Tag Archives: climate change

Copenhagen: Monday

cop15Today I spent my morning in the Bella Center, where the main conference is taking place, for the first time. It may also be the last time. Reports say that there are 45,000 people now registered, but capacity is only 15,000. Starting tomorrow admission to the Bella Center will be further restricted and delegates will require a second, rationed pass to get in. (My NGO has 19 passes to share between 89 delegates.)

You might expect that a planning failure of that magnitude would be greeted with frustration, but so far I’ve witnessed very little. Instead, everyone I’ve met seems determined to contribute as positively to the process as they can, whether within the official conference or without. We’ll see how long that lasts, however. We’re talking about people from well-established NGOs who have traveled from all over the world to be here and who have gone through the proper registration process only to be turned away. Fewer observers will be admitted every day this week. According to one report by Friday only 90 people from NGOs will be let in. 90. Out of tens of thousands. It could get tense.

Climate change you can believe in

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.

At a powerful ecumenical service yesterday led by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, three choirs from three corners of the Earth brought with them symbols of how climate change is affecting their lives: rocks uncovered from melting glaciers in Greenland, dead, bleached coral from the Pacific ocean, and dried up maize from Africa.

tuvaluToday 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.

Explaining Canada

fossilOne thing that does unite representatives from European countries and the countries of the south is their complete shock, dismay, and confusion at the role that Canada is playing. Whereas most developed countries are promising emissions reductions in the range of 20-40% below 1990 levels, Canada is offering a 3% reduction. Whenever I’ve told that to someone they’ve assumed they’ve misheard me; it’s unbelievably poor.

So then I get into conversations about the fact that the majority of Canadians support action, that the vast majority of Canadians voted for parties that support taking action, etc. Not that that’s much consolation. Still, I feel like it’s one of my more important roles to help people understand how Canada’s gone so wrong, and how so many of us are working to make it better.

Waiting for Obama

klimaforumAccording to Bill McKibben of 350.org, who spoke earlier today at Klimaforum, the parallel “people’s summit,” there is a team from MIT here in Copenhagen with powerful computers. Their job, at the end of each day, is to look at all of the commitments that countries have offered that day and calculate how many parts per million of carbon that would mean for the atmosphere. Before the industrial revolution that number was around 280ppm, anything above 350ppm is unsafe, and today we’re at approximately 380ppm. According to the MIT projections, if an agreement were signed today as-is we’d be on our way above 700ppm. “If that isn’t literally hell,” McKibben said, “it would look a lot like it.”

In other words, we’ve got a long way to go. And so, a lot of hope rests on the arrival of U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday. At lunch yesterday we quipped, “when he walks into a room everything just gets fixed, right?” The statement was 70% joke and 30% willful delusion.  “Oh, you’re Canadian,” our American friend said. “You still believe that. We know better.”

Back at Klimaforum, McKibben predicted that Obama would likely make a beautiful speech, but that no speech was beautiful enough to alter the scientific and moral imperative to begin reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 2015 at the latest. “The laws of nature will not be swayed by Barack Obama’s oratory,” he said, “but they would be swayed by his action.”

All pictures by me and my iPhone

Delirious in Copenhagen

Wow wow wow - this photo is of historical masses. Biggest climate change demonstration in history. - @ZoeCaron on Twitter
Wow wow wow - this photo is of historical masses. Biggest climate change demonstration in history. - @ZoeCaron on Twitter

I arrived in Copenhagen this morning after an all night flight with a connection in Frankfurt. We went straight from the airport to the Bella Center [sic] to register for the conference, which involved standing in the cold for what felt like hours and then going through airport-style security. (Success, I now have my photo ID delegate badge.) From there to the hotel and a resturant for food, and that’s all I’ve done today.

At first, Copenhagen struck me not as a city but as a United Nations theme park. From the moment you get off the plane everything is related to this 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. All the ad spaces have been purchased (many featuring aged renderings of our leaders in 2020 looking regretful that they didn’t reach a deal) and there is a gauntlet of people wishing to welcome you with conference-related flyers, not unlike walking down the strip in Los Vegas (though decidedly more family-friendly). The warm welcome/assault continues all the way from the airport, via transit, to the Bella Center.

