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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SA Parliament House, with Susan Close MP holding 10,000+ petition signatures

South Australia declared a Climate Emergency


On 31 May 2022, South Australia became the first Australian state to declare a Climate Emergency, although the Australian Capital Territory did set a precedent for a sub-national region to do so back in 2019. The SA declaration was passed by both Houses of Parliament. The Liberal opposition proposed amendments, which were rejected, with the original motion then passing unanimously in the Lower House. The Liberal opposition voted against the motion in the Upper House but it passed with Labor and cross bench support.

The motion stated:

That this house —
(a) notes the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report confirms that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and current plans to address climate change are not ambitious enough to limit warming to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial level — a threshold scientists believe is necessary to avoid more catastrophic impacts;

(b) notes that around the world, climate change impacts are already causing loss of life and destroying vital ecosystems;

(c) declares that we are facing a climate emergency; and

(d) commits to restoring a safe climate by transforming the economy to zero net emissions.

Background

In September 2019, Mark Parnell MLC (Greens) moved a Climate Emergency Declaration (CED) motion in the Upper House. At that time, the ACT had already done so in May 2019, and around 45 local councils around Australia had too. The SA upper house CED motion passed with support from Labor and most of the cross bench, but was opposed by the Liberals. It was not debated in the Lower House at that time.

Soon after new legislation was passed in SA such that formal on-paper citizen petitions with over 10,000 signatures would be ‘taken seriously’ due to the effort require to achieve that – would be tabled in parliament, entered in Hansard, and be guaranteed a ministerial response (either in support of or rejecting the petition). Accordingly 3 ‘ordinary citizens’ started such a petition, and a wide range of grassroots helpers (individuals and members of climate groups) put many hours into collecting signatures. You can see the petition text here.

Helpers could download the petition sheet online and print it themselves, or collect printed sheets from a centrally located petition box at the Conservation SA premises. Signed sheets were returned either through a slot in the petition box or sent to a PO Box set up specifically for that purpose.

By Jan 2020 the team had already collected around 6,000 signatures, so we sounded out Labor MP Susan Close (opposition party at the time) about tabling the petition when we reached 10,000 signatures. She jumped at the chance to do that and indicated willingness to also propose a CED motion alongside tabling it. But then Covid struck and made signature collection really hard, so it ended up taking until mid-2021 to reach 10,000 signatures.

In August 2021, Susan Close tabled our petition and proposed a CED motion, with a large show of support from people on parliament house steps on the day she did that. Her motion was eventually allowed to be put on the debate agenda, but ultimately there was not sufficient time for it to be debated before the state election.

The 2022 state election saw Labor back in power, so the CED motion was put on the agenda again as a first order of business. In speaking to the motion Susan Close, now Deputy Premier, positioned the motion as being in response to clear community demand for urgent climate action. She also announced two initial climate policies for putting words into action: a green hydrogen project and removal of an EV tax.

You can see a global list of jurisdictions that have declared a Climate Emergency here, or click on the pins in this map.


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