WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

KAIROS leader Jennifer Henry addressed the Social Justice Institute at The King's College.

April 18, 2016
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Canada needs to be converted on both ecological issues and indigenous rights if it is to meet its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, says the head of KAIROS, the national inter-church justice group.

Jennifer Henry says Canada needs to consider how best to do that so that it both addresses indigenous rights and contributes to reducing climate change.

"Our climate solutions are actually indigenous right solutions as well. And that mostly has to do with resource projects," Henry told the Social Justice Institute at The King's College in Edmonton April 9.

"The new (federal) government has had good words in regards to indigenous people since its installation," Henry said. "But the proof is going to be in the pudding. And the real test comes down to things like pipelines."

Henry, director of the Ottawa-based KAIROS, was the keynote speaker at the institute, an ecumenical working group that includes Newman Theological College and the King's University. Several workshops were offered at the April 8-9 event.

For years, KAIROS has been campaigning for the implementation of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights. The group wants indigenous people to have the right of free, prior and informed consent when developing activity or extraction activity occurs on their traditional territories.

"Indigenous leaders have been clear that the current assessment process under the National Energy Board violates their rights under the UN declaration," she said.

"They also speak to what they view as a NEB bias towards pipelines that will contribute to climate change because of expanded production."

The government has announced interim measures to protect indigenous rights, but has not made an explicit commitment to guaranteeing their "free, prior and informed consent" to resource projects, Henry said.

Henry said the government needs to be willing to accept that indigenous groups will reject resource development proposals, and it's not clear yet whether that's the case.

For example, the Wolostoq Grand Council, which holds unceded title to the Saint John River watershed, opposes the Energy East Pipeline.

Henry said there is ample evidence that the Canadian negotiators at the UN Climate Change conference in Paris in December made genuine efforts towards what Pope Francis referred to as an integral ecology.

They strove, but failed, to get commitments to human rights, indigenous rights, gender equality and a just transition for workers into the binding part of the Paris text, she said.

"The Paris agreement doesn't speak about the need to keep most of the known reserves of oil and natural gas and coal in the ground nor is there a reference about a new energy paradigm."

FOSSIL FUEL RESERVES

Henry said the intergovernmental panel on climate change says only one-quarter to one-seventh of the world's known fossil fuel reserves can be burned if the target of keeping the increase in global temperatures to less than two degrees is to be met.

Many of the developed countries attended the Paris convention on climate change to look after their own interests, she noted.

The result was an agreement with 29 legally-binding articles, but with no enforcement mechanism.

Henry gave credit to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna for advocating to keep temperature increases to 1.5 degrees.

"That was somewhat successful in that the agreement includes a commitment to keep the rise in global temperatures well below two degrees."

The problem is that after Paris we still have an international trade system that trumps climate policies, the KAIROS leader said.

"Foreign investors can sue governments if their policies are deemed to be unfair or unreasonable. We don't have a change. We didn't overthrow the trading system in Paris."

Henry also agreed with Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si' in pointing out the concept of ecological debt. "This is the notion that countries in the North actually owe people in the South for the overuse of world resources.

ECOLOGICAL DEBT

"The pope says a true ecological debt exists particularly between the Global North and the South, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment."

As well, some countries have used a disproportionate amount of the world's resources over a long period of time, she said.

Henry said KAIROS and its partners' advocacy was always "for us to stop what we are doing, to cut back on our overuse of the world's resources."

The pope says something similar: "Developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption on non-renewable energy."

Now the question is in this post-Paris context is what are the challenges for Canada? "We are in the unique situation of having a new government in place that's trying to address these challenges.

"It's kind of difficult in some ways to assess because what we have from them is very initial."