LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Change is funny. Sometimes it can take years to make happen. Other times, a lot of change happens in just one year. At ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE, we take a long-term view on achieving our goals. We know that hard work planting the seeds of environmental protection will eventually pay off – even if takes years. This past year we saw much positive change, validating our goals, our approach and our tenacity. And it’s all thanks to your support.
Here’s a snapshot of the changes you made possible. For years, we explained that ever expanding tar sands production was not inevitable. At times we were one of the only voices highlighting the risks of expansion, such as the high cost of tar sands production, the volatility of oil prices, decreasing demand for oil and growing public opposition. This year the facts spoke for themselves: the drop in oil prices saw oil sands projects delayed or cancelled, and by spring 2016 no major new pipelines had been built and the industry released lower production estimates.
Similarly, for years we said that addressing emissions from the tar sands would enable climate action in Canada. This year Alberta announced a new climate plan that includes a cap on tar sands emissions. Soon after, the federal government committed to building a new national climate plan that aims to meet its Paris commitments to keep temperature increases as close to 1.5 Celsius as possible.
In Ontario, we worked with three different provincial governments to encourage the passage of a strong Great Lakes Protection Act. Last October, the Act passed. Now we’re developing exciting new plans that will help farmers meet the Act’s mandatory nutrient reductions targets for the Great Lakes. This will benefit the fishing industry, tourism, farmers and the ecology of the Great Lakes.
For years, microbeads in consumer products like toothpaste fouled our lakes and rivers. We raised awareness about how these unnecessary plastic beads damage ecosystems, as their toxic chemicals build up in fish. This year, thanks to public outcry, the federal government declared microbeads toxic, the last step before a ban can be put in place.
Finally, we’ve long spoken out about the high costs of sprawl, such as municipal debt, traffic jams and destruction of farmland. This year the Ontario government announced changes that will expand the Greenbelt, protecting farms and sensitive ecosystems while slowing sprawl and encouraging more compact, walkable, transit-friendly communities.
It’s good to know that sticking to our priorities for the long-term pays off, benefiting both the environment and the health and well-being of Canadians. Thank you for your support along the way. Thank you for attending events, and donating your time and money to make change happen. Thank you to our devoted team of staff who worked so hard to make these positive changes possible. We’re proud of what has been accomplished and excited about what’s ahead.
President and Chair
This year we encouraged the new federal government to become a climate leader. Ahead of the UN Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, we issued a report outlining how Canada could be a constructive partner in the fight against climate change. Just before COP21, we – along with thousands of others, including First Nations, business, labour, and faith communities – participated in the 100% Possible March in Ottawa. Our Executive Director Tim Gray spoke at the march, urging elected officials to take bold climate action. In Paris, a member of our team was on Canada’s official delegation, advising government and urging for an ambitious agreement. During COP21, our spokespeople were interviewed by nearly every major Canadian news outlet. When the Paris Agreement was finalized in December and signed in March, we celebrated the first global accord to fully acknowledge the science of climate change. The Paris Agreement commits the world’s governments to aim to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees and adopts the long-term goal of making the planet carbon neutral in as little as 35 years.
Strong federal climate action is needed, but effective action from provinces is also essential. In Paris, we celebrated provincial climate leadership with an event where premiers from Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba and ministers from British Columbia and Alberta spoke on the importance of climate action. In the spring, we welcomed and supported the importance of the Vancouver Declaration, where the country’s federal and provincial leaders agreed Canada should support the UN Paris Agreement, that governments should meet Canada’s existing carbon reduction targets, that greater levels of ambition are needed, and that putting a price on carbon is an essential tool for climate action. We also highlighted the historic nature of Alberta’s climate action plan for committing to shut coal plants, increase renewable energy, put a price on carbon, cut methane emissions from oil and gas and put a legislated cap on tar sands emissions. The cap means emissions from Alberta should soon peak and then decline, removing the largest barrier to climate action in Canada.
