spread the jobs all over Canada, in pretty much every community, whereas a site-specific project, like a new wind farm or public transit project, concentrates the economic benefits in one place or region.

“Everywhere people live, there’s opportunities to retrofit houses for better energy efficiency, and certainly in the housing sector, when it comes to climate change, it’s the existing housing stock that is really what we need to be after,” Lee said.

The 2019 federal budget earmarked $1 billion for energy efficiency in residential, commercial, multi-unit buildings and affordable housing developments.

Lee’s association is now pushing for a new national tax credit to spur energy efficient retrofits.

Energy efficient retrofits can include things like installing triple-pane windows, better insulation, heat pumps, heat recovery systems or highly energy efficient natural gas furnaces to reduce the use of natural gas for home heating.

The B.C. government is already moving ahead with an energy retrofit program for homeowners. Last week, it announced a new zero interest loan program to encourage homeowners on natural gas to switch to heat pumps, which use low amounts of electricity to provide heat in the winter and cooling in the summer.

The Canadian firm Financeit will manage the loan process, “in most cases providing on-the-spot loan approvals for upgrades to change from fossil fuel home-heating systems to electric heat pumps,” the ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources stated in a press release.

Under CleanBC, the provincial government hopes to cut GHGs from buildings by 80% by 2050.

“We see this as a pillar in any kind of green stimulus plan,” said Josha MacNab, national policy director for the Pembina Institute.

“We know that we need to refurbish about 2% to 3% of the building stock per year to eliminate carbon pollution by 2050. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but that is a massive amount of retrofits. We estimate that it’s going to require an investment on the order of $10 billion to $15 billion a year over the next 30 years, leveraging both public and private capital.”

The last time there was a home retrofit program offered, more than 10 years ago, subscriptions peaked at about 200,000 homes in one year, Lee said.

Chris Bataille, adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, and co-author of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project for Canada, urges governments to focus their incentives on lower income homeowners.

“Higher income households tend to do them anyway, but often take the most subsidies,” he said. “We call them free riders.

“Energy efficiency retrofit programs should focus on rental, institutional and lower income housing, because none of these have the incentives or capital to make the capital investments to recoup the reduced energy costs.


By Nelson Bennett




 Is there a green light for a green economy?

Green New Deals and Nuclear Power: should Nuclear Colonialism be permitted to continue?

A group of premiers band together to develop nuclear reactor technology. Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick will work together to research and build small modular reactors. Ontario Premier Doug Ford, centre, looks on as Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, right, and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs shake hands during a meeting of Canada’s premiers in Montreal. The premiers are in Toronto this week for another meeting. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

The SARS-Cov-2 pandemic and concomitant economic recessions have resulted in many calls for Green New Deals (GNDs) to create jobs and tackle climate change. For example, in November 2019, the European Commission published a series of documents aiming for a Green New Deal see https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en  And in April, the climate and environment Ministers in 17 European countries called on the European Commission to include a GND as part of the EU’s economic recovery plan. https://www.climatechangenews.com/2020/04/09/european-green-deal-must-central-resilient-recovery-covid-19/

Nuclear or Not?

A major defining issue in proposed GNDs is whether or not they should include nuclear power. Thankfully, the EU Commission recently decided to exclude new nuclear power – see discussion at  https://energytransition.org/2020/06/eu-recovery-plan-goes-green-and-excludes-nuclear/ But the arguments are probably not over yet in the corridors of power in the EU.

Nuclear proponents consider that nuclear can make a significant contribution to tackling climate change. This ignores that nuclear electricity makes a small (~3%) contribution to world energy and this cannot be increased quickly. It also ignores many scientific reports that nuclear power plus all its fuel activities including uranium mining and nuclear wastes is not low-carbon, with an average ten-fold larger carbon footprint compared to the renewables.

However some proponents of GNDs, including US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, remain ambivalent about nuclear power. In May 2019, she stated “I don’t take a strong anti or pro position on [nuclear power]” https://morningconsult.com/2019/05/06/ocasio-cortez-green-new-deal-leaves-door-open-nuclear  However other prominent environmentalists, including Helen Caldicott, Naomi Klein, Greta Thunberg, Holly Near, Molly Scott Cato, Rebecca Harms and many others, remain opposed to the inclusion of nuclear in Green New Deals.

The Ethical Dimension

Many green organisations state or infer that GNDs must embody ethical ideals, and must aim for justice and fairness. They argue that such moral stances are what make Green New Deals “green”, rather than mere climate mitigation techniques. For example, the EU’s Green New Deal for Europe supports “climate justice” around the world and the Canadian New Democratic Party’s GND proposals stress respect for indigenous rights. In their views, nuclear power is incompatible with such moral emphases and aims.

One matter often cited is the lack of intergenerational justice re nuclear wastes. The radioactive nuclides in nuclear waste remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years. Such long periods mean these problems are left to future generations. This is considered unethical and in conflict with the implicit moral stance underlying Green New Deal proposals.

Nuclear Colonialism

Another matter is the adverse effect of nuclear power on poor communities and indigenous peoples. For example, uranium mining mostly occurs in areas occupied by indigenous peoples, including parts of Namibia, Niger, Mali, Australia, Canada, India, and the United States. Indigenous communities in these countries have suffered multiple adverse health effects as a result. Continued uranium mining for nuclear power is also contrary to the green notion of sustainability.

A further example lies at the other end of the nuclear fuel chain, ie the radioactive nuclear waste produced by nuclear power plants. Often sites proposed as possible hosts for these nuclear wastes also have high proportions of indigenous populations. For example, in January 2020, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation in Canada voted overwhelmingly against a Canadian nuclear waste proposal. The proposed Yucca Mountain repository in the US state of Nevada is also being resisted by the Western Shoshone people, on whose lands the site is located. There is more than a whiff of colonialism in these two examples, ie nuclear colonialism.


Another aim in most GND proposals is the need for rapid climate action: urgency is a key point. Nuclear power is incompatible with such urgency, as it takes at least 15 to 20 years from the proposal stage to the reality of connecting new nuclear to the electricity grid.


If we include high costs of new nuclear, the rapid technical advances in renewable energy, the plummeting costs of solar and PV, the risk of more catastrophic accidents after Chernobyl and Fukushima, the increased cancers in children near nuclear facilities and the umbilical connection with nuclear weapons, it is clear there is little justification for including nuclear power in New Green Deals.


