The world’s most poor and vulnerable nations experience climate change as a present reality, while we tend to talk about it as a future abstraction. They’re already suffering, but can’t do much about it. We could do something about it, but we’re not yet suffering.
I became aware of that distinction in Copenhagen during the COP15 climate talks three years ago. At the time, I wrote:
The context of the conversation that’s taking place in Copenhagen is entirely different from that in North America. Instead of arguing about if climate change is a real and serious concern or predicting future consequences if we don’t act, the narrative here is that dangerous climate change is already a reality…
Today I listened to a man from the island nation of Tuvalu, which is emerging at this meeting as a symbol of why we must act. The highest point in Tuvalu is 4.5 meters above sea level. In other words, unless we aggressively reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, this nation will slip beneath the waves. Negotiators from Tuvalu have been strongly pushing for tough, binding targets in plenary, and the tiny state has captured the imagination of many of the NGO delegates, particularly the youth.
Through this lens, the Canadian government’s pathetic non-participation in the negotiations is seen as not just embarrassing, but cruel. The world’s poorer countries believe they are already suffering, and that people are already dying, because of the actions of the world’s richer countries. For them it is as if the United States, Canada, and Europe are turning a giant tap that slowly drowns them while they cry out in vain. The immorality becomes blatant and blaring. And yet they continue to chose hope over anger; it’s remarkable.
I was reminded of that today when I saw this article and video of the lead negotiator from the Philippines issuing a tearful plea to the COP18 plenary in Doha. Three years later, and all that’s changed is Canada’s climate plan is more pathetic and lacking than ever. In 2009 there was lots of criticism that the government’s targets were way too low, today we’re not even on track to meet those targets.
We didn’t talk about this much in the last federal election. Let’s do better next time. Talk is the least we can do.