Trudeau’s pledge at COP26 of an emissions cap does not stop the ongoing criminalization of Indigenous land defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the COP26 summit on November 1, 2021; RCMP raid on Wet’suwet’en territories on January 7, 2019.

At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has just promised to cap this country’s oil and gas emissions.

Trudeau stated: “We’ll cap oil and gas sector emissions today and ensure they decrease tomorrow at a pace and scale needed to reach net zero by 2050. That’s no small task for a major oil and gas producing country.”

There were no specifics on what this cap might be.

Canadian environment minister Steven Guilbeault says: “We are seeking advice from officials at Environment and Climate Change Canada and Natural Resources Canada, and intend to engage with provinces, territories, civil society, labour organizations, national Indigenous organizations and industry partners.”

The cap on the tar sands

Trudeau was first elected prime minister on October 19, 2015.

On November 22, 2015, then Alberta premier Rachel Notley announced a 100-megatonne limit on carbon pollution from the Alberta tar sands.

Both Trudeau and Guilbeault welcomed this announcement. The following day, Trudeau stated: “We just had a strong signal yesterday about how Canadians right across the country are looking to step up and do their part in the fight against climate change.”

At that time, emissions from the tar sands amounted to 70 megatonnes a year. In other words, the cap allowed for a massive expansion of the tar sands.

Pipelines approved even with the cap on emissions

By November 29, 2016, Trudeau approved the 890,000 barrel per day Trans Mountain pipeline and the 760,000 barrel per day Line 3 pipeline.

When he approved those tar sands pipelines, Trudeau highlighted that Canada is still a “climate leader” because of the 100-megatonne cap.

Line 3 pipeline

Between November 2020 and October 2021, more than 800 water protectors were arrested opposing the Line 3 pipeline on Indigenous lands in Minnesota.

Those arrested are awaiting their trials. Most were cited with misdemeanors, but many were charged with gross misdemeanors and some face felony charges, which carry the potential of up to 10 years in prison for these water protectors.

Trans Mountain pipeline

Secwepemc land defenders also continue to oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline being built on their territories without consent.

That pipeline, originally being built by Texas-based Kinder Morgan, was purchased by the Trudeau government on May 29, 2018, to ensure that it would be completed. Beyond the $4.5 billion purchase price, the pipeline could cost $12.6 billion to finish.

Coastal GasLink pipeline

The TC Energy Corp. Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline being built on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory will feed the Royal Dutch Shell Plc-led consortium building the LNG Canada export terminal in Kitimat on the coast of British Columbia.

On October 2, 2018, when investors approved the project going forward (after the National Energy Board had approved it on January 8, 2016, and the federal government had authorized it), Trudeau stated: “Today is a good day.”

And by May 4, 2020, the Canadian government’s export credit agency had approved a $500 million loan to build the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The RCMP has conducted two militarized raids on unarmed Wet’suwet’en land defenders. The first was on January 8, 2019, when 14 land defenders were arrested. And the second on February 6, 2020, in which another 22 land defenders were arrested.

There are concerns that a third RCMP raid may be imminent.

Moving forward

Ending the criminalization of Indigenous land defenders opposed to megaprojects on their territories would require a recognition of their sovereignty, title and inherent rights, adherence to the right to free, prior and informed consent, and a commitment to ending fossil fuel subsidies and the building of new fossil fuel infrastructure.

The Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International recently calculated that: “Indigenous resistance has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions.”

Included in their calculation is the 125 million metric tons of annual CO2 pollution associated with the Coastal GasLink pipeline, the 175 million metric tons from the Line 3 pipeline, and the 130 million metric tons from the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The criminalization of Indigenous land defenders on the frontlines of the battle against climate chaos must stop.

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