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Halifax NDP Member of Parliament, Megan Leslie is calling on Nova Scotians to help save a proposed law that would compel the federal government to make substantial cuts to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. Bill C-311 would require the government to set targets reducing emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2020 and to 80 percent below by 2050. It would also require the federal Minister of the Environment to set an interim emissions reduction target for 2015 within six months after the bill becomes law. In addition, a federal commissioner would be required to publish a report every two years analyzing the government's progress in meeting its emissions reduction targets.
The Conservatives have opposed the bill, known as theClimate Change Accountability Act, since the NDP first introduced it in 2006. However, in spite of Conservative opposition, the bill passed the Commons in 2008, but did not receive Senate approval before Parliament was dissolved for a federal election. The NDP re-introduced the measure in 2009.
In a surprise move last week, Conservative MPs denied the unanimous consent needed for the bill to move to final debate. On Wednesday, the House will vote on whether the bill should proceed and Leslie fears that in the confusion over the procedural maneuvering, the bill will die.
“They [the Conservatives] don’t want this bill to pass at all because then they’d actually have to meet these targets or, they would have to break them,” she says adding that the Conservatives want to protect the Alberta Tar Sands, the world’s largest energy project.
“They don’t care about reducing our emissions, about reducing the amount of oil that we’re using because to them that’s where the money comes from. It’s about making sure that we can keep the Tar Sands going; it’s about making sure that we can still drive our SUVs.”
Leslie is calling on Nova Scotians who support targeted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to phone or e-mail Liberal MPs to ask them to vote for the bill to move forward. She says the NDP and the Bloc are solidly in favour of Bill C-311, but although the Liberals supported it in the past, their current position isn’t clear. Last fall, the Liberals sided with the Conservatives and voted to delay the bill. The delay meant Canada was not bound by greenhouse gas emissions targets during negotiations at the UN climate change conference last December in Copenhagen.
Meantime, Leslie is also calling for people to get in touch with Conservative MPs, including Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
“Nova Scotia’s in a lot of trouble as far as rising sea levels go and the impacts that’s going to have on our province and I really think our Nova Scotian Conservative MPs need to hear from people that this is of concern to us.”
The vote on whether Bill C-311 moves to the final stages in the House of Commons is scheduled for April 14.
I asked Dalhousie College of Sustainability History prof Claire Campbell for her post-Copenhagen thoughts. What were her feelings about the conference and the outcome, and what's next for the climate movement? Here is her response:
Of course I'm very disappointed at the lack of a comprehensive, enforceable, effective treaty. The past two weeks at Copenhagen showed there is an enormous amount of public support in both the developed and developing worlds for prioritizing climate change issues in both domestic and international governance.
And yet, is anyone really surprised? The scale of the problem coupled with the range of parties amplifies the byzantine nature of international negotiations. More forgivingly, consider the historical dimension to this: we have relatively little experience in successful transnational governance, particularly when it comes to challenging nation-state sovereignty, and very little when it comes to environmental issues (maybe two decades). We need many Copenhagens to figure out /how/ to do it but we don't have endless amounts of time to repeat
the learning exercise. We're caught between a lack of historical memory and a lack of future time.
So there's the realist. The romantic part of me sees tens of thousands of people converging on one spot because they have made environmental or climate change issues part of their lives. The negotiators in Bella Center were only one (depressing) part. You also had researchers, inventors, community organizers, activists - all of whom, in their own way, saw this as an opportunity for dialogue with their counterparts from around the world.
Sustainability needs people from all walks of life. You have to be true to your passions and your abilities, whether as an historian, or an architect, or a biologist; but then bring those to environmental concerns. For every conversation mired in molasses at the Bella Center, there was one coloured by energy and action somewhere else in the city.
There is amazing work being done out there, and that was inspiring to see.
I asked Sierra Club Atlantic representative and Dal student Emily Rideout for her post-Copenhagen thoughts. What were her feelings about the conference and the outcome, and what's next for the climate movement? Here is Emily's response:
There was some progress made in terms of process that may help us create a real climate deal within the next 12 months, but in terms of the bigger picture, the world has failed to deliver, or rather developed countries have blocked progress to such an extent that a collective failure was inevitable.
