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Canada and the environment: key events from 2011

From Greens in Parliament to tar sands opposition and the Kyoto Protocol, here's a summary of some of the year's most important environmental issues and events.

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Pipeline opposition: Keystone XL and Northern Gateway

Environmental advocates across North America took oil and gas opposition to a new level this year, with dedicated campaigns to fight two major tar sands pipelines.

TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline expansion project from Alberta to the US Gulf Coast faced an uphill battle at the White House last month, with thousands of protesters uniting to express their outrage. After President Barack Obama delayed its approval pending an environmental assessment, Republican senators touting the project’s job creation potential are still pushing him to make a decision.

North of the border, Enbridge’s controversial Northern Gateway pipeline has brought together activists from a variety of environmental and First Nations groups, all fiercely opposed to the proposed pipeline from northern Alberta to the coastal port at Kitimat, BC. Polls have shown up to 80 per cent of British Columbians are against the project, citing the potentially devastating effects of a spill that many say is inevitable.

The Save the Fraser Declaration, signed by 130 different First Nations from across the province, relays a promise from Aboriginal leaders to defend their land from dangerous oil and gas development. Hearings in a government review on the project begin in January 2012, with thousands of concerned residents signed up to give testimony.

Canada’s Kyoto withdrawal

The environmental policy event most likely to be remembered by the global community this year was the federal government’s decision to pull Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol. After weeks of criticism over Canada’s poor policy from world leaders and climate experts at the UN Climate Summit in Durban, Environment Minister Peter Kent sealed the deal by announcing the country’s official withdrawal from the international agreement.

Although most people already knew we weren’t going to reach our emissions targets for 2012, news of the withdrawal still came as a blow to Canadian advocates and environmental groups. The government’s continuing support for Alberta’s tar sands industry is seen as a slap in the face to other nations signed onto Kyoto, who say emissions from Canadian oil and gas industries will have devastating impacts on the countries most vulnerable to climate change.

“For a vulnerable country like Tuvalu, it’s an act of sabotage on our future,” said Ian Fry, lead negotiator for the small island nation in the South Pacific. Like many other islands around the world, Tuvalu is particularly at risk of rising sea levels.

China and Japan were among the other international critics, calling the decision “regrettable” and saying it “flies in the face of the efforts of the international community.”

Online and in the news, the response to Kent’s announcement revealed widespread shame and disappointment. An article in the Globe and Mail said the country’s Kyoto pull-out “shames us all”, laying out a series of events and decisions that led to this point.

One headline from environmental news site Grist put it bluntly, “Why is Canada withdrawing from Kyoto? Two words: Tar sands”.

What do you think was the most important environmental event or issue in Canada this year? Join the discussion by leaving a comment below.


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