Greta Thunberg: World must ‘tear up’ old contracts, build new systems to save climate

FILE PHOTO: Climate change activist Greta Thunberg speaks during a Fridays for Future protest in Turin, Italy December 13, 2019. REUTERS/Gug

FILE PHOTO: Climate change activist Greta Thunberg speaks during a Fridays for Future protest in Turin, Italy December 13, 2019. REUTERS/Gug

LONDON (Reuters) – Swedish activist Greta Thunberg said on Thursday the world needed an economic overhaul to have a chance of beating climate change and that countries should be prepared to tear up old deals and contracts to meet green targets.

The 17-year-old spoke to Reuters TV after she and other activists sent an open letter to European leaders urging them to take emergency action and saying people in power had practically “given up” on searching for a real solution.

“We need to see it as, above all, an existential crisis. And as long as it’s not being treated as a crisis, we can have as many of these climate change negotiations and talks, conferences as possible. It won’t change a thing,” Thunberg said, speaking via video from her home in Stockholm.

Thunberg, who lambasted world leaders at a U.N. climate summit last year for believing in “fairytales” of eternal economic growth, said that only fundamental change to the existing system would bring climate change under control.

She cited a U.N. study published in November that suggested planned investments to boost fossil fuel production are likely to push temperature goals enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement out of reach.

“So that means that if we are to stay below these targets, we have to make it possible to tear up and abandon valid contracts and deals. And that is not possible within today’s system,” Thunberg said.

“So, yes, then obviously we need to think differently. And, yes, we need to think outside the box.”


Demands in the letter, released before Friday’s European Council summit, included an immediate halt to all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction, in parallel with a rapid ending of fossil fuel subsidies.

The letter also called for binding annual “carbon budgets” to limit how much greenhouse gas countries can emit to maximise the chances of capping the rise in average global temperatures at 1.5C, a goal enshrined in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

It urged European governments to back calls for the Hague-based International Criminal Court to adopt a new crime of “ecocide” to prosecute people responsible for large-scale destruction of the natural world.

Thunberg emerged as the face of a growing, youth-led climate movement after a solitary vigil she began holding outside the Swedish parliament in 2018 inspired children and teenagers around the world to stage school strikes on Friday afternoons.

“In the beginning, I was very worried,” Thunberg said, describing the fears over climate change that motivated her to embrace activism. “But when I started doing something, then there came hope from that. Because hope comes from action.”

With climate protests largely driven online by the coronavirus pandemic, Thunberg joined climate scientists, activists and celebrities including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and author Margaret Atwood in signing the letter that was posted on https://climateemergencyeu.org.

“The longer we keep pretending that we are on a reliable path to lower emissions and that the actions required to avoid a climate disaster are available within today’s system … the more precious time we will lose,” the letter read.

It called for climate policies to be designed to protect workers and the most vulnerable and reduce economic, racial and gender inequalities, as well as moves to “safeguard and protect” democracy.


(Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alexandra Hudson)


Greta Thunberg’s New ‘Emergency’ Open Letter To World Leaders Demands Immediate Climate Action

Canada is failing to track the true climate cost of clearcut logging in boreal: report

Organizations calls on the Canadian government to properly record and regulate greenhouse gas emissions connected to forestry and align its forest management policies with climate targets

A clearcut in Ontario’s boreal forest. Photo: River Jordan / NRDC

Greenhouse gas emissions created by logging in Canada’s boreal forest aren’t being properly regulated or accounted for, threatening the country’s ability to meet its 2050 climate targets, according to a new report released on Thursday.

The report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Nature Canada and Environmental Defence challenges the “creative accounting” that has allowed industry and government to claim that forestry in Canada is carbon neutral.

“Industry has perpetuated a narrative of perfect regrowth: for every tree cut down another one is regrown,” Jennifer Skene, the report’s author and an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview.

“When you cut down a forest in the boreal, it’s not returning. And this has a very devastating impact not just for species but also for the climate.”

While industry has long maintained that harvested forests will eventually regain their ability to sequester carbon dioxide if new trees are planted, Skene pointed to evidence to the contrary.

She cited a recent study in northern Ontario that found 14 per cent of clearcut areas simply will not regrow, even decades later. Logging roads and other infrastructure used during harvesting compact the soil and render it useless for replanting.

Why Canada’s boreal forest is gaining international attention

Without those forests growing back, more carbon dioxide ends up in the atmosphere. Skene said if deforestation in Ontario continues at the current rate, by 2030 an extra 41 million metric tonnes of carbon that could have been captured by boreal forests will end up in the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of nearly nine million cars on the road for a year.

Canada’s boreal forests represent 25 per cent of the world’s remaining forests, swooping across at least part of every province and territory, and covers a broad swath of northern British Columbia. Eighty per cent of this massive ecosystem is intact.

The boreal forest swoops across at least part of every province and territory except for PEI and Nova Scotia. Map: Boreal Songbird Initiative

“When it comes to addressing climate change, Canada’s boreal forest is globally significant,” Graham Saul, executive director of Nature Canada, said in a teleconference. “Per acre, it stores about twice as much carbon as the Amazon forest.”

More than 80 per cent of that carbon is stored in boreal soils. Clearcut logging disturbs the soil and releases the carbon into the atmosphere.

Saul said Canada has an opportunity to set a positive example by following through on its commitments to nature-based climate solutions — planting trees, restoring wetlands and other projects aimed at storing carbon — but the government first needs to acknowledge the actual emissions associated with the logging industry and include them in its climate targets.

‘The atmosphere does not recognize creative accounting’

Under the rules set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Canada uses modelling instead of direct data for its reporting on greenhouse gas emissions produced by the logging industry. According to the report, this method fails to accurately account for areas that do not regrow and makes conservative assumptions about the amount of carbon stored in boreal soils.

“The way in which emissions are being counted under the model that Canada is using is very problematic,” Skene said. “Unfortunately, while we may be able to creatively account for these things, the atmosphere does not recognize creative accounting.”

She explained that one aspect of this “creative accounting” is the concept of harvested wood products.

“Embedded in a lot of federal and provincial policy is this idea that logging can actually be a climate solution,” she said.

The basic premise is that a tree left to die naturally will release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as it decays. Cutting down that tree and using it to create a “long-lived harvested wood product,” such as lumber for house construction, stores that carbon. At the same time, if a new tree is planted, it absorbs more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, Skene said, “that’s an incredibly misguided and dangerous strategy.” In reality, much of the boreal forest is logged for short-lived products such as toilet paper, newsprint and biofuel.

In the teleconference, Dale Marshall, national climate program manager for Environmental Defence, pointed out that disturbing land through industrial logging emits well over 100 million tonnes of carbon in Canada per year.

“A significant portion of the trees that are cut are not brought to market and are left to decay on the forest floor,” Marshall said.

These discrepancies between the emissions that are actually happening in Canada’s boreal forests and the emissions that are ending up on the books pose a real threat to Canada succeeding in its 2050 climate targets.