People here were really looking to Obama to deliver a curve ball in the form of a significant target or at least an epic speech, but instead, he struck a weak deal, didn't change US targets and gave a luke warm speech that elicited boo's from NGOs gathered at the NGO convergence space. Now that we can no longer look to Obama for hope and inspiration, no one is sure where to look.
Personally, I'm hopeful, confident even, that we can get a deal by June at one of the intercessional meetings or at at the latest in Mexico city at COP16. The world can make a FAB [fair, ambitious, binding] deal a reality. I know it will happen, it has to happen, small island nations and Least Developed Countries will not stand for less. For me, it's not a question of if, it's a question of when.
At the global scale, we will keep the pressure on developed nations to act on their responsibility to mitigate their GHG emissions, I have no doubt of that.
I'm not sure where I'm headed personally in terms of climate change. In my naive dream for the COP outcome, I hoped that we would secure a good deal and that I could take a break from climate change action, organizing and reporting. Obviously, my dream didn't work out. People have put exhaustive amount of time and energy into this and it'll be a challenge to keep energy levels up. I'm working on my thesis and will likely take some time off to focus on school and debriefing from this experience.
I asked Kings County activist and member of the Canadian Youth Delegation Thea Whitman for her post-Copenhagen thoughts. What were her feelings about the conference and the outcome, and what's next for the climate movement? Here is Thea's response:
I am disappointed - you might even say devastated - to see this as the result of 15 years of negotiations since the first COP [conference of the parties]. Since the Bali action plan was developed two years ago at COP13, leaders had a clear timeline to create a strong post-2012 plan. Instead, time was wasted in Poznan, Poland, last year, waiting for the new US administration to take over before acting. Games of cat and mouse were played in the lead-up to Copenhagen rather than laying the framework and building the trust that would have been necessary to achieve a significant result here. Instead, we have been left with what could be called a greenwash at best and a failure at worst.
The "Copenhagen Accord," thrown together over the last days of the conference, is an insult to those who believe in an open and transparent process that includes the voices of not only those who are inflicting the most harm, but also those who will suffer the most from climate change. While the accord cites a goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees, the actions pledged by all countries virtually guarantee that we will bypass this goal.
Although COP15 is over, the negotiators' job is not done. Countries need to work as hard as it takes to finalize a strong agreement over the next 6 months. Already, this failure is a costly delay, measured in human lives and in dollars, as we lock in more climate change and delay the investments in clean energy that can drive our global economy, bringing jobs and prosperity in every country. As a young person looking at how these negotiations will affect my future, I am outraged, frightened, and ashamed at what my country is doing.
I do have some hope. Some countries are taking very significant steps, both on mitigation and on financing adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. Although Canada is lagging behind on both these counts, provinces, cities and towns, and individual Canadians are taking big steps. Most Canadians want stronger federal climate policy and for Canada to return to its role as a world leader on the environment, and while these calls to action seem to have fallen on deaf ears in this government, Canadians will not stand for this for long. The climate movement is growing, to the point where it will one day not even be called a movement, but rather be the new way of seeing the world, just as the civil rights movement or women's rights movements took over our national consciousness. Still, just as neither of these issues has been "solved," we will need to continue to fight for climate justice. This fight has been the most inspiring thing I saw at this conference.
The actions of young people at the conference, such as the sit-in in the final days, the tens of thousands-strong march on Saturday, paired with thousands of actions all over the world and hundreds at home in Canada, the sit-ins that have taken place in ministers' offices all across the country (most recently, in Stephen Harper's) and other creative actions before and during the conference, and the actions and lobbying that I am certain will continue post-Copenhagen, all show me that this is a movement that cannot be stopped.
I have been honoured to work with the talented, dedicated, passionate, and brilliant people on the Canadian Youth Delegation and am hoping to dedicate all I can in the coming months and years to join the millions of people across the country in pushing us toward the advent of a new era of climate change action in Canada.
