2021 was a year dominated by environmental news. Despite ongoing COVID constraints on the economy, global fossil fuel consumption rebounded after its collapse in 2020. With this rebound came the increase in carbon emissions and effects of climate change. As if to underscore the need for urgent action, climate change disasters raged across Canada with record-setting heat, fires and floods.
Here’s a quick recap of environmental stories in 2021:
The federal election saw a turning point in the fight on climate action with an end of opposition to carbon pricing by the Conservative Party and a return of a Liberal government that promised substantial commitments to climate and broader environmental action.
World leaders met in Glasgow for COP 26 where they did not agree to take actions consistent with maintaining less than 1.5C of global heating. However, they promised to come back in 2022 with better plans. They also made collective commitments to curb methane emissions, to halt and reverse forest loss, align the finance sector with net-zero emissions by 2050, ditch the internal combustion engine, accelerate the phase-out of coal, and end international financing for fossil fuels. Despite significant headway on these fronts, national climate and financing commitments still fell far short of what is needed.
In Alberta, the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns wrapped up its $3.5 million money burn with a conclusion that environmental groups, including Environmental Defence, had not spread mis-information about the oil industry and that the groups had done nothing wrong. Premier Kenney chose to loudly insist it said the opposite and is now facing possible legal action.
The federal government slowly moved ahead on banning select plastic items and the Canadian/US oil industry responded by going to court to try to block the bans. Environmental Defence and our partners jumped in to help explain the importance of these bans.
Ontarians also rallied together in the face of ever escalating government attacks on climate actions and natural areas including farms and wildlife habitats, under the “Ontario: Yours to Protect” program. Across the province, groups worked to protect key areas like Lower Duffins Creek wetland from development and to secure a federal review of the proposed 413 mega-highway
Our top ten predictions for the environment in 2022:
1. New mega Highways will be very unpopular:
The Ontario government’s plans for several new multi-billion dollar mega-highways across southern Ontario will wake up people and communities to the stark choices they need to make about their future. Ontarioians will have to choose between gridlock, sprawl and loss of nature and local food or sustainable transportation options, livable cities, and access to recreation. We know what most people will pick.
2. Electric vehicles finally come into their own:
The coming year will mark the introduction of many new EV models with greater range and lower prices than ever. But if you live anywhere except BC or Quebec good luck getting one. The federal government has finally promised to help address this problem by implementing a new requirement for car companies to sell a certain portion of their overall sales as zero emission vehicles (as BC and Quebec do). 2022 is the year this is supposed to happen.
3. Putting a cap on oil and gas carbon emissions:
Rising carbon emissions from oil and gas production have washed out reductions from every other sector. As a result, the federal government has committed to developing and implementing a cap forcing industry to reduce emissions to zero by 2050. Expect the oil industry to ask Canadians to pay for any emission reduction measures just as they have asked us to foot the bill for slowing methane gas leaks, cleaning up abandoned wells and addressing the trillions of litres of contaminated tar sands tailings currently leaking into the Athabasca River.
4. Consumers get to know the toxics that are in their cosmetics and cleaning products:
In 2022 new rules will be introduced that will require the disclosure of toxic ingredients on the labels of household cleaning products, cosmetics and some furniture. Allowing consumers to make better purchasing decisions to protect their health and the environment alike.
5. Financial institutions will become more transparent on climate risks:
After years of talking about sustainability while actually cranking up lending to, and investment in, oil and gas companies, we will finally see some positive change. Expect to see citizen campaigns focused on bank hypocrisy and for federal regulators to finally step in and create rules around transparency and reporting with regards to climate-related risk for federally regulated institutions.
6. Citizens will rise up against sprawl:
Following the example of Hamilton, which recently voted to stop sprawl and protect all the farms and forests outside its borders and build homes in the city, we expect to see residents in Halton, Peel, Durham and other regions across southern Ontario take a stand against developers whose plans will increase low-density sprawl which destroys natural areas and farmland and leads to highway networks that increase pollution.
7. The Ontario election will be all about the environment:
The Ontario government has launched its re-election bid based on a promise to build more highways, more sprawl, which actually means less habitat for endangered species and more carbon emissions. Expect strong citizen and media engagement in the lead up to the June 2022 election and for environmental policy differences between parties to dominate the debate.
8. Some plastics will get banned and a returnable economy makes a new appearance:
We expect the federal courts will uphold our government’s right to protect us and our environment from the impacts of plastic pollution and will keep the bans of key single use plastic items moving forward. We also expect to see a growing citizen and business community movement to adopt reusable packaging and support the repair of products (just like the good ole days).
9. Canada will finally get its new Toxics and Environmental Justice Laws:
Two important laws died when the fall 2021 federal election was called. One would have modernized the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, a long overdue refresh of our signature environmental protection law. The other was a bill to require the development of a strategy to redress a history of environmental injustice in Canada. Both are set to return to the House of Commons this winter and we hope for speedy passage.
10. The kids will be alright:
Young people will take an ever stronger role in fighting for a sane approach to solving climate change, addressing disinformation and supporting progressive change. For example, check out the “Birds Aren’t Real” movement and feel better about the smart, motivated people who are trying to make a difference for a better world.
As you can see, 2022 is going to be a very busy year on the environmental front. Looking ahead, all of us at Environmental Defence have a lot that we want to accomplish (take a look at our wish list). And with your help, we can make it happen. This holiday season, please consider making a tax-deductible gift to support our work.