“Because they are not incorporating data around these logging scars and adopting relatively conservative assumptions around things like soil carbon loss and not incorporating the climate impact of carbon loss from mosses, it is actually showing the managed forest to be a net carbon sink,” said Skene. “And that’s very much feeding into industry’s narrative that it’s climate friendly, it’s something that can be ramped up. And that’s very misrepresentative of what’s actually happening on the ground.”

Logging emissions should be subject to carbon tax, report recommends 

The potential for the industrial logging to be sustainable exists, Saul said, and proper management of Canada’s boreal forests is essential to mitigate global greenhouse gases.

“Overall, our findings and recommendations are intended to help Canada achieve its climate commitments,” he said.

The report calls on the federal government to integrate logging emissions into its national carbon pricing program under the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, a carbon tax largely aimed at the fossil fuel industry.

The report suggests that revenue generated through this could then be used to develop sustainable forestry management and work with Indigenous communities across the boreal region.

“As the Canadian government pursues a more resilient, just, sustainable future, it will need to prioritize the protection of the boreal forest’s value for the climate,” the report concludes.


The NarwhalMatt Simmons is a writer and editor based in Smithers, B.C., unceded Gidimt’en Clan territory, home of the Wet’suwet’en/Witsuwit’en Nation




Why Canada’s boreal forest is gaining international attention

The battle for the ‘breathing lands’: Ontario’s Ring of Fire and the fate of its carbon-rich peatlands

Northern Ontario’s muskeg serves as home to dozens of First Nations, stores immense amounts of carbon and sits on top of vast mineral deposits. Whose vision for the bogs and fens will win out?

Infrastructure at the fly in/fly out Victor diamond mine in the James Bay Lowlands. The mine is now finished production, but many more are proposed in northern Ontario’s peatlands, which store tremendous amounts of carbon — and mineral wealth. Photo: Garth Lenz

Compared to the Amazon or Great Bear Rainforest, the sprawling peatlands of Ontario’s Far North might seem a bit, well, boring.

“People don’t wake up and go ‘oh yeah, woohoo, decomposing organic material is the best!’ says Anna Baggio, the director of conservation planning for Wildlands League, in an interview with The Narwhal. “It’s not sexy. But it’s hugely valuable and we can’t even begin to get our heads around it.”

It’s true: Ontario’s peatlands — or muskeg, as the wetland ecosystem is often called — offer a mind-boggling range of ecological benefits.

Like tropical and temperate rainforests, the peatlands sequester a huge amount of carbon, storing an estimated 35 billion tonnes of carbon in Ontario’s Far North alone (that’s equivalent to annual emissions from seven billion cars). The peatlands also serve as critical habitat for wildlife including caribou, wolverines and many migratory birds.

Anna Baggio Wildlands League The Narwhal

Anna Baggio, director of conservation planning for Wildlands League, poses for a photograph in Guelph, Ont. Baggio says while Canada’s peatlands may not be sexy, they’re invaluable when it comes to the battle against climate change. Photo: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal

These benefits derive from the fact that bogs and fens in northern Ontario — especially in the Germany-sized Hudson Bay Lowlands, the world’s second largest peatland complex — remain relatively undisturbed, unlike many other places that have drained them for agriculture or flooded them for hydroelectric dams.

But that may be changing quickly.

Climate change is expected to lead to longer droughts, which will dry out peatlands and undermine carbon storage functions. Permafrost thaw may also accelerate carbon emissions.

Long-planned mining development in the region, an area about 540 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay referred to as the “Ring of Fire,” could also result in severe impacts to peatlands due to the extraction process and related infrastructure, such as roads and transmission lines.

Combined, these changes are bringing to a head long-standing tensions about who has decision-making powers over the region: the pro-mining province, the conservation-leaning federal government or the dozens of First Nations throughout the Far North — many of which have conflicting views about industrial development in their homelands.

“We want to look after our own selves, with all the resources at our disposal: the air and the muskeg within our traditional lands,” says Chief Bruce Achneepineskum of Marten Falls First Nation, whose leadership supports development, in an interview with The Narwhal. “Therefore we must have a say in it.”

‘We really don’t get a do-over’

Peatlands are ancient ecological systems, which take thousands of years to form their characteristic layer of absorbent organic soil — but they’re also highly sensitive to impacts.

“If you have any type of disturbance that has the potential to have large-scale changes to how wet the site is or the vegetation community that’s there, you’re going to reduce the ability to store carbon,” says Maria Strack, a Canada Research Chair in ecosystem and climate at the University of Waterloo who specializes in peatland emissions, in an interview with The Narwhal.

Disturbance of peatlands releases carbon dioxide and methane directly into the atmosphere. And while peatlands are already a net contributor of methane, these changes also destroy the ecosystem’s future storage capabilities for carbon dioxide, turning them from a carbon sink into a carbon emitter.

Peatland Ring of Fire Ontario

Like tropical and temperate rainforests, peatlands sequester a huge amount of carbon, storing an estimated 35 billion tonnes of carbon in Ontario’s Far North alone. Photo: Garth Lenz

While significant advances in ecosystem restoration practices have been made in the horticultural peat harvesting sector, Strack said it likely takes between 10 to 20 years to return carbon sink functions to rehabilitated landscapes; peat only grows up to one millimetre per year.

But left untouched, disturbed peatlands won’t naturally recover, especially at the far larger scale proposed in the North: “Once it’s built, we really don’t get a do-over,” says Baggio of Wildlands League.

Last year, findings published by Strack’s research team concluded that seismic exploration conducted for Alberta’s oil and gas industry has disturbed at least 1,900 square kilometres of peatland and increased methane emissions by 4,400 to 5,100 metric tonnes per year.

That’s a worrisome trend given that methane has 25 times the global warming potential as carbon dioxide — and that the study underestimated the disturbed area and emissions, meaning “the impact is likely much higher.”

How to put a value on natural landscapes

It’s a common theme in northern ecosystem research: scientists know the landscapes are of critical importance but don’t actually know that much about the specifics.

Justina Ray, president and senior scientist of Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, explains in an interview with The Narwhal that northern regions are categorized by the federal government as “unmanaged lands,” meaning emissions related to land-use changes aren’t included in the national inventory — for good or for bad.

Forestry and agriculture in the south gets most of the attention for so-called “land use, land-use change and forestry” emissions, both in terms of policy and scientific priorities. Ray says that “the whole story of carbon mitigation is you have to have a direct threat for the carbon to be of value and accounted for.”

Dr. Justina Ray peatland The Narwhal

Justina Ray, president and senior scientist of Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, poses for a photograph at her home in Toronto in July. Photo: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal

Currently, that direct threat doesn’t exist — so mechanisms aren’t in place to account for emissions from peatland disturbance and to integrate it into decision-making processes.

