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Thunberg calls for climate action in Canada's oil heartland

October 19, 2019

Thunberg's speech to thousands of protesters was punctuated by a counterrally organized by a pro-oil group. Thunberg's visit comes days before an election in which climate change promises to be a contentious issue.

Greta Thunberg in front of the Alberta Legislature Building
Image: picture-alliance/D. Chidley

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg joined thousands of protesters marching in Alberta, Canada's energy heartland, on Friday as a smaller counterrally of oil and gas workers converged on the provincial capital, Edmonton.

While Thunberg steered clear of making any direct criticism of Alberta's oil sands or of commenting explicitly on Canada's upcoming election, she called for Canada to take responsibility for its emissions.

"Richer countries such as Canada and Sweden need to get down to zero emissions much faster so people in poorer countries can heighten their standard of living by building the infrastructure we have already built," Thunberg told a cheering crowd from the steps of the Alberta Legislature Building.

"We're not doing this because it's fun or because we have a special interest in the climate or because we want to become politicians when we grow up. We're doing this because our future is at stake," she continued.

Read more: Greta Thunberg leads 500,000 people at Montreal climate rally

Protest punctuated by pro-oil counterrally

The crowd, estimated by organizers to number close to 10,000, was led by indigenous drummers and marched slowly towards the provincial legislature building from the city center.

"I came out to show support for Greta and everyone fighting against the climate crisis," said demonstrator Bridget Gutteridge-Hingston, 13, who marched with her father. "It's something I'm definitely scared of," she said.

A smaller counterrally organized by a pro-oil group, United We Roll, drove from the nearby city of Red Deer to Edmonton in order to demonstrate their support for the oil and gas industry. The convoy of big rig trucks passed by the legislature building and honked their horns as Thunberg spoke.

Climate change activists and oil industry supporters gather side-by-side at the Alberta Legislature Building.
Climate change activists and oil industry supporters gather side-by-side at the Alberta Legislature Building.Image: picture-alliance/D. Chidley

Late last month, Thunberg led a rally in Montreal that attracted 500,000 people and met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

Read more: Canada's Environment Minister Catherine McKenna gets security detail

Federal election ahead

Alberta is home to Canada's oil sands and holds the world's third-largest crude reserves. A 2018 Stanford University study ranked the Canadian oil industry's upstream emissions as the fourth-largest in the world.

The march, organized by indigenous and environmental groups, came days ahead of Monday's federal election in which climate change and the future of the oil and gas industry have proven to be important and contentious issues.

The election promises to be a tight race between Trudeau's Liberals, who are campaigning on a promise to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 despite having purchased an oil pipeline, and Andrew Scheer's Conservatives, who are campaigning on a platform to scrap the country's carbon tax.

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mmc/sms (AP, Reuters)