Two First Nations women stand in front of the ocean

First Nations Climate Initiative signs green shipping corridor agreement

Editor’s note: another sign that communities are beginning to take climate change more seriously.

By Seth Forward, Prince Rupert Northern View, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

More than 11,000 kilometres away from Northwest B.C., the West Green Shipping Corridor agreement was signed on Dec. 6 by the First Nations Climate Initiative (FNCI), a group comprising Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla, Nisga’a and Haisla. 

The North Coast group attended the COP 28 (Conference of the Parties) conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

Other signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) included Canada and the Port of Prince Rupert, along with ports in the UAE, South Korea and Japan. The FNCI says it would like to see the Port of Prince Rupert become a pioneer in decarbonizing its operations. 

The MOU was drafted by Transport Canada, who committed $165.4 million to the initiative, which identified global shipping as a key contributor to climate change, with fears of greenhouse gas emissions from the industry growing between 50 and 250 per cent by 2050. 

According to Alex Grzybowski, facilitator for the FNCI, the signing is a “statement of intent” from the FNCI, which says it is aiming to supply decarbonized energy to industry. 

Grzybowski said Transport Canada approached the FNCI to see if they would be interested in signing the MOU after the group arrived in Dubai for the global conference. 

Both the Haisla and Nisga’a have proposed LNG projects in the works, while Metlakatla is part of the ownership group of coal exporter Trigon Terminals. 

Many green fuel options include transitioning to hydrogen-based fuels, according to Grzybowski. He highlighted methane pyrolysis, which heats methane molecules until they break down into hydrogen and solid carbon, as one of the avenues to providing decarbonized energy to industry. He said the transition to decarbonized fuels should be led by First Nations. 

“Everyone knows we can’t continue to burn fossil fuels and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, that’s part of the problem. We need to either stop doing it altogether, or instead of burning them we need to manufacture things from them like solid carbon and hydrogen,” he said. 

“As we decarbonize the Port of Prince Rupert, somebody’s going to need to take the lead in providing that decarbonized fuel and FNCI nations think it should be First Nations that do that.” 

Having First Nations involved in climate talks which they were previously excluded from is a major step in the right direction, according to Grzybowski. 

“We need to decarbonize shipping and there’s a significant opportunity associated with doing that. So let’s seize the opportunity and be part of the creation of a decarbonized future and First Nations want to be central actors in that, rather than bystanders like they were in the past,” Grzybowski said. 

After signing the MOU, Crystal Smith, elected Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation, said actions need to follow words in global climate talks. 

“Indigenous-led solutions are needed to reach Canada’s — and the world’s — climate action goals,” Smith said. 

“We must all decarbonize our economies now in order to mitigate climate change and realize a future that benefits everyone. The time for talk and debate has passed; there is too much at risk.” 

Metlakatla Chief Councillor Robert Nelson, who attended COP 28, said the Nation is well-placed to begin the decarbonization process on the North Coast. 

“We share a vision for a decarbonized terrestrial and marine transportation sector with Canada, DP World, the Prince Rupert Port Authority, other signatories and our collaborating First Nations who form part of the First Nations Climate Initiative,” Nelson said. 

“We recognize the opportunity for our territory to become a leading hub for green, decarbonized transportation.” 

Grzybowski said the FNCI was able to do plenty of networking on its trip to Dubai, highlighting positive dialogue with Korean groups looking to shift away from the current coal-intensive process of steelmaking while at the global conference. 

He also said a presentation made by the FNCI about restoring ecosystems as carbon sinks drew the attention of Ugandan attendees. 

“There’s very fruitful discussions to have between people from different countries that are supporting efforts to decarbonize,” he said. 

Top image credit: Darlene Hunter, chief of Halfway River First Nation (left) with Crystal Smith, chief councillor of Haisla Nation are among some of the founding members of the First Nations Climate Initiative that has drafted a new action plan for federal and provincial governments to endorse and support. (Supplied photo)

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