A semon representing new fossil fuel projects and a smiley-face world for a safe climate

Quebec: Climate Emergency Declaration and fossil fuel ban

Quebec declared a Climate Emergency in 2019, and in April 2022 Quebec banned all new coal, oil, and gas extraction and production. This ban is a massively important precedent, but I’d not heard about it until I saw this announcement from the David Suzuki Foundation.

Quebec has ended fossil fuel exploration and development projects on its territory — a historic victory for its ecosystems and population … proving that it’s possible to act on the science the climate emergency requires.

Charles Bonhomme, Public Affairs and Communications Manager

Quebec has huge amounts of hydroelectricity, perhaps making a fossil fuel ban easier to achieve than in many other jurisdictions. But even so, the Suzuki article mentions a handful of proposed oil and gas projects that now will never be able to go ahead. It also claims Quebec is the “first jurisdiction on Earth to ban fossil fuel development in its territory — a visionary lead for all of Canada, and the world.”

It is certainly visionary and makes Quebec an inspiring precedent to emulate, but it isn’t actually the first. The first subnational jurisdiction to ban new fossil fuel projects was the Australian Capital Territory when it signed on to the Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty in June 2021. In May 2022 the state legislature of Hawaii also signed that treaty. However, neither the ACT or Hawaii had current or proposed fossil fuel projects, so in that respect the Quebec ban could be counted as the first to achieve a really tangible benefit.

Fossil fuel bans as a follow-on action to Climate Emergency Declarations

Banning new fossil fuel exploration and extraction seems like such a very obvious first step to take after declaring a Climate Emergency for any jurisdiction that has control over such things. It is essential even if it is hard to achieve. However, so far Quebec, the ACT, and Hawaii are the only ones I’ve heard of doing so out of the 41 subnational jurisdictions (states, provinces, etc) and 18 nations globally that have passed a Climate Emergency Declaration (CED).

South Australia has declared a Climate Emergency, and like Quebec has much less dependence on fossil fuels than many regions. Could South Australia be the next jurisdiction to sign the non-proliferation treaty and/or simply ban new fossil fuel projects?

In Australia it is the state governments that make fossil fuel decisions and building regulations rather than local councils, but Darebin (and maybe some other CED local councils) have sought state government exemptions to enable them to ban gas connections to new buildings in their area. Local councils can also sign on to the Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty like five of the Australian CED councils have done (Sydney, Darebin, Maribyrnong, Moreland and Yarra), and they can lobby their state governments to do so too.

Climate Emergency Declarations in Quebec

Climate Emergency awareness seems to be unusually high in Quebec.

In Montreal 150,000 people turned up in May 2019 for the first of the really large global school climate strikes, by far the biggest turnout anywhere. For that particular strike, numbers of 30,000 or less were reported for other major cities. The September 2019 global school climate strike in Montreal was even bigger, with an estimated 500,000 attendees, compared with 100,000 or similar in other major cities.

GMob campaigners promoting climate emergency declarations in Quebec
Promotion of GMob Climate Emergency Declarations in Quebec

Climate Emergency Declarations in Quebec have taken a different path to those elsewhere, with no apparent cross-fertilisation between Quebec and other regions. The GMob Climate Emergency Declaration (Déclaration d’Urgence Climatique) is a strong declaration statement that was drafted by the GMob team. They lobbied all Quebec local councils to sign that declaration rather than having each council develop their own CED motion. In most other countries – South Korea was an exception – each council has been responsible for developing their own declaration text albeit with a degree of copying and pasting from earlier declaration texts, particularly in the UK and USA.

At the time of the first 20 Quebec declaration sign-ons in September 2018 there were already four CED councils in Australia and four in USA, but Quebec campaigners told us they had not heard about those. There were another 80 declarations in Montreal in November 2018, around the time of the first CED in the UK, but similarly we in Australia did not hear about any of the Quebec declarations till much later.

As of April 2021, 525 local councils, representing 83% of the population of Quebec, have signed the GMob declaration. Of those, 403 councils had already signed by the time of the Quebec state-level Climate Emergency declaration in November 2019. Quebec has thus been one of the few regions where the pattern campaigners expected has materialised: first a groundswell of climate urgency support at the local level, then a state-level CED, followed by major state-level actions such as the recent ban on new fossil fuel projects.

The power of precedents

The global spread of CEDs has been helped along by the power of precedents, with clear cross-fertilisation firstly from Australia to USA, then from USA to the UK before becoming widely visible and spreading to Europe, the rest of Canada, South America, and Asia.

It is hoped something similar will happen with bans on new fossil fuel projects, but precedents only have power if they are seen!

If you want South Australia to follow its CED with a ban on new fossil fuel projects, you could try telling your MPs about the precedents set by the ACT, Hawaii, and Quebec. If you want your local CED council to restrict fossil fuel use in new buildings, or sign on to the fossil fuel treaty, they are likely to prick up their ears if you tell them about the other CED councils that have already taken those initiatives. And please tell us all in a comment below if you know of other fossil fuel bans I’ve missed!


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Posted in Climate Emergency Declarations, National / Regional good steps, Phasing out fossil fuels and tagged , , .

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