This Earth Day—after another year of extreme heat, devastating flooding, unrelenting wildfires, and other climate-driven disasters and disruptions—we have to ask who is making decisions regarding climate policy in this country.
The Canadian government claims it’s doing everything it can to fight climate change, but according to a report issued by Indigenous Climate Action, rural and Indigenous communities—those most impacted by the climate crisis—have been left out of the planning process.
Here’s why they need and deserve a seat at the table.
Frontline Communities Are Hit First and Worst
Whether it’s oil drilling, pipeline building, mining, or logging, extractive industries have been harming Indigenous and rural communities for generations—stealing their land, polluting their water, and exploiting resources without consent and without any regard for Indigenous sovereignty.
Indigenous and rural communities are among the lowest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the entire country, but now these same communities are being hit hardest by droughts, wildfires, and other disasters and disruptions fueled by climate change.
A Legacy of Environmental Stewardship
Many Indigenous communities depend on the environment for their survival and way of life. Their relationship with the land stretches back thousands of years. The changes wrought by climate change are disrupting that relationship:
- Fewer animals (like caribou and geese) are migrating through traditional territories, so hunting is less successful
- Increasingly unpredictable weather also makes hunting more difficult
- As animal populations decline, largely due to deforestation and other means of habitat destruction, entire food systems are impacted
- Fewer traditional wild plants are growing in their territories, so harvests are less plentiful
- Ice and permafrost are melting, making winter hunting and travel less dependable and more dangerous
Indigenous communities have been fighting to protect their sacred land and waterways for generations. This tradition persists today in protests against dirty fossil fuel projects, in the fight for clean drinking water, in the courtroom, and in the development of Indigenous-led green energy partnerships that strengthen rural and Indigenous communities AND lower the country’s overall carbon footprint.
If the voices and wisdom of these communities aren’t brought into the climate-planning process, if their needs aren’t being addressed, then what is the value of that process, and who is it really benefiting?
What Are the Government’s Climate Priorities?
So far, these priorities appear to be benefiting the status quo (aka, the fossil-fuel industry). The government talks a good game when it comes to fighting climate change, but the facts tell a different story:
- The government is investing billions of dollars every year in the fossil-fuel industry (which helped create the climate crisis in the first place).
- Crown corporations (government-owned organizations that function like private companies) continue to invest billions of dollars in the fossil-fuel industry, and the government hasn’t stopped it.
- Canada’s biggest banks continue to pour billions of dollars into fossil-fuel projects.
- The country’s biggest pension funds continue to invest billions of dollars in fossil-fuel companies.
This needs to change. We need climate justice.
To Fight Climate Change, We Need Climate Justice
Climate change impacts the entire world, but its effects are not felt equally. In Canada and across the globe, the people least responsible for warming the planet are the ones being hit hardest by the effects of that warming. Promising to fight climate change is, on its own, not enough. The fight has to ensure that the people on the frontlines of the crisis have everything they need to ensure an equitable future. That’s what we mean by climate justice.
Climate justice means respecting Indigenous rights. And experts around the world agree that respecting Indigenous rights and sovereignty is one of the keys to fighting the climate crisis.
Why? Because Indigenous people have thousands of years of knowledge about caring for the land in sustainable ways that benefit biodiversity, the environment, and our communities. To cite just one example, studies show that, compared to those managed by public or private entities, forests owned or designated for use by Indigenous people and local communities, are linked to:
- Lower rates of deforestation and forest degradation
- Lower carbon emissions and higher carbon storage;
- Greater investment in forest maintenance activities
- Better forest and biodiversity conservation
- More equitable and sustainable forest restoration efforts
- Better social, environmental, and economic outcomes overall
A New Way Forward
If the government truly wants to find solutions to the climate crisis, then it needs to
- Stop investing in fossil fuels
- Respect and listen to impacted communities
- Support the Land Back movement (and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which “establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world”)
The Land Back movement is about ensuring that Indigenous communities get to determine what happens to their own land and water. Supporting Land Back means ending the colonial cycle of extraction and exploitation and putting people and the planet first.
Take Action Today
This Earth Day, demand climate justice.
Tell the government that you want a more equitable, more effective climate planning process that includes rural and Indigenous communities. Our friends at Indigenous Climate Action are leading the fight for increased Indigenous representation, so follow them if you want to learn more.
Finally, tell the prime minister to make the Just Transition Act a priority—we need legislation that will fight climate change and create new green jobs while leaving no one behind, and we need it now.