“We’re not really very prepared to be able to do the real in-depth accounting and carbon estimation,” Ray says. “We’re not positioned for the change that’s to come.”

The ‘breathing lands’

Northern Indigenous communities have known of the ecological significance of peatlands for countless generations. After all, it’s their land: the “breathing lands,” as elders of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation call it.

“It’s been our source of food and source of livelihood as far as I can remember, back when we used the land quite a lot as a source of our livelihood,” says David Paul Achneepineskum, CEO of the tribal council Matawa First Nations that represents nine Ojibway and Cree First Nations, in an interview with The Narwhal. “A lot of people still think of it that way: their ancestors’ and their grandmothers’ and grandfathers’ way of life.”

James Bay Lowlands

The James Bay Lowlands in northern Ontario. Photo: Garth Lenz

But many First Nations communities in Ontario’s Far North live in extreme poverty, alongside decades-old boil water advisorieshigh food prices and horrific youth suicide crises.

As a result, debates about the future of the muskeg — as a carbon sink or wildlife conservation area — are deeply intertwined with conflicting visions about industrial development, resource jobs, infrastructure and culture.

For instance, Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations are taking active roles in encouraging mining development, serving as project proponents for the provincial and federal environmental assessments of the two roads required to “open up” the Ring of Fire. The first proposed mine is called Eagle’s Nest and would extract nickel, palladium, and copper.

“We should be able to be part of the economy and not continue to be marginalized in our own traditional lands,” says Chief Achneepineskum of Marten Falls in an interview with The Narwhal (Chief Achneepineskum is not related to David Paul Achneepineskum of Matawa First Nations). “All we’re trying to do is get a revenue base and build our own economies in our communities and prosper like anybody else in Canada.”

Webequie has hired SNC-Lavalin to support the nation’s environmental assessment process, while Marten Falls hired engineering giant AECOM. Last fall, Marten Falls received 300,000 shares from Noront Resources, a Canadian mining company that owns the majority of the Ring of Fire’s mining rights

Dayna Nadine Scott, associate professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School who researches Ring of Fire development, says in an interview with The Narwhal that nobody would fault Marten Falls and Webequie for leveraging Ring of Fire development to get long-needed all-season roads built, but that “we should also not forget that Ontario is unwilling to provide the community infrastructure that is required unless it also serves the industry’s needs.

Dayna Nadine Scott Ring of Fire The Narwhal

Dayna Nadine Scott, York University research chair in environmental law and justice in the green economy. Scott studies development in Ontario’s Ring of Fire. Photo: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal

Other First Nations, including Neskantaga and Eabametoong, have publicly opposed the practice of other First Nations serving as project proponents for the environmental assessment process, arguing in a 2019 letter that “it is inconsistent with the Honour of the Crown to attempt to proceed with a delegated environmental assessment of the project in this manner, and to potentially aim to pit one First Nation against others.”

Similarly, the recent announcement by Premier Doug Ford of an agreement with Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations to complete the “Northern Road Link” to the first proposed mine site in the Ring of Fire was slammed by other First Nations leaders.

Fort Albany Chief Leo Metatawabin responded to the Northern Road Link announcement in a press release, saying that “our people will not accept this,” while Neskantaga First Nation Chief Chris Moonias said: “You can expect opposition if Ontario, or any road proponent, tries to put a shovel in the ground of our territory without our consent.”

Peter Moonias, former Chief of Neskantaga First Nation

Peter Moonias, a community Elder and former Chief of Neskantaga First Nation, posted notices along the Attawapiskat River identifying Neskantaga’s traditional, ancestral, historic and customary lands. This area was proposed as a potential site for a river crossing for future roads connecting the Ring of Fire to the rest of Ontario. Photo: Allan Lissner

Lawrence Sakanee Neskantaga First Nation

Lawrence Sakanee, a Neskantaga First Nation community member, fishing near White Clay Rapids. Photo: Allan Lissner

Chief Chris Moonias, of Neskantaga First Nation

Chief Chris Moonias of Neskantaga First Nation fishing near Kabania Lake. Photo: Allan Lissner

Discovery of chromite leads to mining rush

The conflict over the muskeg hasn’t always looked like this.

The “Ring of Fire” was first discovered in 2007, leading to a massive rush of mining companies staking claims in the area. Chromite, used to manufacture a key component of stainless steel, was identified as a key resource by companies including Noront.

But in early 2010, several First Nations blockaded airstrips built by mining companies due to concerns about the environmental impacts of building infrastructure on frozen bogs and lack of consultation and benefits sharing with local communities. The two-month blockade was led by Marten Falls and Webequie — the same First Nations now acting as proponents for the roads.

The next year, nine First Nations signed a “unity declaration” asserting their common rights to self-determination and consent prior to development. That was followed by the signing of a regional framework agreement with the province in 2014 and the Matawa Jurisdiction Table in 2017.

Justina Ray Ring of Fire Map

Justina Ray holds her hand over the area of Ontario know as the Hudson Bay Lowlands, home to the world’s second largest peatland complex. Photo: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal

Both of these at least nominally represented attempts at collaboration between the First Nations and province on planning for the region: while they enhanced existing decision-making processes, they didn’t give First Nations any new decision-making powers.

By mid-2017, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced she had run out of patience and demanded “meaningful progress in weeks, not months” from the First Nations concerning the proposed road into the territory. Only three months later, Ontario announced it was partnering with three of the nine First Nations to build the roads, including Marten Falls and Webequie.

Shortly after, Doug Ford — who had pledged “if I have to hop on a bulldozer myself, we’re going to start building roads to the Ring of Fire” — was elected as new premier of Ontario.

His government, whose minister of mines Greg Rickford was briefly on Noront’s board between political jobs, ripped up the regional framework agreement signed in 2014 and continued to negotiate using Wynne’s so-called “divide and conquer” approach. Ontario is also moving to repeal the province’s controversial Far North Act to expedite development.

Regional assessment announced for Ring of Fire region

In February, the federal government announced it was embarking on a regional assessment of the Ring of Fire region under its new impact assessment legislation.

Scott of York University says this process allows for evaluation of long-term and cumulative impacts of development at a watershed level, including the peatlands. It also presents an opportunity for the federal government to partner with Indigenous governing authorities to co-manage the regional assessment, she says, especially given Ontario doesn’t appear to be a willing partner for it.

“The huge significance of such a big intact ecosystem globally has not been really absorbed in Ontario,” says Scott, who submitted a formal request to the federal environment minister for a regional assessment on behalf of the Osgoode Environmental Justice and Sustainability Clinic. “That’s hopefully something the federal government can see as part of its central mandate.”