If those inside the conference will not take leadership, we will. If those negotiating our future will not use principles of climate justice and human rights to guide their decisions, we will not stand for it. And when our political leaders are ready to take the necessary action to prevent dangerous climate change, we will welcome them to join us.
When I interviewed Weaver in September, he told me that the UN conference on climate change to be held in Copenhagen in December was humanity’s “last chance” to avoid reaching irreversible climate change. “If agreement isn’t reached at Copenhagen, we might as well forget about it,” he told me at the time.
The Copenhagen conference concluded last week, so I called Weaver Monday to get his opinion.
It ended with a whimper. Humanity should be so lucky.
After 12 days of bitter arguments, leaked documents, sit-ins and arrests, negotiators agreed it would be the lowest common denominator all around.
Poor countries didn't want rich countries verifying their results. They got what they wanted.
Rich countries didn't want citizens to sacrifice their cushy lifestyles. They got what they wanted.
After eight drafts, at 1:30 AM Mexican president Felipe Calderon announced that they had signed an accord in which nobody committed to much of anything. No targets, no legal obligations. The Copenhagen Accord, as it is being called, mentions the importance of keeping temperature rises under two degrees Celsius but makes no commitments to do anything about it. Any mention of keeping temperature rises under 1.5 degrees was scrapped.
The US, India, South Africa and China came up with the draft, and the EU, Brazil and Mexico have since jumped aboard. Obama clearly took the lead, and having spent less than a day in Copenhagen, he's on the plane homeward. The G77 group of poor countries are saying the draft was announced before they were consulted.
The most concrete thing in the accord are provisions for $30 billion in funding for climate change adaptation in poor countries by 2012, and another $100 billion a year after 2020. In other words, "we couldn't prevent it, here's some cash to deal with it."
Under the accord, nations will basically decide for themselves what if anything they'll do about climate change. Stephen Harper, who was not involved with the accord, will love it.
Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo called Copenhagen "a climate crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport in shame."
Lydia Baker, Save the Children's Policy Adviser, remarked, "World leaders have effectively signed a death warrant for many of the world's poorest children. Up to 250,000 children from poor communities could die [due to climate change] before the next major meeting in Mexico at the end of next year."
Mexico has already promised legally binding targets from COP16, and has urged that negotiations start now. But even a year's delay is Russian roulette for the planet.
Assuming this goes through, and it looks highly probable, you could call this failure a crisis of leadership I suppose. But leadership was proudly on display outside the Bella Centre, on the streets among the demonstrators. They are still out there chanting "3-5-0 Survival!"
Leadership was on display among municipalities, small businesses and social entrepreneurs developing innovative carbon reduction strategies and programs throughout the world. It is only the official "leaders" who aren't getting their shit together, and frankly I didn't expect them to.
Change won't come from those who have gained the most from a suicidal civilization. It will come from those with the most to lose.
Twitter was so right. Hours before the Globe and Mail posted the story rumours started circulating that leaders had failed to make a deal and had been asked to stick it out another day.
The PMO's office denies it but says "negotiations are still ongoing." Somebody should tell Russia's Medvedev that; apparently he left already.
The good news is that today's draft documents (which amazingly were made public without being leaked) could create an agreement to try and stop the global temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius. If average global temperatures rise by more than that the heavens will rain apocalyptic hail and winds and so-forth.
The "leaders" have apparently agreed to cut greenhouse gas emission by half from 1990 levels by 2050. Industrialized countries would aim for an 80 percent reduction, putting them in line with Barack Obama's goals. There would also be a $100 billion-a-year fund for poor countries to help them green their economies. Sounds pretty good except that 2050 is a long way out. Depending how quickly we move on targets we could easily go above that two degree threshold by then.
The commitment will probably be completely toothless, but in my mind it beats coming up with a toothy protocol with namby-pamby commitments like "reduce emissions by one percent below 2020 emissions." As I've been pointing out, cramming the world's future into three days of actual negotiations is just stupid.
If we end up with a vague agreement in principle, the question then becomes, what next? Do we wait until the next regularly scheduled COP meeting, wasting precious time conducting business as usual? Or do we move quickly to turn "in principle" into something legally binding and quantifiable.
