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Thousands of protesters urge governments to act on Earth Day

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Thousands of people gathered Saturday afternoon for Earth Day to demand political action on climate change.

Two major demonstrations were held in Montreal and Quebec City, but other rallies were held across the province, including in Rimouski, Trois-Rivières, Joliette, Sherbrooke, Chicoutimi, Rouyn-Noranda and Baie-Comeau.

People of all ages as well as several organizations from all walks of life, notably from the community, union, student and environmental sectors, marched in order to make their voices heard.

Among other things, they demanded an end to the exploitation of fossil fuels and an investment in the social safety net for a fair and inclusive transition.

Earth Day came a day after the United Nations World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) released a report warning that glaciers are melting at a rapid rate and cannot be stopped.

The report confirms that the average global temperature in 2022 was 1.15 degrees Celsius higher than in pre-industrial times. Moreover, the last eight years have been the warmest on record.

Another from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sounded the alarm again last month about the climate crisis, pointing out that this may be the last chance to avoid the worst consequences.

In its report released on March 20, the IPCC insists that carbon pollution and the use of fossil fuels will have to be cut rapidly by almost two-thirds by 2035.

People take part in a demonstration for social and climate justice in Montreal on Saturday, April 22, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Quebec Solidaire (QS) co-spokesperson Manon Massé, who participated in the march alongside several Solidaire MNAs, believes that it is not too late to act for the climate, but that action is needed now.

 

She said that QS advocates a ban on the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles as early as 2030, "a pivotal year," according to Massé. Her party is asking François Legault's government to be stricter than the current 2035 target on this issue.

Massé said we can still act to meet our commitments in the Paris agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, maximum 2 degrees, compared to pre-industrial levels.

"That's still possible," she said. "Every hour that governments drag their feet and delay is an hour that we risk missing our target."

Parti Québécois (PQ) and former MNA Méganne Perry Mélançon, was also present at the Earth Day march, which started at the foot of Mount Royal.

"We are here to reiterate our proposals which are still relevant, we made them during the campaign, but for us they are ideas that could be implemented by the current government," she said.

DEAF GOVERNMENT

Aimé Cousineau and Elinor Poitras, both 15, and Alexia Lehouillier-Berthillon, 16, came to the demonstration, which took place in a festive atmosphere.

"For us, it's important to help the planet and act for the environment. It's not just for us, but also for the people after us," said Poitras.

The accumulation of waste in the ocean, deforestation, growing endangered spaces and the "abuse of nature" are some examples that concern them.

"The fact that there are so many people coming together, it certainly sends a message. I don't know how much it helps, but it's not nothing," said Cousineau.

Lehouillier-Berthillon explained that it is their way of participating in democracy.

"There is no real way (to be heard), especially since, at our age, we can't vote. This is our way of sending our message," she said.

Unifor spokesperson Nathalie Lapointe was also at the march to represent the union, but also for personal reasons. She was accompanied by her 75-year-old mother, who denounced the fact that in Quebec, the economy is prioritized over the environment.

"I don't know if it really makes a difference. I'm not convinced that the Quebec government really hears what we have to say," said Lapointe, noting that on a larger scale, it certainly has an impact.

The April 22 Coalition, which brought together a number of organizations, agreed.

"Beyond the rhetoric, the Quebec government continues to push back the urgency to act and prioritize economic development, reinforcing an economic system that deepens inequalities and destroys the planet," the coalition said in a press release.

Nevertheless, last week in the national assembly was marked by small victories on various issues affecting the environment.

"This week, frankly, was a week of victories. There was the abandonment of the third highway link, the commitment -- we don't know how high -- of the premier who recognizes that we must do more to support the municipalities after Gabriel (Nadeau-Dubois) was on his heels," said Massé, adding that she was eager to see the amounts.

This week the Legault government announced additional funding to make the province's infrastructure more resilient to the effects of climate change. Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) leader François Legault said the amount would be set out in an update to the Green Economy Plan (GEP).

"It's been a long time since municipalities have been asking for it. We also see that for everything that involves natural disasters, riverbank erosion, floods -- we are at a time of year when spring floods worry many municipalities with good reason -- we need to give tools and municipalities are often stuck with limited budgets to deal with these climate changes," said the PQ spokesperson.

People take part in a demonstration for social and climate justice in Montreal on Saturday, April 22, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

SILENCE FROM POLITICAL PARTIES

The Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) and the CAQ kept a low profile at the various events organized for Earth Day.

The parties did, however, highlight this climate day on their social media accounts.

Legault wrote on Twitter that Quebecers are lucky to have "such a beautiful territory."

"I am proud of our lakes, our rivers, our magnificent St-Lawrence River. We must protect biodiversity. We must electrify our economy. We must eliminate GHGs. For our youth, for Quebec," he said.

Official opposition leader in the national assembly, Marc Tanguay, saod that "the protection of the environment, the fight against climate change, carbon neutrality and a green economy for all Quebecers are at the heart of their commitment."

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said on Twitter that she was "determined to make Montreal the greenest metropolis in North America."

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said he was proud of Canada's landmass: "On this Earth Day, let us remember that if we share our planet, we also share the responsibility to protect it. (...) Today and every day, let us renew our commitment to protect the Earth for future generations," he said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on April 22, 2023. 

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