Over this past year, we continued to grow the Clean Economy Alliance (CEA), a group of nearly 100 organizations united to support Ontario in addressing climate change. Timed to coincide with last summer’s Climate Summit of the Americas, the CEA hosted the Ontario Climate Change Lab, which brought together representatives from business, industry associations, labour unions, agricultural groups, health charities, environmental organizations, First Nations, academics and policymakers to provide input into Ontario’s climate strategy. Based on the lab, the CEA developed recommendations for Ontario’s cap-and-trade system’s design. This year the CEA also helped shape two landmark plans for the province to address climate change: Bill 172, which enacts pricing carbon through a cap-and trade system, legislates ambitious carbon reduction targets and commits the proceeds from cap-and-trade to programs to further cut carbon emissions; and the Climate Change Action Plan, which outlines complementary policies and programs to reduce carbon pollution, many of which cap-and-trade will fund. And throughout the year, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE encouraged Ontarians to tell the province they support bold climate action and building a clean economy.
As we push for a transition to a low-carbon economy, we continue to raise awareness about risky pipelines like TransCanada’s Energy East proposal. If built, Energy East would put nearly 3,000 lakes, rivers and streams at risk of tar sands oil spills. With current technology, carbon emissions associated with producing oil for Energy East would exceed the proposed emissions cap in Alberta and risk breaking Canada’s Paris climate commitments. In summer and fall of 2015, we partnered with local organizations across Ontario for a travelling photo exhibit, Along the Pipeline, featuring portraits of people at risk from Energy East. We also launched the website, SaveFundy.ca, highlighting the threats Energy East tankers would pose to the sensitive Bay of Fundy and its endangered whales. In spring 2016, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE and our allies published the report, Energy East: A Threat to Our Drinking Water, which showed that the pipeline would threaten the drinking water of more than 5 million Canadians. And we continued to help Canadians speak out against the risks of Energy East. That massive tar sands pipeline projects can and will be defeated was made abundantly clear by President Obama’s rejection of TransCanada’s Keystone XL. Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal was also rejected by Canada’s Supreme Court, highlighting the crucial role First Nations’ opposition plays in stopping pipelines.
- While we’re pleased with the progress in the last year, there is still a lot of work ahead before action in Canada matches the scale of the climate challenge. That’s why we’ll be working to encourage a strong and effective national climate strategy. We will continue to encourage Canada and the provinces to build a clean economy, powered by safe, modern renewable energy. We’ll also keep helping Canadians speak out about the need for climate action and building a clean economy.
- We, along with the Clean Economy Alliance, will support and monitor the implementation of cap-and-trade in Ontario and the Climate Change Action Plan’s roll out. We’ll also recommend how to improve Ontario’s Long Term Energy Plan (which the province is reviewing) and push for more energy from renewable sources. And we’ll release a report on how energy efficiency programs benefit the environment and create green jobs in Ontario.
- And during the National Energy Board’s review of the Energy East pipeline, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE will be an official intervenor in the hearings. We’ll cooperate with other groups questioning this risky project. And we’ll be sure to let you know how you can make your concerns heard.
For too long, so-called ‘conditional’ registrations allowed companies to register pesticides for use and sale without sufficient data on human health and environmental impacts. The loophole allowed some toxic pesticides to stay on the market for over 10 years. Conditional registrations were also granted to certain bee-harming neonic pesticides – one more reason we worked hard to end the practice. Last year, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE and allied groups provided testimony to the House of Commons Health Committee, outlining the problems with conditional registrations. In January, the federal government announced an end to the irresponsible practice of granting conditional registrations for pesticides. This is an important victory in protecting wildlife and the health of Canadians – and it wouldn’t have happened without your support.
After over a year of intense educational work, tens of thousands of concerned Canadians spoke out about the risks microbeads pose to our lakes, rivers, wildlife and human health. Fish ingest microbeads, mistaking them for food. The tiny plastic spheres also adsorb toxic chemicals like PCBs, creating risks to human health up the food chain. Now, thanks to you, we are closer than ever to a microbeads ban. In late June, the federal government declared microbeads toxic, a prerequisite for banning the harmful beads. This means the federal government is poised to ban microbeads of all sizes. Thank you for raising your voice to make this possible!
