The environmental movement—which aims to protect and preserve the natural world and its resources— has an extensive history in Canada. Modern conservation efforts, social movements, activism and policies to address environmental concerns have been occurring since the 1960s, and include the establishment of organizations such as the Canadian Environmental Network, and the Solar Energy Society of Canada.
Mobilizing for Climate Change
The rise of environmentalism in Canada is particularly apparent in the increasing success of the Green Party of Canada. The Green Party was founded in 1983 to draw attention to environmental issues in Canadian politics. And although the Green Party is yet to see much by way of electoral success, they continue to pressure other parties to ensure that environmental concerns remain on the policy agenda. Still, with the intensifying global focus on climate change the Green Party has been gaining popularity; they secured 1,162,361 votes in 2019 (nearly twice the amount of votes received in the 2015 federal election.)
Some of the momentum experienced by the Green Party may be attributable to new energy and new organizing around climate change. In 2019, Greta Thunberg, became an international icon after leading student strikes for climate action in her home country of Sweden, which then spread around the world. Her “Fridays for Future” marches have attracted millions of people around the world, including roughly 315,000 people in Montreal alone. These marches were organized as a way to show political leaders that climate change is an important issue, to which many people–young and old–are committed. Further, these marches and relevant protests aim not only encourage people to make better choices for the planet, but also to hold their political leaders accountable for the consequences of climate change.
The climate protests inspired by Thunberg that occurred in 2019, coincided with the federal election, and the increasing popularity of the Green Party, with other political leaders and parties taking notice. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for example, showcased his support for the climate movement by attended the climate strike in Montreal. All other party leaders, with the exception of then-Conservative leader Andrew Sheer, attended climate strikes or overtly voiced their support for the movement.
The Paris Agreement and the Carbon Tax
In addition to grassroots organizing, support for climate change has been evident in public policy including, most notably Canada’s signing of the Paris Agreement–an international agreement signed in 2015 by Canada and 195 other countries—that aims to “limit the global average temperate to below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.” The objectives of the Paris Agreement can be used as a measure for evaluating Canada’s contribution to fighting climate change, although being a signatory does not mean that Canada will live up to its commitments, as Canada has failed to meet past targets following the 1992 Rio Summit, under the 2005 Kyoto Protocol, and the 2009 Copenhagen Accord.
Following the Paris Agreement, the federal government announced the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. This framework sought to implement a carbon price which would allow all provinces to use their own pricing systems if they coincide with government set standards. The Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act was also passed to introduce a federal carbon pricing system, a so-called “carbon tax,” meant to dissuade both provinces and industries from producing and using fossil fuel energy. There were two parts to the act, 1) a fuel charge on the fuel imported and produced in the provinces and territories and, 2) an output-based pricing system placed on industries if their emissions exceed a set level. In 2022, this framework will be reviewed by the federal government to record the progress of the current pricing system and confirm the next steps.
The commitment to the Paris Agreement and subsequent actions have occurred under the Liberal Government, and it is no surprise that Justin Trudeau and other leaders attended climate strike marches, while former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer did not (given the anti-carbon tax position of the Conservative Party). Notably, during the 2019 election Scheer said about carbon pricing that “his first order of business if elected, would be its repeal”.
Despite the Pan-Canadian Framework and the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act and other new policies under the Trudeau administration, not enough is being done. Despite a reduction in emissions intensity, for example, Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions have steadily risen since the early 2000s (see Figure 1 below). As of 2020, Climate Action Tracker, an independent analysis tool for government climate actions measured against the goals of the Paris Agreement, and gave Canada an “insufficient” rating. Their analysis concludes that Canada’s actions, including its policy projections are not consistent with limiting the increase of global climate change to less than 1.5-degrees, and putting Canada on the path to fail to meet emissions targets as it has in the past. In this context, the climate strike movement in Canada may be seen as a response to governments’ ongoing failures to meet emissions targets.
The voices of hundreds of thousands of Canadians inspired by Greta Thunberg and other climate strikers around the globe is one way to hold governments to account and to pressure their goals and decisions around climate change. The climate strikes, and the ongoing need to advocate for decision-making that reflects the commitments of the Paris, are as important as ever, and increasingly more so.
- A Canadian Encyclopedia timeline on the environmental movement
- CBC Video: “Is Canada Doing Enough to Avoid a ‘Climate Catastrophe‘”
- An explainer from The Narwhal about Canadian political parties’ approach to environmentalism
- An interview with David Suzuki: “Has Environmentalism Failed?”
Contributors: Marissa Hughes Clarke, Addison Fach, Gurleen Gill, Sydney Mather, Sarah Munye, Sundus Salame, Haya Shahid, Mackenzie Venator