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Indigenous guardians sound alarm about climate change impacts in Canada

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  • VANCOUVER — Growing up in a small, remote First Nations community in northwestern British Columbia, Jarett Quock found he faced racism and stereotypes from non-Indigenous people whenever he left the reserve.

    The treatment took a toll on him, damaging his pride in his Tahltan Nation roots. It was only after he began work as an Indigenous guardian — monitoring the effects of climate change on his territory — that he recovered his confidence.

    “Being a guardian has helped me so much on a personal level,” Quock, 31, said in an interview.

    “Being able to go out there and connect to the land and connect to the people and having that sense of pride when you go home has helped me overcome a lot of obstacles in my life.”

    More than 40 Indigenous communities in Canada have launched guardian programs, which employ local members to monitor ecosystems and protect sensitive areas and species. At a national gathering in Vancouver this week, guardians raised alarm about environmental degradation and climate change in their territories.

    A massive wildfire swept through Quock’s community of Telegraph Creek last August, destroying 21 homes and damaging many others. Climate change was partly to blame for the rapid spread of the flames through tinder-dry vegetation, said Quock.

    “By the middle of July, we had our green leaves already turning brown. It was so hot with no rain,” he said, adding that the fire first broke out near a swamp that would typically have been moist enough to allow firefighters to contain the blaze. “It shouldn’t have gotten that big.”

    Quock helped design the community’s first guardian program, which involved helping conservation officers monitor licensed hunters. He also launched an education program aimed at stopping garbage dumping and unnecessary burning in camps, he said.

    The program has since grown from being focused mostly on hunting to more of a land stewardship program, monitoring water quality, protecting caribou and removing problem wildlife, he said.

    A major focus is monitoring the effects of climate change, Quock added. In addition to the rapid spread of last summer’s wildfire, he has seen caribou altering their migration routes and dwindling numbers of certain species of animals.

    Indigenous communities are often the first to experience the impacts of climate change, said Terry Teegee, regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations.

    “We sustain ourselves off the land, so if there are issues such as declining populations of caribou, moose and what have you, we’re certainly the first to know and also be affected by issues of climate change,” he said.

    In northern B.C., a mountain pine beetle outbreak led to forests strewn with dead wood, which along with last summer’s hot and dry conditions helped fuel the worst wildfire season on record in the province, Teegee said.

    “It’s quite frightening,” he said. “I think it really requires action, not only by people that are watching what’s happening on the land, the guardians, but also by governmental policies and commitment to living up to the Paris climate change accord.”

    Environment and Climate Change Canada provided $25 million in the 2017 budget for a four-year Indigenous guardians pilot program to provide communities with greater opportunities to be responsible for stewardship of their traditional lands, waters and ice. The pilot program aims to inform a potential National Indigenous Guardians Network.

    “Indigenous communities are deeply connected to the land and understand the importance of acting now to protect Canada’s environment and conserve biodiversity,” said Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in a statement last fall.

    “The work we do together today will ensure a healthier environment for the generations that follow.”

    So far, the ministry has funded 28 projects across Canada, including one in Iqaluit that monitors vessel traffic and its effects on Arctic waters and wildlife, and another in Dease Lake, B.C., that observes woodland caribou seasonal movements to address climate change concerns.

    Indigenous people have always been guardians of their territories, but a more formal movement has been developing over the past 30 years, said Valerie Courtois, a member of the Innu community of Mashteuiatsh in Quebec.

    Courtois is also director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, which hosted this week’s gathering in Vancouver with the B.C. Assembly of First Nations and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

    She said the federal government saw an opportunity to meet some of its own goals by supporting guardianship programs.

    “They have responsibilities around species at risk. They have a duty to consult,” she said. “Those are significant challenges but also significant opportunities for the future of our country and we’ve demonstrated how an initiative like guardians is going to contribute.”

    Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

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    Environment

    Greens call for ban on foreign oil imports, using Alberta oil instead

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  • OTTAWA — Green party Leader Elizabeth May says saving the world from climate change requires Canada to get off oil before the middle of the century.

    In the meantime, she wants Canada to stop burning foreign oil as soon as possible.

    The Greens’ climate-change plan, just one component of the upcoming Green environment platform for the federal election, calls for Canada to invest in upgraders to make Alberta bitumen usable in eastern Canadian refineries.

    Making Canada energy independent is also part of the Conservative party platform, but where Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer proposes it in a bid to expand oil production in Alberta, May’s plan is to do so only to displace foreign oil as Canada moves towards no oil at all.

    The Green climate plan also calls for Canada to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions more than twice as deeply by 2030, have emissions at zero by 2050 and ban sales of combustion-engine vehicles by 2030.

    May says her climate plan is the only one that will “allow human civilization to survive.”

    Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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    Environment

    Court rules B.C. can’t limit oil shipments in major blow for pipeline fight

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  • VANCOUVER — British Columbia lost the largest tool in its toolbox to halt the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion with a court decision Friday that concluded it can’t restrict oil shipments through its borders.

