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2014: Environmental year in review

Actu - 2014: Environmental year in review

Every year at this time, we invite you to join us for a look back at the environmental ups and downs of the year.

Internationally, the stars of the biggest environmental news story of the year were China and the United States. In November, the two reached a climate accord, which saw the United States commit to doubling its annual pace for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and China to reaching its peak emissions by 2030. 

Another highlight of the year: the UN climate change summit organized by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York City. The People's Climate March, held in advance of the summit, brought together more than 400,000 people, including representatives from Equiterre, in the streets of New York City, more than ever before for this issue in the United States. Related activities were also held in more than 178 other cities around the world, including Montreal and Quebec City.

Several announcements were made in parallel to the UN summit, notably by a foundation tied to the Rockefeller family, which announced that it would be withdrawing $100 billion in investments from fossil fuels over the coming years.  

This good news aside, the World Meteorological Organization announced that 2014 was on track to be one of the hottest years – if not the hottest – on record. According to the preliminary information, fourteen of the fifteen warmest years on record will have all occurred in the 21st century.

On a more positive note, the world's largest solar power plant started production in South Africa, where it supplies clean, renewable energy to 80,000 households. In the United States, in the first half of the year, 53% of new electric generating capacity came from solar energy. Many experts believe that solar production will be the most important form of energy production by 2050.  

Canada

Federally, the situation continues to be pitiful, with Ban Ki-Moon going so far as to publicly point a finger at the Harper government's inaction in the fight against climate change. Prime Minister Harper has done an about-face on the issue of imposing GHG reduction rules for the oil sector, in spite of having promised to impose reduction rules, notably in the 2013 Throne Speech, as well as via the five Environment Ministers who have served under him since 2006.

On the issue of tar sands, a study published in the United States shows that actions by citizens and environmental groups is beginning to have measurable impacts on investments in the tar sands, with losses amounting to $30 billion between 2010 and 2013. 

Kathleen Wynne's re-election as the head of a majority government in Ontario bodes well since it seems increasingly clear that Ontario will join Quebec in a carbon market to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Quebec

The environmental issue of the year for Quebec is undoubtedly the tar sands and TransCanada's proposed Energy East pipeline. This pipeline would be the biggest project of its kind in North America, carrying 1.1 million barrels of oil per day, four times as much oil a day as is used per day in Quebec. The year started out with a bang for the Couillard government with the debate surrounding the proposal to build an oil port in the St. Lawrence in Cacouna, a few hundred metres from a beluga breeding area. After a series of awareness-raising events and fundraisers, court challenges, and petitions, including one by Equiterre, currently at more than 70,000 signatures, as well as opposition by 50 Quebec municipalities to the project, the Couillard government has finally decided to impose seven conditions for approval of this project.

An extensive tour organized by Equiterre to raise awareness about tar sands pipeline projects led to the creation of citizens groups across Quebec. Two protests on the issue attracted thousands of citizens in Cacouna and Sorel-Tracy. A fundraising initiative launched by former student leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois in support of such committees drew in more than $400,000 in one week, which suggests that citizen engagement will continue to grow in 2015. 

In December, Quebec's environmental review board, BAPE, issued a highly critical report on shale gas exploration and exploitation in the St. Lawrence Valley, leading Premier Couillard to completely close the door to this industry in Quebec. 

On an equally positive note, Quebec remains committed to implementing its carbon market despite extensive lobbying from the oil industry. The establishment of this market will enable Quebec to reduce its carbon footprint and to continue its shift towards a greener, more prosperous economy. 

The electrification of transportation also saw progress with the number of electric vehicles on the road doubling again this year, to surpass 5000 vehicles. Quebec is home to more than 40% of the electric vehicles sold in Canada. Hydro-Quebec can now invest in electric infrastructures for public transit projects. Tesla, a company that has revolutionized the world of electric cars, also opened its first service centre in Montreal. 

2014 was the UN International Year of Family Farming. The year is ending with renewed political commitment to and recognition of the essential role of family farms in the food chain. Family farms, like those in Equiterre's family farmer network, produce about 80% of the food eaten on Earth. 

Equiterre continued to work on banning pesticides, particularly those responsible for wreaking havoc on North America's bee populations. Results of research demonstrating the catastrophic impact of these substances on pollinating insects were published and more than 18,000 people have signed a declaration asking the Couillard government to ban the use of these pesticides. At press time, we are still awaiting a response. 

In 2015, climate and the tar sands will continue to be the No. 1 environmental issues. Coming up: a meeting of the premiers in April in Quebec City on climate change; the next UN meeting in Paris in December; and the question of the tar sands, which will be the subject of many reports, studies and consultations including at the BAPE, Quebec's environmental review board, and the National Energy Board (NEB). Through it all, Equiterre will be there.