Scott submitted a request to the federal government, asking for a regional assessment of Ontario’s Ring of Fire region. Photo: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal

Vern Cheecho, director of lands and resources for the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council that represents seven Cree First Nations in the Western James Bay and Hudson Bay region, says in an interview with The Narwhal that they’re pushing for the scope of the regional assessment to include cumulative impacts and downstream impacts to the peatlands and its carbon sink functions, as well as the marine region off the coast of James Bay.

“It’s basically been our goal to look at this whole region as one ecosystem: the watersheds, the wetlands, and the marine region,” he says.

The federal government has allocated funding to more than 60 Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas through the Canada Nature Fund, including exploratory work by Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation to establish a protected area in the Fawn River Watershed in Northern Ontario.

As with many other things, the regional assessment is now on hold due to COVID-19. Yet the permitting and staking of mining claims in the Far North continues in spite of protests from First Nations, who have argued they don’t have the time or resources to respond to mining-related notifications while trying to manage a pandemic in under-resourced communities.

Scott says she also fears this delay may mean the regional review could fall behind individual environmental assessments that are still underway, resulting in decisions being made about the roads and peatlands without having to take into account results from the regional assessment.

Noront Resources, the main mining firm operating in the Ring of Fire, remains optimistic about its prospects for mining production by 2024. Noront CEO Alan Coutts says in an interview with The Narwhal that it views the regional assessment as a positive.

“What we like about the federal process is it will bring all of this together,” Coutts says. “Up until now, you’ve done these environmental assessments on these little sections of the road, but there hasn’t been this all encompassing view. The regional assessment will bring that together.”

However, Noront’s shares are currently selling for 15 cents, down from 24 cents a year ago, amounting to a market capitalization of $64 million. Further, the province still hasn’t found the estimated $1.6 billion required to build the road to the Ring of Fire.

An exhaustive Globe and Mail investigation published in October concluded that hype about the region’s alleged $60-billion mining future is “mostly aspirational hogwash” (“don’t even get me started on that Globe and Mail article,” Coutts says in an interview). He concedes a key critique of that article (that the 2012 feasibility study for Eagle’s Nest is outdated), but says the company is updating the pricing information and that the “fundamentals of the project are outstanding.”

One of the metals at the Eagle’s Nest site — palladium, used to build catalytic converters — has skyrocketed in price in recent years. Coutts stresses that much more mining will be required to build electric vehicle batteries and power the “green revolution,” especially nickel. Building the road and Eagle’s Nest would also enable future extraction of chromite — from which chromium is extracted to make stainless steel — at other mines.

Noront’s plan to process chromite in a ferrochrome smelter in Sault Ste. Marie has been met with significant local resistance.

“I’ve got no doubt that there’s probably stuff up there,” says Joan Kuyek, co-founder of MiningWatch Canada and author of Unearthing Justice. “But is it worth what is going to now amount to $2 billion for a road — and the destruction of peatlands?”

Peatland Boreal Forest Canada Ontario

Peatlands are the world’s largest terrestrial carbon stores. Photo: Garth Lenz

Muskeg ‘important to our future’

The future of industrial development in the region remains awfully unclear — but First Nations communities continue to fight for control over their lands.

For the last six years, Mushkegowuk Tribal Council has been conducting baseline studies into the health of nearby rivers. Vern Cheecho, director of lands and resources for the tribal council, says they’re gathering this data before any development starts in order to track future impacts of mining, road-building, and climate change.

Coutts of Noront says there will be no surface tailings or wasterock at Eagle’s Nest, because its waste will be trucked out, and the road will mostly be built on high lands and esker (glacially deposited sand or gravel) material to reduce costs and environmental impacts.

However, a 2015 report by the Northern Policy Institute wrote “string bogs and the muskeg will be a significant hurdle to overcome” when building the north-south road. Cheecho adds that the need to truck the mined materials out increases environmental risk: “There’s always the potential of something happening.”

“How protected are we, really, from upstream development?” he asks. “We don’t know. We’re not just downstream: we’re down-muskeg.”

Recent experience of mining in the area, such as the now-closed De Beers diamond mine near Attawapiskat First Nation that is accused of failing to report mercury and methyl mercury discharge data, also raises concerns for some local communities.

Achneepineskum of Matawa First Nations notes that he’s glad the federal government announced its regional assessment but remains concerned that the province continues to hand out permits without full consultation with First Nations. Achneepineskum says that Ontario’s understanding of consultation is very different from what they believe it should be and that “we want full participation of our membership.”

“This kind of land is most important to our future,” he says about the muskeg. “I’m talking about the world, in terms of climate change. We need to take care of our lands for our future generations.”




TAKE ACTION! Biggest coal mine in history. Stop the Massive Expansion of the Vista Coal Mine

We only have 2 weeks to stop the Trudeau Liberals from rubber stamping one of the biggest coal mines in Canadian history.

A US coal giant wants to double the size of the Northern Alberta Vista coal mine. If Big Coal gets their way, the expansion will infringe on Indigenous rights, pump as much pollution into the climate as 7 million cars, and violate Canada’s own commitment to phasing out coal at home and abroad. [1-3]

Environment Minister Wilkinson has until July 30th to decide whether the Vista coal mine should undergo an environmental assessment or not — a key step in the government’s decision whether or not this toxic project will get the green light.

Local opposition to the mine is strong, but voters across the country are totally unaware that a massive coal mine expansion is even being considered. Without hearing from people across Canada, Minister Wilkinson could cave to pressure from Big Coal.

If we blow the lid on this story and show Trudeau’s Liberals that there’s massive public opposition to the mine, it could be enough to convince them to put the brakes on the Vista Coal Mine and run a proper environmental assessment of the project — but with the deadline fast approaching, we have no time to waste. Will you sign the petition to hit the brakes on the Vista Coal Mine?


Indigenous Peoples and conservationists have urged Minister Wilkinson to require a federal environmental assessment. So far, he’s refused. [4]

Instead, Minister Wilkinson’s saying that Alberta can do the environmental assessment — but Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is doubling down on coal mining. His government can’t be trusted to be impartial. [5]

Now the project is under review again — and if we can convince the Liberals to do a proper environmental assessment, we’ll hit the brakes on the mine, give those campaigning to stop the mine more time to organize, and increase our chances of it never getting built at all.

Here’s how we’ll do it: climate voters got the Liberals elected, which means they’re vulnerable on their climate action and won’t want to be seen caving to Big Coal. A massive petition to Minister Wilkinson will show that this is a serious issue for voters — and could convince him there’s no way he can rubber stamp a massive coal mine under the radar.