    The unanimous ruling from the B.C. Court of Appeal represented a major win for the project, which the federal government and Alberta see as crucial to getting more oilsands crude to overseas markets.

    B.C.’s minority NDP government, which took power on a promise to use every tool available to stop the expansion, swiftly announced plans to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

    “Our government said from the outset that we would stand up for British Columbia’s environment, our economy and our coast,” said Attorney General David Eby. “Thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity would be put at risk by a diluted bitumen spill.”

    The province filed a constitutional reference question to the Appeal Court that asked whether it had the authority to create a permitting regime for companies that wished to increase their flow of diluted bitumen.

    A five-judge panel agreed that the amendments to B.C.’s Environmental Management Act were not constitutional because they would interfere with the federal government’s exclusive jurisdiction over interprovincial pipelines.

    Justice Mary Newbury wrote on behalf of the panel that the overall aim of the proposed amendments was to place conditions on and, if necessary, prohibit the movement of heavy oil through a federal undertaking.

    Newbury also wrote that the legislation is not just a general environmental law, but is targeted at one substance in one interprovincial pipeline: the Trans Mountain expansion project.

    “Immediately upon coming into force, it would prohibit the operation of the expanded Trans Mountain pipeline in the province until such time as a provincially appointed official decided otherwise,” she said.

    “This alone threatens to usurp the role of the (National Energy Board), which has made many rulings and imposed many conditions to be complied with by Trans Mountain for the protection of the environment.”

    The energy board is the body entrusted with regulating the flow of resources across Canada to export markets, Newbury wrote.

    B.C. argued that the proposed amendments were meant to protect its environment from a hazardous substance, while the federal government and Alberta said the goal was to block Trans Mountain.

    Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the decision is an occasion for “real hope” for hard-working people and the project will allow his province to realize a fair price for its resources and create new jobs.

    “In light of the court’s decision, we hope that the B.C. government will respect the rule of law and end its campaign of obstruction,” he said.

    Kenney also said the expansion could provide much-needed relief at B.C. pumps. Premier John Horgan has disputed that the project would ease sky-high gas prices, noting its purpose is to transport heavy oil for shipment overseas.

    Trans Mountain Corp. said it agreed that the legislation was unconstitutional and it shares the value that Canadians and B.C. residents place on the environment.

    Eby said his government originally asked Canada to join it in a reference case before the Supreme Court. The federal government declined, so B.C. had to first file its case with the provincial Appeal Court, he said.

    The Supreme Court of Canada automatically hears provincial reference questions. Eby said the top court has overturned unanimous B.C. Appeal Court judgments in the past and the cost of pursuing the case was worth it.

    “It is a fraction of a fraction of the cost of a diluted bitumen spill,” he said.

    Saskatchewan, Enbridge Inc. and the Canadian Association of Oil Producers argued in court against B.C.’s proposed permit regime, while some First Nations, cities and environmental groups supported it.

    The Haida and Heiltsuk Nations said the decision was a missed opportunity for reconciliation because it failed to acknowledge their arguments about the role of Indigenous governments in environmental protection.

    Heiltsuk Chief Coun. Marilyn Slett called the ruling “offensive and irresponsible.” 

    “It is unacceptable that despite being granted interested party status, the court failed to even acknowledge ours or any other Indigenous governments’ arguments in its decision. They invited us into the room, but they completely ignored us,” she said in a statement.

    Lawyer Kegan Pepper-Smith represented Ecojustice in the case and said the decision leaves B.C., its communities and environment exposed to a potentially disastrous spill.

    There is still plenty the B.C. government could do to stop the Trans Mountain expansion, such as adding conditions to its provincial environmental certificate, said Peter McCartney, a climate campaigner with the Wilderness Committee.

    The proposed amendments would have meant that Trans Mountain Corp. and any other company wishing to increase the amount of heavy oil it transported through B.C. would have had to apply for a “hazardous substance permit.”

    The permit application would have had to detail the risks to human health and the environment from a spill, plans to mitigate those risks and financial measures, including insurance, that ensured payment of cleanup costs.

    A provincial public servant would have had the authority to impose conditions on a hazardous substance permit and cancel or suspend the permit if the company did not comply.

    B.C. announced the amendments last year, prompting then-Alberta premier Rachel Notley to ban B.C. wines. After Horgan promised to file a reference case asking whether the amendments were constitutional, Notley cancelled the wine ban.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline and expansion project for $4.5 billion. Construction was paused last August after the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the federal permits.

    The project would triple the pipeline’s capacity to carry diluted bitumen from the Edmonton area to Metro Vancouver and increase the number of tankers in Burrard Inlet seven-fold.

    — Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

     

    Companies in this story: TSX:ENB

     

    Laura Kane, The Canadian Press



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