Despite ratifying the most recent United Nations agreement on climate change, which requires governments to adopt stronger and more extensive climate policies, the Canadian federal government has recently approved another major pipeline. Last month, the Pacific Northwest Liquefied Natural Gas (PNW LNG) pipeline was given the green light in Ottawa.
As a climate justice activist, I am alarmed to see the Canadian government approve a project that is simply incompatible with the energy-sector transformations that are necessary to mitigate climate change. Any pipeline like the PNW LNG would gravely impair our national and regional abilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In order to meet the goals set by the federal government, which seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to one-third of 2005 levels by 2030, projects like the PNW LNG must be stopped immediately.
In its operation, the PNW LNG would emit several million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year through the development and facilitation of the extraction, transportation and combustion of natural gas. While all of these components of the project are significant sources of greenhouse emissions and present a serious threat to our environment in their own right, we cannot ignore the social and cultural degradation that such a project would also cause.
The ugly realities of fossil fuel projects like the PNW LNG include the pollution of local water sources, the emission of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals and the violation of human rights. The PNW LNG is slated to be built on the lands of the Skeena Corridor First Nations, who oppose the project. Like many other Indigenous peoples all over the world whose land, water and personal security are threatened by the fossil fuel industry, the Skeena believe that the project violates Indigenous land and water rights.
Regardless of the stated economic benefits, the environmental and social costs of the PNW LNG are too great to ignore. The pipeline would be yet another backward step for a nation that is disproportionately responsible for current global greenhouse gas emissions levels and whose track record on fighting climate change is disgraceful. The Canadian government consistently fails to take concrete steps to fight climate change due to the vested interest of corporations and those in positions of power.
True climate justice recognizes that not only are the world’s ecosystems at risk due to climate change, the rights of marginalized people everywhere are also jeopardized by projects like PNW LNG. This projects does not just affect people in the wake of a pipeline, shipping route or tar sands operation. It has a global scope that threatens communities in areas prone to drought, flood, extreme weather, food insecurity and disease. These communities on the frontlines of climate change are often Indigenous communities, poor communities, communities of colour, people in the Global South and so on.
By approving this pipeline, the federal government has displayed not only a lack of leadership with respect to emissions reduction but also a willful ignorance of environmental racism and the system of violence that is linked to the fossil fuel industry. Unless powerful governments – those in post-industrial countries that hold the largest responsibility for emissions – take a strong, concrete stance on ceasing these projects and shifting to sustainable energy, we will not meet our climate change targets and the material conditions of the most marginalized communities will worsen. We can and must do better.