But Minister Wilkinson has to make a decision in the next 14 days — which means we need everyone who’s reading this email to sign the petition now. Will you add your name?


We’ve been here before, Ronald. In February, the Teck Frontier tar sands mega-mine looked like a done deal.

But tens of thousands of Leadnow members joined with our friends at Indigenous Climate Action to pile the pressure on Minister Wilkinson — and together, we stopped the mine from going ahead.

I’m certain we can stop the Vista Coal Mine expansion too — and send a clear message to Minister Wilkinson and the Liberals: no fossil fuel mega-projects on our watch.


With determination,
Peter, Claire & Brittany for Leadnow

P.S. Speaking at a Leadnow event in June, Minister Wilkinson committed to “phasing out coal” as part of Canada’s Climate Plan. It seems that he’s confused “phasing out coal” with “dramatically expanding coal mining”. Tell Minister Wilkinson that we expect him to take climate action and not just talk about it.

[1] The Narwhal ( https://thenarwhal.ca/heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-the-vista-mine-albertas-thermal-coal-project-that-sidestepped-a-federal-review/)
[2] Global News (https://globalnews.ca/news/7181071/ecojustice-vista-coal-mine-hinton-alberta/)
[3] Government of Canada (https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/weather/climatechange/canada-international-action/coal-phase-out.html)
[4] See [2]
[5] CBC News (https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/bringing-coal-back)

Federal government reconsidering decision to stay out of Alberta coal-mine review

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson speaks to media during the Liberal cabinet retreat at the Fairmont Hotel in Winnipeg, on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. File photo by The Canadian Press/Mike Sudoma

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is reconsidering a decision in December to keep the federal government out of the approvals process for a major coal-mine expansion in Alberta.

The existing Vista mine, which is owned by the U.S. coal giant Cline Group, began shipping coal for export in May 2019 and the company is now looking to double, or possibly even triple, its output.

Fraser Thomson is a lawyer for Ecojustice, one of 47 environment, Indigenous, health and faith-based organizations that this week wrote to Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson asking him to take a second look at the expansion.

Wilkinson declined in December to order a federal impact assessment of the project near Hinton, Alta., between Edmonton and Jasper, saying the potential risks to the environment and Indigenous rights would be dealt with by a provincial approval process.

That was the ultimate in “climate hypocrisy,” Thomson said Wednesday.

Thomson said if this were a brand new mine, rather than an expansion, it would automatically trigger a federal assessment. Wilkinson has the power to order such an assessment of this one even though it is not mandatory, said Thomson.

In an emailed statement, Wilkinson’s spokeswoman Moira Kelly said the government is studying the issue anew and Wilkinson will make a fresh decision by the end of July.

Thomson said the federal government’s decision to wash its hands of the decision in December does not jibe with its three-year-old program to convince the world to wean itself off coal power. Canada and the United Kingdom jointly launched the Powering Past Coal Alliance in 2017, aiming to convince the world’s wealthiest countries to eliminate coal as a source of electricity by 2030, and the rest of the world to do so by 2050.

Canada is phasing coal power out domestically now, with the four provinces that still use coal to make electricity working on plans for stopping.

When the alliance began in November 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called coal “the dirtiest of all fossil fuels.”

“Let me be very blunt about this. Coal represents perhaps the greatest challenge to the world not meeting its climate-change targets,” Trudeau said. “Unless we reduce coal consumption, we are not going to be able to prevent catastrophic global warming.”

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is reconsidering a decision in December to keep the federal government out of the approvals process for a major coal-mine expansion in Alberta.

Until 2019, Canada also didn’t export very much coal for power generation at all. In 2018, of 32 million tonnes of coal exported by Canadian firms, less than two per cent was thermal coal for power. The rest is metallurgical coal, with different composition, used to make steel.

The Vista mine changed that, with as much as six million tonnes of coal produced each year, all of it for export and mostly to Asia. The expansion will increase that to between 13 million and 15 million tonnes.

Thomson said the phase-out of thermal coal in Canada is one of the best climate policies Canada has implemented. Coal accounts for less than 10 per cent of Canada’s electricity, but generates more than three-quarters of the greenhouse-gas emissions from electricity production.

“If we’re not OK burning coal at home we shouldn’t be OK feeding coal for consumption overseas,” he said. “If you are a country that is being lobbied by Canada to phase out coal, you’re going to see how hypocritical that request is if the very coal that you’re burning is coming from Canadian mines.”

About 38 per cent of the world’s power comes from coal now.

Besides studying the Vista project in particular, Kelly said the government is examining coal more broadly.

“We have also launched a strategic assessment on thermal coal to better understand the potential impact of thermal coal mining activity, to ensure effects within federal jurisdiction — especially related to climate change — are fully considered in the federal impact-assessment process,” she wrote.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2020.

Global fossil burning breaks record in 2019. Canadians in top 1%

Burning out of control

Despite decades of promises to prevent a climate crisis, the primary cause of it, global fossil fuel burning, continues to increase rapidly. Last year’s fossil burn broke all records.

That’s according to data released by the multinational oil and gas company BP, in the latest “BP Statistical Review of World Energy.”

To illustrate humanity’s relentless acceleration off the climate cliff, and Canadians’ role as top one-percenters, I’ve dug into the latest BP energy report and created the “missing charts” that show fossil burning trends — both here at home and worldwide.

Biggest global burn pile ever

My first chart shows BP’s data for global fossil fuel use since 1990. This is the combined energy from all fossil oil, gas and coal burned each year. As you can clearly see, humanity just keeps burning more and more.

Global fossil fuel burning 1990 to 2019

Back in 1992, the world gathered at the Rio Summit promising to prevent our collective fossil fuel pollution from unleashing a full-blown climate crisis onto future generations.

Back then, humans were burning around 300 exajoules (EJ) worth of fossil fuels each year.

But instead of reducing the threat as promised, we collectively cranked up the burning to a record 492 EJ last year.

(Note: An “exajoule” (EJ) is an energy metric used by BP and others to compare different sources of energy. It is roughly equal to the energy from burning 163 million barrels of oil.)

Since that Rio Summit, there has been another quarter century of annual international climate summits. And yet fossil fuel burning has risen in every one of those years.

Except one. In 2009, a sudden worldwide recession caused the one small dip you can see in the chart. However, the very next year fossil fuel burning increased by the most ever recorded. The short-lived hope that the dip and crisis might lead to sustained climate progress turned out to be an illusion as business-as-usual fossil burning returned both fast and furious.

What about the pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to create another yearly drop. But once again, global climate pollution is projected to rebound and continue rising afterwards, under business-as-usual. That’s according to a recent analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“It turns out that we are currently burning more fossil fuels per person than 99 per cent of humanity — nearly five times the global median.”