For decades, Canadian dry cleaners relied on the effective but cancer-causing chemical PERC (short for perchloroethylene). Fortunately professional wet cleaning, an effective, eco-friendly method, is now available. Across the United States, municipalities and states are switching their business from PERC to this better, safer process. In November, we published a report, Removing the Stain: Getting Cancer-Causing Chemicals Out of Your Clothes, which made the case for regulatory action and financial incentives to encourage a transition to non-toxic sustainable garment cleaning in Canada. We also released a dry cleaning pocket guide, with handy information on common dry cleaning chemicals and wet cleaning. In the spring, we saw the fruits of our labour when Toronto’s Board of Health adopted recommendations to promote professional wet cleaning. The board also directed City of Toronto staff to explore mandatory window signs for chemical disclosure. The signs, already in use in New York City, will make it easier for customers to choose eco-friendly businesses.
The endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) is harmful to human health. That’s why we worked to get it banned from baby bottles in Canada. But BPA is still widespread in food cans, as research by ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE and five U.S. NGOs shows. Our report, Buyers Beware: Toxic BPA & Regrettable Substitutes in the Linings of Canned Food, found BPA in 17 out of 21 food cans purchased from three of the largest retailers in Canada. BPA in can linings can leach into food, ultimately ending up in our bodies where it mimics human hormones. It’s linked to serious health issues like asthma and behavioural problems in children and possibly cancer. Our report received widespread media attention. Within 24 hours of the report’s launch, food giants Campbell’s and Del Monte committed to removing BPA from their cans by 2017. And we’re working to get BPA banned from all food cans in Canada.
- We will continue to warn government and the public about the risks of microbeads until a federal ban is in place.
- Together with a respected public opinion firm, we will research Canadians’ attitudes towards toxic product ingredients and labelling.
- We will participate in the federal review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to ensure that toxic chemicals are kept out of Canadians’ consumer products and our environment.
Last spring, we launched the report, From Dumb Growth to Smart Growth: Actions that strengthen the Greenbelt and the Growth Plan. The report included recommendations to strengthen the Greenbelt and encourage Ontario to grow in smarter ways. It described the benefits of Ontario towns and cities growing up and in, instead of sprawling outward. Growing more compactly encourages more walkable, public transit-friendly, vibrant communities while protecting farmland and forests. Timed to coincide with public consultations on the Greenbelt and Growth Plans, the report helped to educate the public and the Ontario government about how to improve both plans. In an important first for ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE, we co-authored a report with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. The report, Farmland at risk: Why land-use planning needs improvement for a healthy agricultural future in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, emphasized that protecting farmland must be a priority in Ontario’s Greenbelt and Growth Plans.
Following public consultations, a panel led by former Toronto mayor David Crombie released a report with 87 recommendations for improving Ontario’s Greenbelt and Growth Plans. We released a report card grading the recommendations. And we encouraged Ontarians to make their voices heard and call for a bigger, stronger Greenbelt. Along with the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, we explained to the Ontario government why an expanded Greenbelt would protect valuable water resources that are under threat from sprawl. These vital water systems supply clean drinking water to millions in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. We saw success as proposed changes to Ontario’s Greenbelt Plan include expansion into urban river valleys and coastal wetlands, a commitment to map and potentially protect more vulnerable areas in the future, and new municipal requirements for watershed planning to ensure clean drinking water.
For years, we’ve spoken out about the risks of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). These harassing lawsuits aimed at silencing public debate were launched by developers, corporations or others against concerned citizens who spoke out against proposed projects in their communities. This year, Ontario residents achieved a major victory when the province passed legislation to end the scourge of SLAPPs. A win for democracy in Ontario, the new law protects free speech and the rights of citizens to voice their concerns. Another longstanding priority for ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE came to a successful conclusion when the Ontario government passed Bill 181, banning corporate and union donations to municipal election candidates. This important bill will limit corporate influence over municipal planning and bring more transparency to land-use decision-making.
- Along with concerned citizens, we will continue to speak out against the redundant Highway 413 to ensure the provincial government understands that the highway is unnecessary, and must be cancelled.
