Thousands of Canadians took to the streets of Quebec City, Quebec on Saturday to call on their country to curb tar sands growth take action to address the threat of climate change.
The march, which was organized by the environmental and social coalition Act on Climate, drew about 25,000 participants from across Canada, including representatives from First Nations, environmental groups, unions, and student groups. The protesters’ march comes a few days before Canada plans to host a provincial summit on climate change in Quebec City, during which the country’s premiers will discuss their plans in the lead-up to the U.N. climate talks this November in Paris.
One of the messages the protesters wanted to send to the premiers was their opposition to proposed tar sands pipelines like Northern Gateway and Energy East. Those projects, opponents say, would endanger Canada’s land and water and accelerate the fossil fuel production that drives climate change.
“You can either protect our climate or you can develop the tar sands, but you cannot do both at the same time,” Karel Mayrand, Quebec director of the David Suzuki Foundation, told the Globe and Mail. “We’re worried that premiers will meet and say yes to protecting our climate and, at the same time, yes to oil infrastructure such as pipelines and expanding oil sands production.”
Still, though the protesters were targeting the premiers ahead of their upcoming meeting, some stressed that provincial action on climate wouldn’t be enough to curb Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“We can’t see effective climate action in Canada without the federal government,” Adam Scott of Canada’s Environmental Defense told the Globe and Mail.
Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canadians have seen little meaningful action on climate change. Harper’s been a staunch supporter of Canada’s tar sands industry since he assumed office in 2006. Under his administration, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol — an agreement the prime minister once called a “socialist scheme” — in 2011, and cut hundreds of jobs from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in 2013.
The Harper administration has also been accused of trying to silence anti-tar sands activists and muzzle government scientists and meteorologists in an attempt to stop certain information on climate change and environmental issues from reaching the public.
A report from last month underscores the importance of Canada’s federal government taking climate change seriously. The report, which was published by 70 Canadian academics, found that Canada could get 100 percent of its electricity from low-carbon sources like wind, solar, and hydropower by 2035 and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. But, in order to do so, the federal government should implement major policy changes, including a nationwide tax on carbon and an elimination of fossil fuel subsidies — including those that go to the country’s tar sands industry.
That type of action isn’t likely under the Harper government. But Canada is holding its federal election in October, meaning that the country could soon have a prime minister who’s more committed than the current administration to taking serious action on climate change.