From the sounds of it, it will be the former. The wording of the draft seems to indicate that there will be no firm starting date and no timeline for using any Copenhagen agreement to make a legally-binding treaty.
[By the way, if you aren't afraid of global warming yet: Wend Travel Magazine reports that hops and barley will fail if the planet keeps warming. That's right, no more beer.]
It's the final day of the Copenhagen climate conference. In the words of WWF Sweden CEO Lasse Gustavsson, "world leaders have arrived and negotiated overnight with little or no progress.” Shocking that even with 120 super-egos in the room they couldn't save the world overnight. You think maybe they should have allotted more time for this task?
Well, rumours abound on the social media that Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, has told delegates to plan on sticking around all weekend and gettin 'er done.
The Guardian has also tweeted that "'UN's Ki-moon has asked people not to leave tonight,' European Union Environment Commissioner Stavros Dima told Reuters."
Apparently Hugo Chavez didn't hear about that because he was too busy shouting "It's over; we failed."
Grist reports that US President Barack Obama was "visibly frustrated" as he urged everybody to get their shit together. He spent the night locked in a room with 18 other key leaders and still found time this morning to give a speech and spend an hour with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. According to one Singapore journalist it was a very productive meeting in which they agreed that bold action plans are needed, that money needs to be invested by richer countries, and that commitments must be measurable.
That last point has been the biggest sticking point of the conference. Rich countries are insisting that they get to verify the reductions reported by poor countries. But poor countries don't get to look at our climate books in return.
Ann Danylkiw, a journalist in China, reports that a new climate and energy registry has been developed for businesses and municipalities in Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces in southern China. The registry is run by an international NGO and the information is on an online database, providing the independent verification rich countries want without the paternalism poor countries fear.
No word yet on whether anyone in Copenhagen besides Ann Danylkiw is aware of this potential solution to the biggest threat humanity has ever faced.
I'll be keeping an eye on things all day and posting developments here.
Q. Is this your first experience at an international conference of this nature?
Like many academics I go to international conferences occasionally, though I've never been to a COP. I was just in Copenhagen in August, actually, for the first World Congress in Environmental History. Denmark is my favourite country in the world after Canada, but it's rather different in December.
Q. What did you do to prepare for the experience?
Well, first off, I taught the very first year of the first year course (An Introduction to Environment, Sustainability, and Society) in our new College of Sustainability at Dalhousie. So that certainly put me in the right frame of mind!
I also did some background reading on climate change issues, the UNFCCC [UN Framework Convention on Climate Change], and Nova Scotia's environmental initiatives. Deborah Buszard [also with the College of Sustainabiltiy] and I went to a couple of briefings: one jointly held by DFAIT [the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade] and the trade arm of the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment, who had corralled the provincial trade mission; and a session at the HUB on Barrington Street, which featured Rob Niven and Emily Richardson of Carbon Sense Solutions, George Foote of the DOE, and Lil Macpherson of the Wooden Monkey, all of whom were on the mission.
Q. It must be quite a rush to be there. I hear there are often sleepless nights. What is the energy like?
After four hours sleep I'm exhausted, and I'm not one of the people who really had to play hardball at this thing! I have high regard for people like those from the DOE, or some of the youth organizers - who just have been going flat-out these past two weeks. People might have been flagging a bit toward the end of the week, but last night, at a reception hosted by the Nova Scotia government, there was a remarkably buoyant spirit among "Team Nova
Q. What role are you playing there? Do you feel like you have much of an influence over proceedings and outcomes?
Second question first: If you mean the COP proper, then no. I'm disappointed that I can't even get close enough to the negotiations to make my presence part of the critical mass, which might send a message - yet I don't feel I
can leave the work to the negotiators, particularly Canada's, who haven't been working for the deal I'd want.
On the other hand, nothing is going to get done with the chaos and noise interjected into the "climate" of negotiation. I'd rather something get done by the people who can get something done.
