Getty
Show Hide image

There's one area in which Justin Trudeau is no progressive

The Canadian golden boy has a seriously dirty track record on tar sands. 

Canada’s golden boy, Justin Trudeau, promised to rebrand Canada as climate progressive. When signing the Paris Agreement last year he said "climate change will test our intelligence, our compassion and our will” and pledged Canada would reduce carbon emissions 30 per cent by 2030.

Fast forward a year, and it is clear that the man who has charmed many with his boyish good looks and liberal attitudes has failed this climate change test. Indeed, his environmentally destructive actions means he should be sent to the naughty step.

Last November Trudeau approved two pipelines that will pump nearly a million barrels of tar sands crude oil per day over the next decade from Alberta to global markets. That coincides with the same timeline under which Canada is supposed to peak and then reduce greenhouse gas emissions under their pledges to the Paris agreement.

A third project is the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Campaigners rejoiced when Barack Obama finally rejected the plans for a 1,180 mile pipeline between Canada and refineries on the Texas coast. But an executive order by President Donald Trump has resurrected the project.

Tar sands oil is seriously dirty stuff and has a massive impact on the environment. The carbon emissions related to exploiting this crudest form of oil are two to four times higher than conventional oil, while the estimated tar sands reserves contain enough CO2 to blow half the remaining carbon budget before we reach two degrees of warming.

But it’s not just the climate impacts. Tar sand deposits cover approximately 140,000 square kilometres of Alberta, an area greater than the size of England, and the toxic sludge created by the mining process seeps into natural water ways contaminating fish and other wildlife. Tar sands operations also poison the air by releasing large volumes of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere.

Trudeau’s response to all this is to claim there is no conflict between future growth in exploiting tar oil sands and tackling climate change. Such a claim shows he has definitely failed the intelligence test he set himself when signing up to the Paris Agreement. Even his own government rejects such a claim.

A recent report by a federal agency tasked with reducing Canada's greenhouse gas emissions has concluded that Canada's emissions will most likely increase rather than decrease between now and 2030 thanks to Alberta's tar sands. So despite Trudeau’s stated ambitions to curtail emissions the country will fail to achieve targets agreed under the Paris agreement.

Applauded for distancing himself from Trump over his attitude to feminism, immigration and Muslims, Trudeau has quickly found something to unite two apparently incompatible ideologies. Where there’s a chance to get your hands dirty with lucrative tar sands deals, liberal values can take a back seat. Indeed, at two official meetings with Trump, Trudeau pressed not for the rights of women, immigrants or Muslims, but pledged instead Canada's steadfast support for the $8-billion Keystone XL project.

"We know our transition off fossil fuels is going to take a long time,” Trudeau has said. Having failed the intelligence part of the test he set himself when signing up to the Paris agreement, he looks set also to fail the test on compassion and resolve too.

2016 was the warmest year on record and 16 of the 17 hottest years have now occurred this century. Scientists warn that the impacts of climate change on people are coming sooner and with more ferocity than expected. We simply don’t have "a long time" to kick our fossil fuel habit; we must leave the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground, especially such damaging sources as tar sands.

Thankfully, while Trudeau seems to be following the will of oil corporations, others are willing us towards a brighter future. Fossil fuel divestment is growing as young and old alike pressure their universities and pension funds to rein back investment in coal, oil and gas. With the price of wind and solar tumbling, renewable energy generation is also mushrooming. So whatever dirty deals President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau strike up, the energy transition is unstoppable.

It is this rapid transition that gives us hope that we can leave a safe and secure planet for future generations rather than one where climate instability drives people from their homes and destroys their livelihoods. That transition, Mr Trudeau, is surely an act of compassion.

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the southwest of England, elected in May 2014. She has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly was formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton. She is Green Party parliamentary candidate for Bristol West.

Getty
Show Hide image

“It was like a religious ceremony”: What happened at Big Ben’s final bong?

Both inside and outside Parliament, people gathered to hear the clock’s final midday chime before undergoing repairs.

“It’s just hacks everywhere,” a photographer sighs, jamming his lens through a gap in Parliament’s railings to try and get a closer look.

New Palace Yard, Parliament’s courtyard directly below Big Ben, is filling with amused-looking journalists, waiting for the MPs who have promised to hold a “silent vigil”, heads bowed, to mark Big Ben’s final chime before four years of silence while the tower’s repaired.

About four of them turn up. Two by accident.

It’s five minutes to twelve. Tourists are gathering outside Westminster Tube, as tourists do best. A bigger crowd fills Parliament Square. More people than expected congregate outside, even if it’s the opposite within the Palace. The world and his phone are gazing up at the sad, resigned clock face.


“It’s quite controversial, isn’t it?” one elderly woman in an anorak asks her friend. They shrug and walk off. “Do you know what is this?” an Italian tourist politely asks the tiny press pack, gesturing to the courtyard. No one replies. It’s a good question.

“This is the last time,” says another tourist, elated, Instagram-poised.

“DING DONG DING DONG,” the old bell begins.

Heads down, phones up.


It finishes the on-the-hour tune for the last time, and then gives its much-anticipated resignation statement:

“BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG.”

Applause, cheers, and even some tears.


But while the silly-seasoned journalists snigger, the crowd is enthusiastic.

“It’s quite emotional,” says David Lear, a 52-year-old carer from Essex, who came up to London today with his work and waited 45 minutes beneath Big Ben to hear it chime.

He feels “very, very sad” that the bell is falling silent, and finds the MPs’ vigil respectful. “I think lots of people feel quite strongly about it. I don’t know why they’re doing it. During the war it carries on, and then they turn it off for a health and safety reason.”

“I don’t know why they can’t have some speakers half way down it and just play the chime,” he adds. “So many tourists come especially to listen to the chime, they gather round here, getting ready for it to go – and they’re going to switch it off. It’s crazy.”

Indeed, most of the surrounding crowd appears to be made up of tourists. “I think that it was gorgeous, because I’ve never heard him,” smiles Cora, an 18-year-old German tourist. “It was a great experience.”

An Australian couple in their sixties called Jane and Gary are visiting London for a week. “It was like a religious ceremony, everybody went quiet,” laughs Gary. “I hope they don’t forget where they put the keys to start it again in four years’ time.”

“When we first got here, the first thing we did was come to see it,” adds Jane, who is also positive about the MPs who turned up to watch. “I think it’s good they showed a bit of respect. Because they don’t usually show much respect, do they?”

And, as MPs mouthing off about Big Ben are challenged on their contrasting reactions to Grenfell, that is precisely the problem with an otherwise innocent show of sentimentality.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.