Opinion: Canada has a new emissions cap; now it's time for action

It’s urgent to get regulations in place. Think back to our summer of floods and wildfires — and kids wearing masks in the smog.

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The best thing about the framework announced last week by the federal government to cap emissions from the oil and gas industry is that it finally exists.

Everything else about it needs work. The target of 35 to 38 per cent below 2019 levels is less than what was promised. It’s short on details and seems to leave huge loopholes for the industry to avoid actually lowering emissions. What’s worse, we’re once again left waiting — this time for the regulations, which won’t be drafted until mid-2024.

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Why is it urgent to get regulations in place? Think back to the summer. Thousands of people lived through evacuations, losing their homes and livelihoods to wildfires and extreme weather. Some lost loved ones. Millions of us were breathing the worst air quality in the world.

My kids walked to day camp one day wearing N95 masks. “It’s just for one day, while the smoke is bad,” we coaxed them. The next week, they walked home in a torrential downpour under a tornado watch. Without a rapid reduction in the emissions that cause extreme climate events, this might be a regular part of their summers from now on.

And with more Canadians unable to house or feed their families, clear ties are evident between the affordability crisis and the fossil fuel-based economy causing the climate chaos we’re experiencing. Studies show direct links between wildfires and the emissions of oil and gas companies. Those companies, and the financial institutions that back them, are making record profits, banking on the illusion that carbon capture technology will allow them to continue to emit unchecked.

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Meanwhile, every year, billions of dollars are needed to battle wildfires, evacuate communities, rebuild infrastructure, and compensate for crops lost to drought and floods. Added to that are the health care and human costs of extreme heat and rising chronic respiratory diseases. We’re paying the price for damaging our environment through lost lives, livelihoods and well-being, particularly among youth, who are experiencing climate anxiety at growing rates.

Only recently, Canada’s commissioner of the environment and sustainable development reported we are not on track to meet our 2030 international emissions target. But polling shows that two-thirds of Canadians support regulating oil and gas sector emissions, 60 per cent of Albertans support a national cap on oil and gas emissions, and 86 per cent of Quebecers want the sector’s emissions regulated.

Thousands of families like mine across the country are trying to do our part. It’s time for the oil and gas industry to do the same, and for elected leaders to make sure it happens. We cannot count on for-profit corporations to regulate themselves. Delaying the inevitable will only make things worse.

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As parents, we try to teach our kids to identify their emotions, and so we need to start with our own. Many of us are scared when we think of our kids’ futures in a collapsing climate. We are grieving what’s been lost and what we continue to lose in the ecosystems we are a part of. And we are angry.

We are angry that not enough has been done to prevent us from getting to this point. We are angry that the loudest voices are often the most misinformed. Our anger burns like our forests, knowing that many who have the power to make the changes needed have instead opted to continue on with the status quo. We’re seeing the results of the status quo all around us, and it’s not the world we want our kids to live in.

Despite all these emotions, we must have hope — for our kids. Solutions exist, like implementing a strong emissions cap quickly. Let’s put the health and welfare of people and future generations first and get those regulations in place as soon as possible for our kids.

Jennifer Smith lives in Mile End and is a founding member of For Our Kids Montréal and a member of Mères au front — networks of parents taking climate action. 

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