Similarly, I know I'm more effective doing other things. My job has been to discuss the College of Sustainability and Dalhousie's interest in environmental issues with, first of all, the other Nova Scotian delegates (clean energy providers have been particularly well-represented) and secondly, Danish academics and researchers, particularly from the two largest universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus. The interest in transatlantic connections with us is terrific, and something I can't wait to make happen.
Q. What kinds of strategies and tactics are academics using in Copenhagen to assert an influence?
It depends on the academics in question. There are two university presidents, and a law professor from Dalhousie, who are advisors to Environment Minister Jim Prentice - although I don't know how much good it's doing. There are
some who are here as representatives of NGOs, like the Canadian Wildlife Federation. There are numerous scientists, of course. And then there are people like Deborah and me, who see Dalhousie as both a portal into Nova Scotia - for students and faculty from abroad - and a connector between researchers, industry, and civil society.
Q. Is there much of a chance for academics to interact with activists, business and government folks? When that happens is it a tense encounter or is it more of a bridging experience between perspectives?
That's really been what we've been doing, although more with the latter two on the whole, at events like Bright Green. I would bet, though, that most academics would sympathize with the position(s) taken by the environmental
activists, so I can't say there's been any tension. And it's been really heartening to see the College received so enthusiastically by people like the Premier.
Q. Who are the most interesting people you've met there and what have you learned from them?
1. Kurt Nielsen, Deputy Director of the National Environmental Research Institute [NERI] of Denmark, who told me about their research stations in Greenland as part of their work in Arctic, terrestrial, marine, and wildlife environments.
2. Justin Boyle, the energy guy at the HRM. He's a great source of information about a host of things in the works - like geothermal heating - to help the HRM meet its emission targets as a World Energy City; but also pretty pragmatic about the more ambitious ideas we've been throwing at him, like wind turbines in the city or a light rail around the Bedford Basin.
Q. The Harper government seems particularly oblivious and impervious to popular opinion on this issue. Are you optimistic about the outcome in Copenhagen, and the chances for Canada to restore its damaged international image? And is it hard to stay positive?
I was saying to a national youth delegate that as an historian, I can't think of a moment in Canada's history when our reputation abroad was as poor as it is now. This state of affairs is unprecedented. What is heartening is the hidden virtue of federalism: other levels of governments are pulling apart from Ottawa, as sub-national negotiations distinguish provincial and municipal positions (and more aggressive environmental targets) to convey that most Canadians do place great value on the environment. You specified "the Harper government" - one result of this event has been that people within Canada and abroad see a particular administration rather than a universal policy or sentiment.
Q. This conference has been described in somewhat hyperbolic terms. What is its real significance?
I'll let my colleague Deborah Buszard, the associate director of research and outreach for the College, answer this one: "It might not be the best process, but it's the only process we've got."
A few old lessons I’ve re-learned from the Copenhagen climate conference so far:
-The rich and the poor resent each other. They don’t trust each other.
-Assembly and free speech are no long accepted human rights in the corridors of power. Our so-called democratic leaders would rather crack the whip than listen to millions of voices crying out for change. A few recent Copenhagen headlines to illustrate the point: 1,000 arrests Saturday; 18 arrests Monday; 20 arrests Tuesday; 250 arrests Wednesday.
-Despite the above, people never stop trying. It’s been a day of unfurled banners and sit-ins in Copenhagen.
Here in Halifax there have been a series of creative protests desperately trying to reach federal politicians. Sierra Club members dressed as elves and visited MP Mike Savage yesterday.
“He got a bittersweet gift,” Sierra Club Atlantic director Gretchen Fitzgerald says of the event. “Organic candy canes and Just Us! chocolate for signing Kyotoplus, but a lump of coal for blocking Bill C-311.” Savage refused once again to support the bill, which would commit Canada to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020.
Tomorrow a group of youth in Halifax are planning a John Lennon style bed-in at Peter MacKay’s downtown office at 1801 Hollis St. They’ll be singing climate change Christmas carols and protesting Canada’s efforts to wiggle out of its Kyoto commitments.
