Fernando Garci-Crespo: Trudeau's cabinet picks create an opening to announce tougher emissions targets

A young environmentalist sees reason for hope in the face of a climate emergency

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      By Fernando Garci-Crespo

      It could not feel more eerily fitting than to write this piece two weeks after climate-exacerbated floods ripped a highway apart and sealed Vancouver from the rest of B.C. Less than six months, ago we were facing a completely different, yet related extreme weather event, a heat wave that killed hundreds of British Columbians. This was the deadliest natural disaster in Canadian history and the response from the government was so underwhelming Human Rights Watch wrote up a report, calling it a failure.

      Add to that this summer’s extensive forest fires and droughts. Forest fires, heat waves, floods, droughts—when I began my work as a climate activist, I never believed British Columbia would be hit this hard, this early by the climate crisis. As an immigrant from a country in the Global South (Mexico), I always considered my climate work to be mostly a form of giving back to my homeland and vulnerable countries like it. I always felt B.C. was a sheltered place, a good place to be in during the climate emergency.

      I felt like a Frenchman in 1939 feeling reassured by the Maginot Line, foolishly thinking that he would not face the same fate as the Poles in the hands of the Germans. It turns out there is no good place to be in during a climate emergency. Countless British Columbians will lose their homes, their livelihoods, and their loved ones to the climate emergency, to floods, droughts, heat waves and forest fires. We are seeing the effects of 1.2° C of global warming since the start of the Industrial Revolution. With our world on track for 2.4° C, the future is daunting.

      Since the Paris Agreement was signed, Canada is the only G7 nation to have increased its greenhouse gas emissions. While the Liberals’ $600 million in fossil-fuel subsidies are a problem contributing to this, their policies are not the elephant in the room. It is hard for any federal government to reduce national emissions when the provincial governments of B.C., Alberta, and Ontario outspent the federal government on fossil-fuel subsidies. At the end of the day most natural resources and energy policies are under provincial jurisdiction.

      As imperfect as the 42 to 45 percent emission reduction targets the Trudeau Liberals have may be, none of Canada’s highest-polluting provinces have 2030 targets that are more ambitious than the Liberals’. This means that even if all provinces meet their currently intended emission targets by 2030, Canada as a whole would come short of meeting its targets.

      B.C., a province that was once a climate leader, is now a climate laggard. In 2017, the B.C. NDP got elected on a promise of progressive change and climate ambition, yet in practice it has passed legislation that will triple fossil-fuel subsidies in comparison to the B.C. Liberals and oversaw a ramp-up of old-growth deforestation. Discontent among the climate activists in the party is growing, with the youth wing of the B.C. NDP earlier this summer calling on the party to abandon its plans for fossil-fuel expansion.

      Yet so far, the pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Just a week after COP26, in the midst of catastrophic flooding in the Lower Mainland, the RCMP and B.C. government used highly militarized and inhumane measures to remove indigenous Wet’suwet’en people engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience against the fracked-gas-supplied pipeline being built on Wet’suwet’en lands. The picture is grim.

      For young environmentalists like myself, it is easy to resort to rage when looking at the heat waves and the floods and the rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It is indeed a constant source of anxiety and dread for me and many others. But there are slivers of hope. The text coming out of COP26 is not great, but it is the first time the text coming out of one of these summits acknowledges the need to faze down our usage of fossil fuels in order to stop the climate crisis.

      The negotiations from this COP also put us closer than ever to materializing the $100-billion-a-year promise in climate finance from Global North to the Global South. Finally, toward the end of COP26, we also saw nations recognize that we are not on track to 1.5° C warming, and that over the next year governments must update their targets to close the gap. This gives Canada a chance to rise to the occasion and realize that we are not doing enough, that we need to be bolder, and have the political courage to meet the test of time.

      I’ve spoken at, helped organize, and participated in numerous environmental protests, many of which were organized to protest TMX specifically, so I’ll be the first to say Trudeau Liberals have a spotty record on climate. But I think that now we are starting to see things change for the better.

      In 2021 the Liberals ran with the boldest climate platform they’ve ever had—one may argue not bold enough, but it was a huge improvement from the 2019 platform. Justin Trudeau’s announcements of a cap on oil and gas emissions, an end to thermal coal exports, and an end to public finance for foreign fossil-fuel projects, and the plan to hike the carbon price to $170 a tonne by 2030 are all game changers.

      Perhaps the most important change is in Trudeau’s cabinet, with Steven Guilbeault, one of Canada’s boldest and most prominent climate justice activists, as his minister of environment and climate change, and with Jonathan Wilkinson, former environment minister, as minister of natural resources. With a climate justice champion like Guilbeault at the helm of Environment and Climate Change Canada and Liberal members voting to endorse a Green New Deal, there is a clear opening for the Liberals to accelerate their ambition, pass a just transition act, and raise their climate targets.

      It is a hard task to mobilize a nation to transform itself when most premiers are still enamoured with fossil fuels, but decades ago Justin Trudeau’s father showed that when the federal government shows political courage, it can bring the nation together and reign in provincial governments who threaten the future of this country. Justin Trudeau and Steven Guilbeault have the chance to be climate heroes. Let’s hope they take it.

      Fernando Garci-Crespo is a sustainable-development activist, political organizer, and advocate for mental health.