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Canada Should Match US Climate Ambitions

Phase Out Fossil Fuel Subsidies, Support First Nations in Budget 2021

Weenusk First Nation member, Mike Wabano, sets up camp for caribou hunting on a frozen river near Peawanuck, December 14, 2019. As a result of warming temperatures, ice and snow cover is often thinner and more unstable.  © 2019 Daron Donahue

Climate change was top of the agenda yesterday as US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met virtually to identify priorities for collaboration. Both countries committed to working together to accelerate action on climate change – but Canada has a lot of work to do to match Biden’s stated climate ambition.

In a recent opinion piece Canada’s environment minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, claimed that Biden would not find a “more resilient and determined [climate ally]” than Canada. Yet, the US’s northern neighbor remains a climate policy laggard. Canada is not on track to meet its current weak target to reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2030. And while Biden has committed to pushing for a global ban on fossil fuel subsidies, Canada ranks last among G20 OECD countries in progress on ending support for fossil fuels. When Biden delivered on his promise to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline, recognizing the imperative to develop a clean energy economy, Canada sought to change his mind.

Canada, warming at up to almost three times the global rate, should need no prompting to tackle the climate crisis. As Human Rights Watch has documented, climate change is already taking a growing toll on First Nations in Canada, depleting food sources and exacerbating health issues.

Yesterday, Trudeau affirmed Canada’s intent to set a more ambitious 2030 emissions reduction target. This is great to hear. Biden and Trudeau’s shared recognition of the importance of working with Indigenous peoples in advancing climate solutions is likewise welcome.

Canada could show its determination to move from climate laggard to leader by quickly following through on these commitments, including in the forthcoming federal budget. As Human Rights Watch outlined in a pre-budget submission, ending financial incentives for fossil fuel companies would be a good start. So too would support for First Nations-led climate solutions to monitor and address climate impacts on food poverty and health.  

Biden made clear, starting with Keystone, that the US plans to move ahead on climate, with or without Canada. With the Biden administration committed to reach a net-zero carbon pollution free energy sector by 2035, Canada now stands to lose a key market for oil and gas exports – all the more reason to stop investing in fossil fuels and accelerate climate action at home.

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