Out in Calgary twenty concerned citizens have taken over Stephen Harper’s constituency office. They have given the Prime Minister an ultimatum: get a progressive climate deal done or resign. I have a feeling he’ll choose none of the above, but the effort is gutsy and admirable.
The activists say they had no choice because our future is on the line and having their letters and petitions ignored just wasn’t cutting it anymore. What amazes me is that this is actually the eighth such sit-in in three weeks, according to the Dominion’s media co-op.
-If a-change-is-gonna-come it won't come from the heads of state in Copenhagen. It will come from the actions of these average people who won't stop trying, because they want a future.
“I couldn't get in today even though I have all the right badges," Emily Rideout tells me. "It’s total BS.”
She confirms reports that NGO workers have been mostly shut out of today's negotiations and plenaries in Copenhagen. UN climate chief Yvo de Boer is claiming responsibility for booking more than 46,000 people into the Bella Centre, which holds a mere 15,000 people at a time.
Today, with heads of state finally arriving, more than 85 percent of NGO workers got the boot. That means a lot of the information coming out of the conference will stop flowing, especially information about poorer countries with smaller delegations and more limited access to the mainstream media. It's a situation that could elicit Stephen Harper's least wooden smile since he entered politics.
About 3,000 of the shut out NGO workers took to the streets in a mass demonstration, and attempted to storm the Bella Centre. They were beaten back and tear gassed by police. Two-hundred-and-fifty people were arrested.
Rideout was one of the demonstrators, and she took these videos this morning; it's a confusing scene but it gives a sense of the tension and the overwhelming presence of both police and media:
Adopt A Negotiator also posted this video showing police crackdown on protesters.:
Back inside the Bella Centre another 50 NGO workers held a spontaneous sit-in in solidarity with those who couldn't get in.
Everyone’s going gaga over the arrival in Copenhagen of the Prince of Wales, who is really the Prince of England, who really has no power except the influence media and celebrity worship afford him. Yep, things keep getting weirder in Copenhagen, or maybe we’re just better equipped to witness the weirdness and paying more attention to climate change these days.
Charles’ message to Copenhagen negotiators was in fact that the eyes of the world are watching (so haha, now you know how it feels.) After a week-and-a-half of non-governmental shenanigans (and more than a thousand arrests), the real power brokers arrived in Copenhagen today to a princely lecture about the key role forest preservation must play in staving off total climate chaos.
Meanwhile, yet another leaked document (really you’d think these guys would learn to stop writing down their secret plans), shows that plans to pay poor countries not to cut down their forests have been chopped full of loopholes. That means large-scale deforestation will likely continue unabated, releasing stored carbon and making yesterday’s relatively ambitious new draft goals pretty much unreachable.
A sense of forced optimism is still wafting over the airwaves from Copenhagen. “Maybe the real leaders will be more progressive than their minions,” seems to be the hopeful philosophy of many environmentalists about the proceedings. Maybe now that it’s do or die, the real leaders will get a real deal done.
What’s strange is that with the liveability of the planet (for humans and many other species) on the line, all the real negotiations are crammed into three days. It’s like we’re so addicted to high drama we’ve turned the planet into a three-day Hollywood movie shoot.
Will they beat the odds, get a deal done and save humanity? Or will they waste three days arguing and leave us vulnerable to the political meteorite scheduled for impact when they jet home Friday night? Stay tuned.
After getting called out by the Yes Men mega-pranksters, it seemed Canada had hit rock bottom in Copenhagen. Not so.
Late yesterday afternoon CBC got its publicly funded paws on a draft presentation by Environment Minister Jim Prentice. “It proposes regulations for greenhouse gas emissions for the oil and gas and heavy mining industries,” Matthew Bramley, the Pembina Institute’s climate change program director, tells me from Copenhagen.
He says the proposed regulations would cut Canada’s planned greenhouse gas reductions to about a third of what is now required. Those earlier requirements were themselves much too weak to meet our Kyoto commitments. “We conclude that the reductions needed in the rest of the economy are so steep that it’s implausible that we’ll meet our targets.”
