Protests against Canada in Madrid, Spain. Dec. 11, 2019. Photo by Indigenous Climate Action / Allan Lissner
Pity the poor staffers assigned to Canada’s negotiating team at COP25, they must be suffering whiplash.
Walk the halls of this sputtering summit and you’ll find UN delegates gratefully heralding Canada as a bulwark against the global tide of authoritarians and extraction populists ignoring climate calamity. You’ll run into climate advocates praising Canada’s pledge to go zero carbon. But step into a side conference and you’ll find a panel of carbon experts PowerPointing the pollution impacts of Canada’s rapidly expanding oil and gas industry. They’ve ranked Canada 55th out of the 61 biggest countries in the world, rating our performance “very low.”
Need some fresh air? Outside, activists from every corner of the world are protesting Teck Resources’ proposed mega-mine in the Alberta oilsands which the feds need to nix or approve in the next couple months. Canada’s delegates would probably rather stick near the negotiating rooms where observers praise them for pushing stronger international climate rules. Or maybe head over to the finance panel where the United Nations rep is showcasing Canada’s Just Transition strategy for coal workers as a model for the world to follow.
After a miserable day mired in the inanities of United Nations procedures, you might want to head over to the Canadian embassy for a quiet drink. But it might not be so quiet because there you will find Indigenous youth who have occupied the reception area in protest, calling out the government for authorizing pipelines despite First Nations opposition, and approving mega projects which threaten their homes and future.
Canada’s experience at the Madrid COP is a bit of a microcosm of the country’s predicament. Canadians overwhelmingly want more ambitious action against climate change. Two-thirds of voters made that clear in the last election.
The federal government has brought in a package of climate legislation better than most in the world. Our electricity is among the greenest anywhere and is moving towards zero carbon. Provinces with good EV programs are selling electric cars as fast as dealers can get them on the lots.
In fact, 85% of the country is pretty much on track to meet the climate targets Canada pledged to the international community.
And yet, despite our tiny percentage of the world population, Canada is the ninth largest climate polluter in the world. The main reason is that we’re a top-five producer of oil and gas. Back when most of us hadn’t realized the climatic dangers of burning fossil fuels, we built an industry that is a true wonder of engineering and technology.
We should have recognized, even then, that the foundation of this engineering marvel was crushing human rights while poisoning, fragmenting and, in many cases, obliterating the land and territories of Indigenous people.
But most Canadians benefited greatly from the wealth generated by the fossil fuel boom. What’s different today is that we are belatedly reckoning with the brutalities of colonialism. And now we do know — we know the climate impacts of burning oil, gas and coal. But we are only just beginning to reckon with these fossil fuel impacts. We are phasing out coal use domestically. But with oil and gas, we are doing exactly the opposite — we are doubling down, massively expanding the industry year after year. Fossil fuel production has levelled off in most countries, but it is still growing globally. About 85 per cent of that global expansion of new oil and gas projects is happening in the U.S. and Canada. MORE