- We will work with the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance and the public to ensure that the final Greenbelt and Growth Plans expand the Greenbelt, stop sprawl and build stronger sustainable communities.
- We will work with municipal leaders and the public to suggest changes to the Ontario Municipal Board so that it supports smart growth and protects the environment.
Speaking of challenges, another big problem impacting the Great Lakes is plastic pollution. Approximately 80 per cent of litter in the lakes is plastic. And even though Ontario has the Blue Box program, about one billion single-use plastic bottles purchased in the province end up in landfills or the environment each year. To help find solutions to this problem, in spring 2016 we released our report, Turning the Plastic Tide: How to Protect the Great Lakes and Fight Plastic Pollution. The report recommends that the Ontario government introduce a deposit return program for plastic bottles to reduce plastic waste and generate funds that could go towards protecting the Great Lakes. And with the report’s release, we also encouraged concerned Ontarians to have their say and tell Ontario it’s time for a deposit return program. Canadian provinces and territories with a deposit-return program recycle over three quarters of their bottles.
Through our Blue Flag program, we work with shoreline communities to protect sensitive habitats while providing Canadians with safe and clean places to enjoy our waterways. The prestigious eco-certification program recognizes beaches and marinas that meet strict international standards, including water quality, safety, and environmental management and education.
The program continues to expand across the country. This year, a record 26 beaches and seven marinas across Canada flew the Blue Flag. We raised flags at two new beaches: Port Glasgow Beach (Port Glasgow, Ontario) and Victoria Beach (Cobourg, Ontario). We also raised the Blue Flag for the first time in British Columbia, as Gibsons Marina in Gibsons, B.C. obtained the award.
- ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE will keep working to make a deposit return program for plastic bottles a reality in Ontario to reduce plastic pollution in the Great Lakes.
- We’ll also continue working to increase the number of Blue Flag beaches and marinas across the country, to help protect shorelines and provide Canadians with safe and clean places to enjoy water.
In the past year, over 25,000 of you raised your voices on issues that impact you, the health of your families and our shared environment. You signed petitions. You wrote or called elected officials or industry groups. You attended marches, lectures or workshops. On social media, you shared images and links calling attention to critical environmental challenges. Together, these efforts resulted in a suite of successes. And we can’t thank you enough! The list of victories includes the federal government declaring microbeads toxic – the last step needed before a ban; the Ontario government announcing a hold on developing Highway 413 and that the highway’s usefulness would be reviewed – a win for those concerned about the mega-highway’s threats to the Greenbelt, farms and communities. And Canada committing to a progressive climate plan at the UN Climate Summit (COP21), positioning Canada as a climate leader. These successes would not have happened without you!
Our Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) Canada program enjoyed another fantastic year. The program received a record number of entries in its national eco-journalism competition from youth across Canada who used their photography, videography, and writing skills to investigate and share solutions to plastic pollution in their communities. First, second, and third place winners were invited to a national YRE Winners’ Workshop at the Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto in May. During the workshop, participants learned about environmental issues and received mentorship from media professionals. The first place winners also competed in the international Young Reporters for the Environment Competition against students’ work from 29 other countries. Two Canadian entries placed in the top three in their categories. Congrats to Sarah Goodstadt from Oakville, Ont. and Mymoon Bhuiyan from Scarborough, Ont. on their international awards!
Some of this year’s winners
This year, we continued our work on Ontario beaches to encourage conversations about beach safety. Sixteen hundred Ontarians participated in a survey on the importance of having clean and safe beaches for our families to enjoy. Sixteen hundred Ontarians learned about how Blue Flag certification guarantees that beaches with the designation are safe and clean. We compiled what we heard and shared it with municipal and provincial officials to promote and prioritize this program across the country. Our aim is to have as many Blue Flag certified beaches as possible so families know the beaches they visit are clean and safe.
ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE thanks all of the individuals and organizations who generously supported our efforts between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016. Our work protecting the environment and human health would not be possible without you by our side. Thank you! See the complete list here.