By targets he means the weak targets Canada released in its 2008 Turning the Corner plan of 2008, not our actual commitments under Kyoto, which we weren’t likely to meet anyway.
Bramley’s Pembina Institute jointly released a statement a few hours ago, and held a press conference minutes ago, with the Climate Action Network and Équiterre. He hasn’t yet heard any response from other nations to Canada’s latest backslide. “But if I was a negotiator for another country I would view this as negotiating in bad faith,” he says.
The press conference was followed with a "lie for a lie" demonstration by the Canadian Youth Delegation, in which CYD members lay on the floor with signs decrying Canada's ongoing climate failure. "Young people are further disappointed in the lack of transparency, or genuine participation of the Conservative government in Copenhagen," says a CYD press release today. "These leaked documents show that the Canadian government is lying to Canadians about our climate targets, and lying to the international community about our willingness to negotiate."
Bramley holds hope that Canada will do the right thing by week’s end, due to unprecedented pressure from the 5,000 journalists in Copenhagen and the 100 heads of state arriving in the next couple days. “Usually it’s just environment ministers but with this level of scrutiny and political clout the political price for failure will be very high.”
They had me going for a couple minutes.
I got a press release this morning that was supposedly from Environment Canada, but it was a fake. It was convincing in its tone, but its content was too good to be true.
The press release announced a new Canadian climate agenda with reductions targets of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 80 percent by 2050. What really shocked me was the commitment of five percent of GDP going to aid developing countries’ climate change prevention and adaptation initiatives by 2030. As if. We’ve never even come close to meeting our 0.7 percent commitment.
The new plan was supposedly in response to a walkout on talks by all of the G77 countries, representing much of the developing world. They want a second round of legally binding greenhouse gas emissions cuts under the Kyoto Protocol. Some of the heavily industrialized countries prefer a whole new deal because the USA is not part of Kyoto. The talks are back on but still no word of any resolution on this issue.
The fake news release came as a brief beam of hope to environmentalists. It had a link to www.enviro-can.canada.ca, a beautiful mimic of the real Environment Canada website: www.ec.gc.ca, only with considerably more inspiring content.
Word out of Copenhagen is that this is the work of the Yes Men, the notorious pranksters on a mission of “impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them.” This prank matches their MO. One of their first and most famous stunts was creating a fake, “corrected” World Trade Organization website to portray the organization for what it really is: an institutional tool of economic exploitation.
The Yes Men have also pulled off fake news releases, and even a fake issue of the New York Times last year that had the headlines and stories everyone wishes were real, like Nation Sets its Sights on Building a Sane Economy.
If the Yes Men are indeed the culprits, the fake Environment Canada release is the group’s first official slag on Canada—-and it’s about time. Mark MacKinnon, the Globe & Mail’s East Asia Correspondent, tweeted that he is now “officially embarrassed by Canada at Copenhagen.” He says we've “replaced the Bushies as the punch line.”
Jim Prentice was quick to correct his fake self. The fake Prentice was quoted as saying, “We believe all people will benefit from an equitable climate deal that truly energizes the world economy.” It was the first time I’d ever agreed with the man.
But the real Prentice countered with his usual disregard for irritancies like the poor and the environment. He described the hoax with the same word he might describe those irritancies, if he was honest. He called it “undesirable.”
Kings County's Thea Whitman is one of 30 members of the Canadian Youth Delegation in Copenhagen. The group has garnered a lot of attention for its creative direct actions at the conference and drawing attention to Canada's failure on climate change action. Whitman graciously provided detailed answers (with links!) to my questions.
Q. What is the Canadian Youth Delegation's role in Copenhagen, and how does direct action affect things there?
The Canadian Youth Delegation is a group of around 30 young Canadians from across the country, co-ordinated by the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition.
Here in Copenhagen we are representing the interests of young people, lobbying our elected officials and negotiators, working with international youth, communicating our experience back home by getting media coverage and producing our own new media, and doing actions inside and outside of the conference.
