Two holidays fall on April 22 this year – Easter and Earth Day. While 2.2 billion Christians joyfully celebrate the resurrection of Christ, an estimated billion people will mark Earth Day in what has become the most widely celebrated secular holiday in the world.
Earth Day began in 1970 as a counter-cultural, advocacy-oriented day focussed on environmental protection in the United States. But despite its activist origins, Earth Day – in Canada, at least – has seemed more attuned to platitudes and park clean-ups than serious environmental protection.
Last month, Environment and Climate Change Canada released a report that said Canada and the rest of the world must “reduce carbon emissions to near zero early in the second half of the century” in order to secure “limited warming.” The announcement came during Lent, a time of reflection as well as action for Christians involved with a campaign called “Give it up for the Earth!” Led by Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), this annual campaign encourages individuals, families and faith communities to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while also calling on the federal government to improve Canadian climate and energy policy.
This year, Catherine McKenna, the federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, joined CPJ’s campaign with a promise to reduce her use of single-use plastics and to adopt a plant-based diet. And on March 29, Minister McKenna announced that the Government of Canada would be consulting Canadians “on eliminating inefficient non-tax fossil fuel subsidies.” These are all important steps, considering the global community has less than 12 years to dramatically change course and avoid serious climate consequences, according to a statement from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last October.
FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES
On April 22, 2016, the Paris Agreement on climate change opened for signatures at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York. World leaders, including Prime Minister Trudeau, gathered to sign this historic agreement. It was a tremendously exciting moment!
By signing, world leaders signalled their support for ambitious action to address climate change and to limit global warming to well below 2°C over pre-industrial levels. In December of that year, Prime Minister Trudeau, along with the premiers of Canada’s provinces and territories, delivered a new framework for climate action.
Since then, however, progress has been slow, and in some cases stalled out completely. Though the federal government and some provinces and municipalities have taken a few positive steps – developing new regulations, phasing out coal-fired electricity and pricing carbon emissions, for example – other provinces have put the breaks on climate action altogether.
“The slow action on climate change,” says Julie Gelfand, federal Commissioner on the Environment and Sustainable Development, “is disturbing. For decades, successive federal governments have failed to reach their targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the government is not ready to adapt to a changing climate. This must change.” Too many pledges have fallen through. At the G20 summit in 2009, Canada joined world leaders in promising to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies over the medium term. In 2015, the commitment was included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Liberal election platform. At the June 2016 North American Leaders’ Summit, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico once again pledged to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.
“While fossil fuels play an important role in Canada’s economy, their consumption is the main source of [GHG] emissions,” Commissioner Gelfand says. “Fossil fuels also have a negative impact on the health of Canadians. Furthermore, inefficient subsidies to the fossil fuel sector encourage wasteful consumption, undermine efforts to address climate change, and discourage investment in clean energy sources.”
Minister McKenna’s consultation will focus on the definitions of “fossil fuel subsidy” and “inefficient,” and also seek input on anything that might be missing from the framework.
Now in its third year, CPJ’s “Give it up for the Earth!” has consistently called for the end of public financing for the fossil fuel sector. Instead, it urges the federal government to strategically invest the savings in renewable energy, energy efficiency and skills development – and to implement a just transition that will reduce emissions, create good jobs and support communities.
It is no longer a question of what needs to be done, but when.
Perhaps this can be the start of a year of action. Action on the scale that will make Earth Day 2020 – the 50th anniversary of the occasion – truly worthy of celebration.