A Traumatic Timeline: Climate Change in Canada, 2010-2011.
You might say that it’s a hard time to be a Canadian who cares about climate change, let alone someone who tries to do something about it. I often find myself explaining why Canada is the biggest climate criminal; how our government is determined to do whatever it takes to stifle action, or even debate, around climate change. But I’ve been encountering some skepticism, or at least some forgetfulness, when it comes to Canada’s embarrassing climate track record.
So here’s a recap of Canada and climate change in the last year. Hopefully it will help put our frustrations into context. One thing to keep in mind, is that our country has a long, long record of inaction. Though the events of the past year have been outrageous, they are only a part of a much longer, and much more startling, timeline of inaction and poor climate policy.
So lets rewind. It is November, 2010. The climate movement has finally recovered somewhat from the blow we suffered in Copenhagen the year before. We have hope in our hearts, because Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act had already passed through the house on its third reading, and only had to get the final approval from the unelected Senate. It contained real, ambitious targets for emissions reduction 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, and a long-term target of 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Senate is not normally a place where highly supported Bills go to die, so we felt that this might finally be our chance for good climate policy. Unfortunately, in an extremely undemocratic move, the bill was dead before we knew it, with no debate, no notice. Outrage spread the country, as once again, the death of C-311 meant that we had absolutely nothing to show for ourselves going into COP16 in Cancun, Mexico at the end of November.
We faced failure once again at COP16. No binding deal, the voices of those most impacted were shut out, and Canadians were, unsurprisingly, not represented by our government. A government, that instead of negotiating on behalf of people, negotiated on behalf of sticky black bitumen buried beneath Alberta. In addition, Canada actively blocked negotiations, and put forward false solutions, thereby filibustering their way into an empty deal .
As the negotiations drew to a close we were not entirely surprised, but still thoroughly disappointed about the outcome. In the months following, climate change continued to be kept out of the media spotlight, Environment Canada scientists were censored from speaking about their findings, and environmental organizations continued to do remarkable things with very little resources (after years of funding cuts).
In May, we were faced with a federal election. We had an opportunity to make new commitments for climate action, to do things better. Youth across the country held vote mobs, encouraging youth to vote. Climate change was an issue that youth were asking their candidates about. In response, politicians came out a wide range of commitments in their platforms. Some were ambitious, committing to ending subsidies to big oil, while others stood by our weak commitment to reducing GHGs 17% below 2005 levels. Ultimately, the government that had embarrassed us on the international stage for the past 5 years won a majority, with no intentions in changing its abysmal behaviour.
Another wave of cuts struck in the summer. In July, the Environment Assessment Agency lost 43% of its funding from the government, essentially gutting its capacity to assess projects and policies that have the potential to be disastrous to the environment. This means that projects like the tar sands, fracking, and off-shore oil drilling will not be initially, or continuously examined with the same watchful eye. Perhaps the most offensive of these cuts, is the complete loss of funding for the project within the CEAA that deals with consulting with aboriginal people specifically.
The outrageous cuts continue. Environment Canada is now downsized, with 700 less people working in the department than before. Many of them have been laid off, some of them have been moved to other government departments, as well as an additional loss of 31% of its budget for operating and grants. Not even two months later, the Canadian Environment network, a network that worked as a communications groups between civil society and the Federal government, lost every penny of its funding. A relationship that had been strong, and vital for Canadians for 34 years was terminated because of “fiscal restraint”, while in the same time “the government awarded contracts totaling 32 billion dollars to build ships for the Canadian Navy and Coast Guard. It has also committed to spending another 29 billion dollars for 65 fighter jets.”
And so here we are. It is November 2011, and we are ready to head into another round of climate negotiations. But no matter what happens at the negotiations, we clearly have a lot of work to do in informing our government, and fellow Canadians, what a terrible job the government has been doing in protecting our future even here on Canadian soil.