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Climate Change: Where Does Canada Stand?

Trudeau’s re-election is concerning for the environment, so what are the solutions?

Growing climate change anxieties are near-universal amongst the younger generation; we all share this very rational fear of the near future with respect to global warming and the environment. Most of us have encountered at least a handful of articles and informative videos about what our routine will look like in a couple of decades – from checking the pollution levels every morning on the weather app to erasing Venice from the list of potential future vacation destinations. Predictions for the future of the climate are grim, and we are left wondering what will become of us. 

Compared to other countries around the globe, Canada is doing much worse than others and the circumstances are dire. Canada is still a top-ten greenhouse emitter, while the Climate Change Report does not give very reassuring results, reflecting some of the true danger that our failure to act presents. It is alarming to know that the pace of climate change in Canada is twice as bad as the global rate. This pace will only grow exponentially until something more concrete and constant is done to combat it. This growth will result in serious long-term consequences, with intensified weather extremes, water supply shortages, coastal flooding, rising sea levels and warming ahead. 

However, it is important to keep in mind that these fates are not final. Rather, they depend heavily on the course of action Canada takes next, specifically when it comes to the rate and magnitude of climate change under high versus low emissions.

Not everyone is resigned to a future of climate disasters. In fact, younger generations have been raised with the knowledge of impending climate catastrophe, and are more prepared and educated on the topic of climate change than former generations. Despite this awareness, people are still left feeling powerless due to their lack of opportunities to actually achieve considerable changes. The operations of just 100 corporations make up 71 per cent of global emissions, and despite the pleas of everyday people, governments refuse to enact concrete policies and regulations. The fate of our planet is currently held in the hands of the old, powerful, and wealthy whose only concern is financially and politically benefitting from the current status quo and the disasters to come.

The Global Protest of Climate Change Justice march – part of 1,500 global #Uprootthesystem strikes – that occurred on September 24 in Montreal gave a clear understanding of the public demand for change. The message is clear that change from our current system of environmental exploitation is an urgent necessity. Within this, it is imperative that this message is sent with specific targets and requirements in mind. In other words, we need to hold more specific people and corporations as well as the government accountable. 

With all this in mind, the re-election of Trudeau might not be the greenest event for Canada’s environmental future. Back in April 2021, he announced further efforts to be put into climate change by reducing emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 under the Paris Agreement’s standards. He also invested $53.6 billion in green recovery and planned to work more with global leaders for the cause. Despite these promises, Trudeau has continually failed to act, and prioritizes performative lip-service over actual change.

All of these efforts were only started towards the end of Trudeau’s first tenure as Prime Minister, and probably served a more strategic political purpose than he cares to admit. His focus shifted to issues related to climate change as elections approached, with no mentions of his overall disrespect for Indigenous sovereignty or his signing of controversial pipeline projects. This pattern is expected to continue in the years to come for his leadership, only the more time passes, the less opportunities we get, and the more concerning the situation becomes. 

If we take a look at Canada’s climate reality under Trudeau, its greenhouse gas emissions went from 707 to 730 megatonnes between 2016 and 2019. The air quality in Vancouver was recorded the worst of any major city in the world, and Litton, BC, saw its highest temperature ever recorded in Canada with a record of 49.5  degrees celsius, without mentioning the hundreds of wildfires in British Columbia and all around the country. This is blatantly incompatible with the image Trudeau (and Canada as a whole) puts out as a global leader, as well as with specific climate goals previously mentioned.

As pessimistic, dark, and scary as this might all sound, there are still solutions and better alternatives toward which we should turn to for real, effective change, the most important of which is Indigenous land management. It is crucial to note here that while Indigenous people make up about 5 per cent of the world’s population, they protect 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity, making any movement to protect the climate inextricable from Indigenous sovereignty.

Part of the larger issue with colonial climate change solutions is that they rarely challenge the extractive nature of our current system. Indigenous land management and Land Back presents a method of environmental care that has had long standing effectiveness in comparison to the environmental ruin that has been enacted since colonization and industrialization. By returning power to Indigenous communities and upholding their sovereignty, we have the potential to mitigate some of the effects of climate change and participate in more long-term climate solutions. 

Indigenous land management takes a more relational worldview when it comes to the environment – one that respects the interdependency of the ecosystem and all those who reside within it. This moves away from the obsessive individualism and extraction of our capitalist system, wherein concerns are important only so long as they do not threaten profit. Instead, it goes into a more ethical and reciprocal relationship with the environment that is necessary given our state of impending climate emergency. Increasingly, colonial scientists have turned to Indigenous land management in attempts to fight climate change, for example with fire-control practices in Australia. Within Canada there is an oppositional relationship between Indigenous land management and the Canadian settler-state – attempts to assert Indigenous sovereignty and environmental protection are met with violence by the state. Indigenous people have continually fought for their land, taken care of it,  and know it more than anyone else, as Indigenous people have been here for far longer than any settler present.

Indigenous communities are also among the communities most affected by climate changes onset and consequences. Their close relationship with the land, reliance on it for subsistence purposes, and higher likelihood to be in severe impact regions (such as coastlines) all put Indigenous people at greater risk for feeling the impacts of severe climate events and changes. 

This is why standing for Indigenous communities also means fighting for climate change action, and vice versa, as these two causes are intimately related and mutually inclusive. Each one clarifies and completes the values and principles of the other. This is also why exploitation of Indigenous peoples through capitalist and colonialist systems have such a strong impact on climate change. 

Many actions can be undertaken by donating, volunteering, or giving more voice to National Indigenous Organizations. Some of these were invited by Canada to participate in its delegation to the 23rd Conference of the Parties include the Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Metis National Council, and Native Women’s Association of Canada. Other indigenous environmental NGOs include Akwesasne Task Force, National Aboriginal Forestry Association, National Aboriginal Lands Manager Association, and Aboriginal Links International

Taking a closer look at McGill’s effort towards climate change, some measures have been put in place to be more environmentally friendly. As a matter of fact, the main strategy is called the McGill University Climate & Sustainability Strategy 2020-2055. Its main goals or long-term targets are to attain a Platinum sustainability rating by 2030, to become zero-waste by 2035, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040. It is applied through the participation and contribution of everyone; from students, to staff and faculty. The goal is also to achieve this strategy in an inclusive and sustainable way without functioning at the expense of anyone or any other community. Despite this, McGill refuses to divest from the Coastal GasLink pipeline, making many of these efforts fall flat in the face of larger structural change.

While McGill’s Vision 2020 indicates an action plan, it still has significant weaknesses in supporting Indigenous communities and breaking from the extractive colonial system. It does focus on different aspects such as education and academics through research (Community-University Research Exchange) and teaching (McGill School of Environment or School of Social Work, courses like ENVR 401 and GEOG 302), and sustainability through the bases of UNESCO’s standards. However, most of these fail to meaningfully include the Indigenous community. It still falls behind in the domains of energy, green buildings, water conservation, and planning and still has some progress to be made on the transportation, waste diversion, and procurement levels. Even when remembering last year’s protests on campus against the building of the pipeline, little to no action has been undertaken by McGill to help answer the genuine concerns of its students.

In practice, enacting concrete change would require far more incorporation of Indigenous efforts into programs and strategies linked to McGill’s sustainability and environmental initiatives. This would also mean drawing more substantial links between the two interrelated causes of Indigenous sovereignty and climate change by letting Indigenous and environmental organizations work together on the same projects and events. While it is important to ensure that climate change movements do not lose momentum, it is more important still for these movements to actively recognize and reflect the colonial roots of environmental extraction in order to effectuate structural change.