Canada is the largest supplier of oil to the United States, and most of it comes from the Alberta tar sands. Described as the world’s biggest single industrial source of carbon emissions, the tar sands have drawn widespread protest and civil disobedience from environmentalists. On Tuesday, as climate delegates met across town at the Bella Center, a protest led by indigenous peoples of Canada was held outside the Canadian embassy. Democracy Now!’s John Hamilton files a report. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t arrive for the climate talks until later this week, but Canada has already become the target of a series of protests here in Copenhagen over its climate record.
John Hamilton filed this report.
FELIX CHARLEBOIS: I’m very pleased to announce that Canada pledges reductions targets of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
JOHN HAMILTON: The news was almost too good to be true. In a video statement on the website "Enviro-Canada," one of the world’s top industrial polluters pledged bold action on climate change and reparations for the climate debt owed to poor countries. In another statement posted to the site, a Ugandan climate delegate welcomed the news.
MARGARET MATEMBE: This is the day that will define our century. Canada is fully acknowledging its historical climate debt and the legal responsibility that follow.
JOHN HAMILTON: But as it turned out, this news was too good to be true. The announcements were part of an elaborate hoax by a group called "Climate Debt Agents," with the help of activist pranksters, the Yes Men.
In reality, Canada has abandoned its pledges to reduce emissions. After coming to power in 2006, conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper led his country to withdraw from its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: We started by asking ourselves for some hard-headed questions, like what are realistic emissions reductions targets for Canada, and how exactly will we achieve them?
JOHN HAMILTON: Harper’s rejection of carbon emissions reductions has a lot to do with the Alberta tar sands. The western province is home to one of the world’s largest reserves of bitumen, a mixture of earth and petroleum that requires vast amounts of water to extract, and which consumes enough energy to keep Canada from fulfilling any plan to cut emissions.
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: All of the easily exploitable large pools of so-called — of oil of so-called light sweet crude have probably been discovered. The oil industry will be forced to look harder, dig deeper, and spend more to find crude oil that will be ever more difficult to refine.
PROTESTER: When I say “climate,” you say “criminal.” Climate!
JOHN HAMILTON: Alberta’s tar sands have drawn widespread protest and civil disobedience from environmentalists, like Greenpeace activists who temporarily halted production at a Suncor tar sands mine at Fort McMurray, Alberta last September.
CHRIS DALEY: The message we want to send today through our actions is that real climate leaders don’t buy tar sands. We’re taking action today, because we need to send a strong message to world leaders that they need to reach a binding agreement in December at Copenhagen that will not only see an end to projects like Suncor’s tar sands project and other tar sands projects, but also to put the brakes on catastrophic climate change.
PROTESTER: When I say “shut down,” you say “tar sands.” Shut down!
PROTESTERS: Tar sands!
JOHN HAMILTON: As climate delegates met across town at the Bella Center, a protest led by indigenous peoples of Canada outside the Canadian embassy.
Eriel Deranger is a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and a campaigner with Rainforest Action Network.
ERIEL DERANGER: I’m here today because I want to emphasize the importance of shutting down the Alberta tar sands, because it is the most destructive industrial project on the planet. It is destroying my community, my family. And the community of Fort Chipewyan are dying of cancer. The rivers and the lakes are poisoned. It is my people that are paying the price of a select few that get to profit off of our lives, off of our culture.
The Alberta tar sands are not only destroying my people and my land, but they are creating the largest CO2 emissions from one single project in the world. Instead of decreasing the emissions in Alberta, we are increasing them, at the cost of my family, my community, my future, my culture. My way of life is being destroyed. For what? For oil? For what? For the profit of Canadian governments and corporations, for financial institutions that are making billions of dollars off the backs of my people?
JOHN HAMILTON: A 2009 study by Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute found that cancer rates in First Nations communities downstream from the tar sands were 30 percent higher than expected. Francois Paulette is an Elder Spokesman with Smiths Landing First Nation.
FRANCOIS PAULETTE: Where I come from is a beautiful land. I come from 150 miles downriver of the tar sands. I’m affected. I’m affected by what is happening in the tar sands. Oil is money. Water is life. And water is being destroyed right before our eyes on our river.
I just want to say to the prime minister of Canada, Mr. Harper, the representative and representative of the oil industry and capital of the oil industry in Calgary, that you are killing our river, that you are killing our way of life.
JOHN HAMILTON: Some of Canada’s leading environmentalists and activists who have traveled to Copenhagen for climate talks joined Tuesday’s demonstration. Among them, journalist and author Naomi Klein and Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians and co-founder of the Blue Planet Project.
MAUDE BARLOW: It’s very important that we show our solidarity with the First Nations people here, that they’re not alone. They’re not alone back in Canada, and they’re not alone here.
And what we really want to say is that Canada is clearly taking a terrible position here in Kyoto — in Copenhagen, having dumped the Kyoto Protocol, and committed to way less than we should have, for the simple reason that they will not deal with the tar sands. The tar sands — the oily footprints of the tar sands are all over Copenhagen. Everybody’s talking about it. It’s not the United States that’s the outlaw. It’s not China that’s the outlaw. It’s Canada.
NAOMI KLEIN: We’ve heard again and again about what a destructive role the United States is playing in these negotiations. But the real truth is that the most destructive force inside the Bella Center is our government, is the Canadian government, because at least the Bush administration didn’t sign the Kyoto Protocol. And the Obama administration says they won’t sign the Kyoto Protocol, because they won’t follow it. Our government signed the Kyoto Protocol and then made a mockery of international law.
JOHN HAMILTON: First Nations activists here say those international laws include treaty obligations to communities whose lands have been decimated by Alberta’s tar sands. With Prime Minister Harper due to arrive here later this week, Eriel Deranger presented a representative of the Canadian embassy with a basket full of demands for Canada’s government.
ERIEL DERANGER: We just wanted to deliver this basket to Stephen Harper.
CANADIAN EMBASSY REPRESENTATIVE: OK.
ERIEL DERANGER: So if you could pass this on when he comes to town, that would be fantastic.
CANADIAN EMBASSY REPRESENTATIVE: OK.
ERIEL DERANGER: Would you like me to go over what’s inside?
CANADIAN EMBASSY REPRESENTATIVE: Ummm...
ERIEL DERANGER: It’ll take me two seconds.
CANADIAN EMBASSY REPRESENTATIVE: OK, that’s fine.
ERIEL DERANGER: We handed it off to a delegate from the Canadian embassy to pass off to Stephen Harper when he arrives in Copenhagen later this week. And inside the basket were copies of the treaties that are being violated by the Alberta tar sands — or by the Canada’s tar sands, rather — and copies of the Kyoto Protocol, which he signed onto, as well as a copy of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, to remind him that there is something else that he needs to sign onto in order to really fully respect indigenous people’s rights and to move forward in a comprehensive way with climate change negotiations.
JOHN HAMILTON: For Democracy Now!, I’m John Hamilton in Copenhagen.