Q. What is it like doing these direct actions in a place where you have potentially a worldwide audience?
Actions have been a big part of what we're doing. We ran one early in the conference on the tar sands using an oil-splattered banner reading "Stop tarring our image," referencing both the problems behind the tar sands and how Canada is blocking negotiations at the conference, which is causing our country to lose our strong international reputation on environmental issues.
We have been involved in international youth actions, including one today where young people from around the world will line the hallway wearing t-shirts reading: "How old will you be in 2050?", referencing the long-term target year for emissions reductions being negotiated, and holding flags from our countries, representing the diverse areas of the world already being impacted by climate change. The rest of the world is beginning to pick up on the fact that Canada is a laggard [as exemplified by the Colossal Fossil award we received last year, and getting international press on this is great.
Being involved in the massive (tens of thousands of people) march through the streets of Copenhagen on Saturday was also awesome. It was fantastic to see how many people care about climate change and are ready to act - from babies to grandmas, people from all walks of life were there. Furthermore, this action ran in parallel with over 4,000 actions around the world including 400 in Canada alone - people really care about this issue and are coming out to show it.
Q. I've been to protests where it feels like the same slogans are being begrudgingly dragged out and chanted ad nauseum, and I've been to others where the creative energy is palpable. It sounds like you are involved in the latter. Can you tell me a bit about the creative process of coming up with direct actions that get positive attention on a world stage?
There is a diverse group of us, on the delegation and among the international youth, who have excellent experience planning exciting and new actions. There is a very strong sense of fun and play in all our actions - as young people, we are not jaded or just expressing mindless anger.
Q. Can you tell me a bit about the emotional experience of being at such an important gathering for the future of our planet? Is it tense, stressful, exciting, fun, scary, all of the above?
Emotions are definitely constantly running high, as the issues that are at stake here really cut straight to the core values many of us hold. It is intensely exciting to be here as history is being made, but the window into the negotiations may be getting foggy, as civil society numbers are to be slashed to 30% starting tomorrow and likely to 0 from Wednesday or Thursday on. This has serious implications for the transparency of the process, not to mention the logistic issues behind the fact that the UN secretariat simply overbooked the 15,000 capacity by 15,000 - accrediting twice as many delegates as can fit in the centre.
Having the ear of Canadian negotiators and Environment minister Jim Prentice is very exciting and pseudo-powerful, but crushing when we basically see our suggestions falling on deaf ears. Canada's emissions reduction target is completely inconsistent with what we need to do, based on science, to safeguard our future, and our negotiators here seem not willing to negotiate.
As youth, we are more often co-opted as a photo op for the minister, rather than really listened to and valued.
Meeting with NS Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau, Environment Deputy-Minister Nancy Vanstone, and Director of the Climate Change Directorate, George Foote today was exciting because there is so much that NS can do to become a leader in clean energy, green jobs, and climate change action.
It is scary because there is so much at stake - it is critical that significant progress is made at these negotiations to ensure that we have new legally binding agreements and commitment on the table before the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period is finished in 2012.
The G77+China (a large negotiating bloc of developing nations) has just "walked out of negotiations" because of the stance of countries like Canada, who call to abondon the Kyoto protocol.
What's fun and inspiring is working with this amazing and talented group of young people. This group is among the most passionate, dedicated, innovative, intelligent, and motivated groups I've ever had the privilege of working with.
Q. What would be your ideal outcome from Copenhagen, both in terms of your personal experience and the political outcome that would give you hope for humanity and this planet?
The ideal Copenhagen outcome would be a fair, ambitious, and binding treaty. Developed nations should commit to emissions reduction targets of 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020, based on science, (as the EU and other countries have committed to already), and developing countries commit to reducing their emissions below what "business as usual" would be by 15-30% by 2020.
Significant financing for adaptation and mitigation and an equitable mechanism for its distribution should be finalized. Forests must be included, by introducing a mechanism to provide incentives to reduce deforestation in developing countries and count emissions from land-use changes and forestry in developed countries. Furthermore, this agreement should be legally binding in order to ensure that it is enforced and effective.
As what we know scientifically develops rapidly, we must be able to react to what we learn, which is why we need strong short-term targets and interim review periods, because what we know will develop rapidly.
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