MONTREAL — A coalition composed of unions, Indigenous groups, environmentalists and celebrities called on Canada Monday to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 as part of a proposed "Pact for a Green New Deal."
Members of the wide-ranging, 60-group coalition spoke at events held in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, decrying the lack of political action and calling for everyone to adhere to the pact that calls for the emissions cut, the creation of a million sustainable jobs and recognition of Indigenous rights.
The pan-Canadian group, which also includes scientists, health professionals, students and artists, denounced what it called the inertia of governments at all levels in taking tougher measures to fight climate change.
The movement said the scientific findings are indisputable that all efforts must be made to cut Canada's greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.
"We need to act immediately, and continue acting forever, or at least until we learn how to live on this planet in a way that respects each other and the ecosystems that support us," said Damon Matthews, a geography professor at Concordia University in Montreal.
Matthews said the reality is that current pledges won't meet the objectives outlined in the Paris climate-change agreement signed in 2015, and many jurisdictions in Canada are rolling back environmental efforts. At the current rate with emissions increasing, a warming of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels will be reached in less than 15 years, and by the turn of the century it will be three degrees, he said.
Recent flooding across Quebec as well as droughts and forest fires in Western Canada are examples of a climate in crisis and impossible to ignore, he added. "Climate change is and will and continue to touch everybody, and we really have no historical precedent for what three or four degrees of global warning will actually mean."
The name of the project is a nod to the "Green New Deal" introduced last February by Democrats in the United States. It is also linked to a 2018 environmental pact signed by francophone celebrities in Quebec who committed to reducing their ecological footprints.
Members of the coalition include the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright.
The proposed pact goes beyond the environment and includes a fight against social and economic injustice, aiming for accessibility to housing, the sustainability of work and the eradication of racism.
The coalition plan to hold a series of town hall meetings in the coming weeks in order to lay the foundations for their demands and prepare public policy proposals.
Matthews said there has been progress despite a lack of political leadership, and Canada could position itself as a leader if it stopped arguing over pipelines.
"We could chose to show the world that even a solidly resource-based economy could find another way forward to a low-carbon future," he said.
In Paris on Monday, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna did not jump at the chance to endorse the idea of a Green New Deal.
"We're always happy to have good ideas, but, I mean we have a climate plan that was negotiated by Canadians for Canadians," she said. "We spent one year negotiating with provinces and territories and Indigenous peoples, and we are holding provinces to account for their commitments that they made."
She said that plan has all the key elements including action to cut emissions, such as phasing out coal, and measures to support workers whose jobs are at stake in the transition away from fossil fuels.