In that same report, the IEA puts forward an alternative to business-as-usual. They call it a global “sustainable recovery” investment plan. If widely adopted, this plan would prevent emissions from continuing to rise. Of course, plans like this have been created and promoted for decades now. The climate crisis has not been caused by a lack of options and plans. It’s been caused by a lack of will to implement them at the scale needed.

What about renewable energy?

One of the great climate hopes has been that rising amounts of renewables and nuclear energy would cause fossil fuel burning to start falling. My next chart shows what happened instead.

Global fossil fuel burning vs climate-safe energy 1990 to 2019

The green bars combine the BP data for all climate-safe energy sources. This includes all renewables (such as hydro, solar and wind) plus nuclear energy.

As you can see, climate-safe energy has indeed grown robustly over the last three decades — rising by 48 EJ.

But, as you can also see, fossil fuel burning has risen four times more — adding 193 EJ.

As a result, fossil burning hasn’t just been rising — it’s been pulling away from the climate-safe alternatives. In 1990, the energy gap was an eye-watering 255 EJ. Now it’s more than 400 EJ.

In the Greek myth symbolizing futility, Sisyphus had to repeatedly push the same boulder up the same hill. When it comes to humanity’s primary climate task — replacing fossil carbon burning — we are stuck in the same kind of endless struggle. Each year, the world builds heaps of new climate-safe energy sources. And yet, at the start of the next year, the amount that needs to be built is even larger. Our boulder keeps getting bigger.

One clean step forward and four dirty steps back.

Beware the siren’s song

One beguiling statistic is that fossil fuels are losing market share to renewables. That’s often held up as a sign of climate progress. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been so far. My next chart digs into the BP data to illustrate why.

Change in fossil fuel burning from 1990 to 2019. Market share and total amounts.

See that dotted line at the bottom? That shows the market share for fossil fuels since 1990. Sure enough, it has fallen from 87 per cent of global energy use, down to 84 per cent.

The reason that isn’t climate progress is that the climate doesn’t care about “market share” or how much renewable energy we use. What our climate system reacts to is the total amount of fossil fuels burned. That’s the solid black line on the chart. And it, clearly, hasn’t fallen. It’s rocketed up by 65 per cent. That’s what is fuelling the climate crisis. That’s what is threatening our future. And that’s the line that must fall quickly if we hope to preserve and pass along the safe and sane climate that most of us were fortunate enough to be born into.

Rising fossil burning is not climate progress. It is accelerating climate failure.

This chimera of falling-share-with-rising-amounts can continue for thousands of years, as long as the total energy market keeps growing. So, beware the lovely and comforting siren’s song of “worry not, fossil carbon is losing market share to renewables.” It deceptively hides the increasing fury of the storm waves breaking on the rocks dead ahead.

What about Canada?

The BP data shows that Canada is one of the world’s top-10 fossil burners — both in total amount and per person.

So, our actions and leadership in the fight for a safe climate matter more than those of nearly every other country. And Canada also has what it takes to help lead the world toward a safe climate future. We are one of the world’s wealthiest, most tech-savvy, get-it-done countries. And we pride ourselves on doing the right thing and being a force for good in the world.

Plus, politically, both Liberal and Conservative federal governments over the years have stated that Canada aims to be a global climate leader and have collectively pledged to reduce our climate pollution — nine times.

Canada fossil fuel burning 1990 to 2019

So, how are we doing?

My chart on the right shows Canada’s annual fossil burn since 1990.

You can see that we haven’t been cutting back as promised. We keep burning more.

One bright spot is that our coal burning has declined. But that relatively small bit of climate progress has been wiped out many times over by our increases in both fossil oil and fossil gas burning.

At this point, eliminating coal won’t even get us to back to our starting line. As the chart shows, our rising fossil oil and gas burn is now higher than all our fossil burning (including coal) was in 2005. That’s the baseline year we promised to make big cuts from in our Copenhagen and Paris Agreement climate targets.

If we want to start making climate progress in Canada, we’ll need to start making significant and sustained reductions in the amount of fossil oil and gas we burn, as well.

Renewables versus fossil in Canada

What role are renewables playing in Canada’s climate efforts? My chart below lets you compare how much of each type of energy we’ve added since 1990.

Change in fossil fuel use vs renewables in Canada from 1990 to 2019

The dotted-green line shows the increase in climate-safe energy since 1990. We’ve added 1.1 EJ worth.

The black line shows the increase in fossil fuel burning. As you can see, we’ve added twice as much fossil during that time.

In fact, we’ve continued to add twice as much fossil even since 2005 — our baseline climate year. As a result, climate-safe energy sources in Canada keep falling ever farther behind climate-damaging ones.

Increasing fossil burning is climate failure.

Increasing fossil burning more than climate-safe alternatives amplifies our exposure to the gathering climate crisis.

Compared to our peers

How does our fossil burn in Canada compare to our global peers?

My chart below compiles the BP data for fossil burning per person in the world’s top eight economies — which includes Canada. Combined, this group accounts for around 80 per cent of global GDP. Obviously, any solution to the climate crisis will require the action and leadership from all these countries.

Fossil fuel burning in 2019 in top-8 economies, including Canada

Two things immediately jump out at me about Canada.

First, Canada burns the most per person. We now burn even more than the Americans; twice as much as the Europeans; and three times the global average.

Second, Canadians are still burning as much as we did back in 1990. In fact, we burn a bit more per person now.

In contrast, the Americans cut their fossil burn by 15 per cent per person. The Europeans now burn 22 per cent less. And the U.K. burns 37 per cent less per person than they did in 1990. So, clearly it is possible for wealthy, technologically advanced countries to turn down the fossil burner — at least at the per-person level.

My final chart expands the scope to include the entire world. In this chart, the x-axis shows the running total of the global population. For example, it shows that half the world lives in countries that burn less than 33 GJ per person. While 90 per cent of humanity burns less than 135 GJ per year.

Where are Canadians?

Fossil fuel burning per capita in 2019. All countries and 100% of global population.


It turns out that we are currently burning more fossil fuels per person than 99 per cent of humanity — nearly five times the global median.

Does this look to you like Canada is doing our fair share in the fight to prevent a full-blown climate crisis?

It sure looks like a top one per cent climate failure to me. Fossil fuels don’t burn themselves. We choose to burn them. We could choose to burn less — just like many of our peers have. So far, we’ve chosen not to. In my opinion, our failure to aggressively turn down our oversized fossil burn is both excessively risky and morally wrong.

What now?

