As I stood outside Environment Minister Guilbeault’s office, mere hours before the start of the 28th UN Climate Summit (COP28) in Dubai, the air was crisp and fresh. This was a real contrast with the smokey weeks of the summer when forests burned at record rates. Then, as Montreal was topping the worst air quality charts, I kept checking for smog alerts before heading outside with my kids, aware that for many people around the world, living with the increasingly devastating effects of the climate crisis on their health and lives, this – and worse – is often the norm. 

It’s these devastating impacts of fires, floods and droughts that were at the top of my mind as I gathered alongside other Greenpeace activists in front of Canada’s environmental Minister’s office to send our message loud and clear: Make Polluters Pay. 

Greenpeace activists and supporters stood alongside a projection of the mass devastation caused by forest fires, as a fire truck served as a stark reminder of this summer’s wildfire season. 

At the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the stakes will be high for world leaders to tackle an essential root cause of the climate crisis: fossil fuels. Minister Guilbeault’s presence at the summit signals that now is the time for Canada to step up as a climate leader, and champion ambitious action to hold the fossil industry accountable.

But what do we mean by “make polluters pay”? 

The fossil fuel companies that made their wealth by creating this crisis, must be made to help people already suffering the impacts of the climate crisis. To do so, Canada must champion a climate damages tax during COP28, compelling the Canadian fossil fuel industry to contribute significantly to the UN Loss and Damage fund. This approach is not just about compensation; it’s about responsibility and accountability for years of climate and environmental destruction. If you break something, you pay to fix it. That’s only reasonable. There is not an absence of money but an absence of government action to make the fossil fuel industry and other big polluters pay. 

Add your voice here to hold big polluters accountable for fueling the climate crisis

As more people than ever are suffering loss and damage from a rapidly changing climate, the fossil fuel industry is enjoying exorbitant and record profits. Loss and damage from last year’s Pakistan floods alone are estimated to exceed CAD 40 billion, and reconstruction needs total over CAD 20 according to the World Bank. Meanwhile in 2022, the combined profits of the five biggest Canadian oil and gas companies alone totalled CAD $38.3 billion. The fossil fuel industry has never had it so good, while those on the frontline of climate impacts are suffering devastating consequences, and bracing for worse. 

With this edition of COP28 being held in Dubai and chaired by an oil executive, now, more than ever, all eyes are on the fossil elephant in the room, and how it will be held accountable.  

This is it: COP28 has to be a moment of truth. 

Politicians must acknowledge that to achieve the  Paris Agreement to limit warming to 1.5C, they need to end the use and expansion of the biggest climate killers: oil, gas, and coal. Yet right now, the Canadian government continues to expand production, ranking as the fourth largest oil and gas producer in the world in 2022, and on track to be the world’s second largest developer of new oil and gas extraction from 2023 to 2050. To help mitigate this crisis, we need a reckoning that forces fossil fuel polluters to not only stop drilling, but to start paying to fix the crisis they’ve caused. 

The climate crisis will never be solved in any single meeting. But each UN meeting has the potential to advance the key solutions the world so desperately needs – both on a global and national level. COP outcomes can give powerful tools and signals to the world, carrying weight and meaning for legislators, courts, public opinion, business and investors the world over. And from the very beginning the presence of global civil society has been paramount in pushing real solutions, exposing political and corporate greenwashing and  putting pressure on the governments that are slacking on their commitments. 

If we come together, we can effect real change at these meetings. You can do your part by telling Canada that we need to exit fossil fuels and that polluters need to pay for damages they have caused, especially to vulnerable communities affected by the climate crisis.