Canada Talks a Big Talk, But Are We Really Leading?

Man and woman standing in front of banner
November 05, 2021

Caption: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. Photo Credit: Number 10  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Canada Talks a Big Talk, but Are We Really Leading?

I’m a special kind of nerd for whom elections, federal budget announcements and international negotiations are tremendously exciting. That this continues to be true after so many years of shattered expectations is a testament to my deep well of optimism.

Five days into COP26, the UN conference on climate change, I am at once firmly deeply hopeful (confident even) that collectively we will rise to the challenge of the climate crisis, and profoundly frustrated by the disconnect between what is being said—especially by the Government of Canada—and what is being done. 

Sitting in this tension are two very important lessons.

First, that language really matters. 

As citizens we have a responsibility to pay attention, to think critically, and to go beyond the headlines. If we were to base our assessment of Canada’s track record on climate action on the Prime Minister’s press releases, it would be fair to believe that we are in emergency mode and that our federal government is doing everything in its power to address the climate crisis. This simply isn’t true.

Two key Canadian announcements at COP26 bear this out.

The first was on Monday, when as part of his remarks, Prime Minister Trudeau stated that “Canada is the first major oil-producing country moving to capping and reducing pollution from the oil and gas sector to net zero by 2050.” To be clear they didn’t announce a cap, rather they re-announced their plan to set a cap. This might be good news. But only if they don’t follow the same course as in 2016 when, as part of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, emissions from the oil sands sector were capped at 100 megatonnes(mt)/year, nearly 30 mt above oil sands emissions at the time.

The second came this morning when Canada joined several others in committing to “end international public financing for fossil fuels” by the end of 2022. Key to this statement is the word, “international.” This is not an end to the public financing or subsidizing of fossil fuels in Canada (despite commitments dating back to 2009), but just that we won’t finance other countries’ fossil fuels. Progress? Yes. Leadership? Not even close.

The second lesson is that relationships matter, communities matter, and it is through these relationships that we will achieve climate justice.

In the multitude of events happening around the negotiations taking place in Glasgow, we are learning about local collaborations of youth, of Indigenous Peoples, and of people of faith that are making a difference in tangible ways.

Today I learned about the tremendous work of Indigenous Clean Energy (ICE), an Indigenous-led, Ottawa-based social enterprise focused on collaboration and capacity-building towards a clean energy future. I left the session uplifted and encouraged. Why? Because it is clear that ICE is making a tangible difference in reducing emissions and building community power by supporting the transition to clean energy. And, because I know that this is just one initiative among many unfolding in Canada and around the world by people driven by love for the created world and the pursuit of justice. 

The importance of relationships was reinforced first during our delegation coffee break when we came together in community to share, to listen, to lament, to encourage, and to pray, and then again during our engagement in the United Church of Canada’s COP 26: Climate Justice Now workshop. In this session, people from across the country and across generations gathered to learn more about COP26, to hear about what our delegation is up to, and to explore how we, as people of faith, can build power to confront the climate challenge. The love and joy and hope that was shared was palpable and powerful. We are not alone. We live in God’s world.

There are so many ways to contribute to the change we need. I encourage everyone to carefully discern how best they can use their gifts in ways that are both useful and fulfilling. I, for one, will continue to pay close attention to what our political leaders are saying and carefully assess how that aligns (or not) with what they are doing. When there is a gap, I will name it, and I will call for true leadership, keenly and gratefully held in the knowledge that I do so as part of a strong, compassionate, and hope-filled community. 

Karri Munn-Venn, senior policy analyst for Citizens for Public Justice and Advocacy chair of the For the Love of Creation, is a member of the joint United Church of Canada and For the Love of Creation virtual delegation to COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

You can follow the delegation #UCCanCOP26 and #FLCCOP26 and check back here for personal reflections from the delegates in the coming days.