Decision-makers have promised climate action, reconciliation, and justice.
We call on them to deliver.

Earth Day not only celebrates the life-giving planet that sustains us, but also focuses our attention on the science and impacts of a changing climate. While today highlights the need for urgent climate action we must remember that climate change can only be addressed through climate justice. Canada can and must take action on climate justice in a way that creates stronger accountability provisions, uplifts Indigenous and marginalized peoples, and prioritizes a just recovery from COVID-19.

We, the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada’s Youth Advisory Council, are raising our voices as young people because our future hangs in the balance of the decisions being made in parliament today. We have prepared a letter, open to signatures from youth across the country, to hold the current government accountable for its promises of climate action and reconciliation. The content and calls to action of our letter come out of a virtual Roundtable, research, and ongoing conversations. The topics we hope the current government prioritizes have already been promised throughout elections, committed to in the Throne Speech, and reiterated in several mandate letters to Ministers. In our letter, we call upon our representatives to take immediate and tangible steps towards climate justice.

The Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed that the climate crisis is an imminent threat and will continue to be for future generations. As we decide how to recover from COVID-19, we also choose the future we must live with. The science is clear: not taking immediate, aggressive action to cut carbon emissions throughout the next decade will commit us to centuries of warming. The impacts of inaction will drive climatic instability, mass biodiversity loss, and ecosystem failure, causing economic collapse and propelling immense displacement and migration. The COVID-19 pandemic is predicted to be the first of many as the impacts of climate change increase zoonotic disease emergence and transmission. The House of Commons promised to act on the “highest possible ambition,” when it signed the Paris Agreement and declared a climate emergency in 2019. The time for strong policies to avoid a catastrophic climate crisis is now.

The climate crisis also exacerbates injustice. Environmental racism in so-called Canada often manifests as harm inflicted on Indigenous, Black, and racialized communities, regularly in the form of pollution, exposure to commercial-volumes of toxic materials, and unsafe drinking water. However, environmental racism is also systematically ingrained in our institutions and decision-making processes. It is embedded in decision making and governance — in its phase 1 report, Decolonizing Climate Policy in Canada, Indigenous Climate Action found that “Indigenous Peoples were structurally excluded from developing [Canada’s recent climate policy and] plans.” Colonial laws and regulations deny Indigenous people’s rights to self-determination and sovereignty.

Exclusionary decision-making processes leave out marginalized voices and result in unjust and inequitable policies. Yet, the Living Planet Index Report highlights how Indigenous peoples are and continue to be the best stewards of their lands; lands managed by Indigenous peoples are more abundant in biodiversity and support more threatened species than lands managed by colonial states. This success of Indigenous-led conservation appears to increase when traditional language and culture are strong within communities. Climate change challenges intersect with social justice and so do the solutions.

In ministerial mandate letters and the 2020 Speech from the Throne, the Federal Government has committed to take action on climate justice and reconciliation. These words will only become meaningful when they are enacted by reforming Canadian laws and implementing bold, impactful climate action and justice policies with Indigenous peoples driving decision-making processes. Therefore, join us in insisting that Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister Wilkinson, and Minister Chagger, with the support of all parties:

1. Strengthen Bill C-12 for accountability and action by amending the bill per the recommendations of Climate Action Network Canada;

2. Immediately move Bill C-12 to second reading and on to the committee and report stage;

3. Include Indigenous leaders and representatives on the advisory body created by Bill C-12, and work in alignment with the practices of ethical space;

4. Fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in a collaborative and thoughtful way, honouring the spirit of the document; and Implement Call to Action # 47 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and Terra Nullis), and reforming Canadian Law accordingly;

5. Include space at the table of the Bill C-12 advisory body for representatives of racialized and marginalized communities;

6. Support and pass Bill C-230, and commit to ending environmental racism; and

7. Make climate justice a central part of Canada’s recovery from COVID-19.

These seven actions outline impactful, measurable steps in alignment with promises made. We call on the current government to honour its commitments and to take meaningful action.

A just recovery offers a unique opportunity to address both the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis. 2021 provides an unprecedented moment to take meaningful action towards reconciliation and decolonization, protect the well-being of people and the environment, and achieve social equity and sustainability for all. We stand at a precipice. The policies enacted in the year to come will determine the future for generations to come. Join us, as youth, in demanding climate justice.

This Op-Ed was originally published in the Hill Times on April 22, 2021.

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