If Canadians want to finally get started in the right direction in the climate fight, where could we start? Here are a few options:

      • Create a plan. Canada is great at setting climate targets. Nine federal targets have been pledged so far. But we’ve never once taken the next step of creating a plan to fully achieve them. Zero for nine. No wonder we keep failing to meet them. We need a plan.
      • Adopt a climate policy framework that has worked elsewhere. For example, our Commonwealth peer, the U.K., cut their climate pollution by 42 per cent since 1990. In contrast, we’ve increased ours by 21 per cent. We could adopt the key parts of their innovative Carbon Budget law that has worked so well for them.
      • Require proposed new mega-projects prove they are compatible with our climate targets. We often don’t. Just a few examples: oilsandsLNGbio-energy.
      • Choose cleaner transport. One of the biggest climate polluting decisions Canadians ever make is the vehicles we buy. Sadly, Canadians are currently choosing to buy the world’s dirtiest new passenger vehicles. On average, each one sold locks in future demand to burn 21 more tonnes of gasoline and emit 66 tonnes of CO2. In most of Canada, however, choosing an electric vehicle instead will reduce those fuel emissions by 98 per cent. As a bonus, switching to electric transportation will dramatically reduce air pollution in our cities and our lungs. And, of course, there is that other hugely climate polluting transportation problem: jet-setting. Canadians have plenty of transportation options that will turn down our crazy-high fossil burn. If we want climate progress, we all need to start choosing options that are compatible with a safe climate future.

Canadian cliffs and fossils land in the world spotlight. Here’s why

Two sites in Atlantic Canada have been recognized as new UNESCO Global Geoparks, a designation that recognizes sites and landscapes of international geological significance.

The Cliffs of Fundy Global Geopark in Nova Scotia stretches along a roughly 165-kilometre drive, with about 40 designated sites from Debert to the Three Sisters cliffs past Eatonville, out to Isle Haute. The area is the only place on Earth where geologists can see the assembly of supercontinent Pangea 300 million years ago and its breakup 100 million years later.

The Discovery Global Geopark on Newfoundland and Labrador’s Bonavista Peninsula, a rugged coastline overlooking views of caves, arches and sea stacks, features fossils from what UNESCO describes as “one of the most significant transitions in Earth’s history” — the rise of animal life.

The two parks are among 15 new Global Geoparks approved by UNESCO at meetings in Paris and announced on July 10.

“I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to visit these outstanding places,” said Nikolaos Zouros, president of the UNESCO Global Geoparks Network, who came to visit both sites last year from his home in Lesvos Island, Greece.

“We collect pieces of information about this unique book of the story of our planet. These do not belong only to the people of Canada but [are] an important piece of evidence for the whole of humanity.”

The announcement is a point of pride for those involved in Nova Scotia. It also signals the beginning of more work left to do to make sure the designation does what they want it to do — bring tourists to the area and boost the local economy.

“The beauty of the designation is that it immediately puts you on the world stage,” said Beth Peterkin, manager of the Cliffs of Fundy Geopark. “It will let us reach audiences we could never, ever reach on our own.”

The New Brunswick side of the Bay of Fundy is already designated as the Stonehammer Geopark, located at the confluence of the Saint John and Kennebecasis rivers.

The Discovery Geopark was recognized, in part, for the Ediacaran fossils that can be found in the area. These fossils — some of which can be accessed from the boardwalk in Port Union — are an estimated 560 million years old, and show some of the earliest multi-cell organisms.

“With over 20 [organisms] present, these enigmatic fossils record the oldest architecturally complex multicellular lifeforms, providing a window to study the preface to the Cambrian Explosion,” wrote the UNESCO Global Geoparks Council in nomination papers.

“The Geopark preserves a dramatic transition in Earth history.”

Fossils for the Haootia quadriformis, believed to be the first example of muscle tissue in an animal, were found just two kilometres from Port Union’s museum.
“For most researchers who come here,

Newfoundland is the best place in the world to come to do the research, because we’re so easy and accessible to the fossils,” said Edith Samson, a longtime volunteer with the local Geopark committee.


—Emma Davie, Emily Chung, CBC

Does a Plastic Free July seem crazy right now? Maybe not

Plastic Free July sounds like a daunting and even somewhat crazy event to participate in, especially amid a pandemic when many businesses are refusing to allow reusable mugs and bags.

But advocates and participants say there are good reasons to take part this year in an event that’s aimed at helping people develop greener ways of doing things.

“Just starting them with a month is kind of a good way to build those habits,” said Ira Webb, program co-ordinator for Zero Waste Yukon, “and then hopefully people are carrying these things on throughout the year.”

Despite the name of the global event, participants don’t typically go totally plastic-free — they simply try to reduce their use of single-use plastic.

“It’s near impossible to go plastic-free in this day and age,” Webb said. “And I think you should just be proud of making little changes.”

Easy changes suggested by the Plastic Free Foundation, which started the movement in Australia in 2011, include:

      • Eliminating takeaway coffee cups by bringing a reusable cup.
      • Bringing your own reusable shopping bags instead of taking a throwaway plastic bag.
      • Refusing plastic straws when buying a drink, or bringing your own reusable one.
      • Finding plastic-free alternatives when buying fruits and vegetables.

The latter is one thing Webb is focusing on this year, along with growing his own food and baking his own bread.

“Definitely food is a difficult one on the North,” he said, but he noted it’s worthwhile because plastic there has to be shipped long distances to be recycled to even a limited extent.

While the other easy changes may be more difficult because of the pandemic, more than 100 health experts signed a statement last month saying that reusable, refillable containers are safe, based on evidence about the transmission of COVID-19.

They said that such systems are “an essential part of addressing the plastic pollution crisis and moving away from a fossil fuel-based economy.”

Webb hopes the pandemic won’t have too much of a negative impact on people who are trying to switch to greener habits.

On the other hand, Lisa Griffin of Moncton, N.B., who has been participating in Plastic Free July every year since it started, thinks that the pandemic has already had a positive environmental impact by forcing people to stay home and cook more.

“I feel like a lot of people have gained a lot of skills during this,” she said.

Griffin runs Festival Inspire, an annual arts event she runs each July, as a green festival that promotes Plastic Free July.

Festival-goers normally use reusable mugs and cups, cardboard and bamboo takeout containers and put the festival’s logo on their own clothing via transfers, rather than buying official festival merchandise.

But even that waste has been eliminated this year as a result of  the pandemic because the festival is cancelled.

Griffin thinks the biggest benefit of Plastic Free July is making people more aware of single-use plastic and encouraging people, including customers and suppliers, to talk about it, which sparks change.

“It’s really interesting to see how the community around you can transform,” she said. “I think it’s empowering.”


— Emily Chung, CBC