However, once we got away from the Bella Center and into the city core (where our hotel is) I saw reassuring glimpses of Copenhagen carrying on as usual, biking around in sub-zero temperatures and generally being charming.

It took me awhile to calculate how many hours I’ve now been without sleep. The answer is 30. I blame the delayed calculation partly on the time change, and partly on the answer to the equation itself.

I have one more event to make an appearance at tonight, then I’ll go to sleep and wake up tomorrow perfectly synced with Central European Time, aka GMT+1.

Meanwhile, as I sit here in my hotel room trying to regroup, the above photo is what’s happening outside. It’s the largest climate demonstration ever, and through my window all I hear is every church bell in the city ringing like crazy.

George and me

Chris and Mardi Tindal with George Monbiot in Toronto. To the left of the frame, John Ralston Saul and R.H. Thompson may have gotten a bit shoved out of the way.
Chris Tindal and Mardi Tindal with George Monbiot in Toronto. To the left of the frame, John Ralston Saul and R.H. Thompson may have gotten a bit shoved out of the way.

I went to hear George Monbiot speak on Saturday in Toronto, and was excited to see that he was there in person. Monbiot is one of the best (and best-known) climate change journalists in the world. A few years ago he swore off flying because of its impact on our planet, and since then has made most of his appearances via video conference. He is physically in Canada this week, however, because our “government’s behaviour in the (UN climate) talks is so destructive and the development of the oil sands is so damaging to global efforts to prevent climate breakdown” that he felt compelled to pay us a visit.

Monbiot’s message for us is blunt. He emphasizes that he really likes the Canadians he’s met and that he finds us to be very sensible, but that “the distance between ordinary Canadians and those who define your reputation on an international stage is an enormous gulf.” Our government’s actions are causing so much “shock and revulsion” internationally that “Stephen Harper and Jim Prentice threaten to do as much damage to your international standing as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did to that of the United States.”

His concern is both regarding our behaviour at UN climate talks and our increasing production of dirty oil. The “oil curse” is not only bad for our ecology, he says, but our democracy. International examples show that dependence on oil “brutalizes a nation…it creates a political class that owes its existence to a primitive and destructive industry.” The process has already started, Monbiot says. “No one can quite believe that this prosperous country is treating its aboriginal peoples like Nigeria treats the Ogoni of the Niger Delta.”

Read his plea to Canadians in today’s Globe and Mail: Please, Canada, clean up your act

ps. I will add that all of this has a flip side. If we do clean up our act and provide leadership, we can, as Stephen Lewis says, quickly restore our reputation on the international stage while simultaneously strengthening our domestic economy by becoming more efficient and competitive. That’s our choice: lead of follow, help or hurt, become renowned or repudiated.

The World Must Change

Crossposted from Torontoist.

We love the television advertising campaigns the WWF comes up with, and their latest is no exception.

The ad does provoke some important questions, however, about the ability (or lack thereof) of individual action to create adequate change without government intervention. The first panel at yesterday’s GreenTOpia launch dealt with this extensively. Keith Stewart (coincidentally, a campaigner with WWF) explained that even though he’s taken extensive personal action (he has solar panels on his house, doesn’t own a car, eats local food) if everyone lived like he does we’d only be halfway towards where we need to be to avert climate catastrophe.

Watching the above video, it’s interesting to note that a good chunk of the societal changes they point to—not smoking in public places, wearing seatbelts, etc—came about due to government intervention.

How then, the question was asked over and over again yesterday by an engaged audience desperate for answers, do we get our political leaders to do what’s necessary? The panel’s response: it’s not rocket science. If a politician says or does something you don’t approve of, let them know and don’t vote for them. Conversely (and even more importantly), if a politician says or does something you support, make sure you’re there to defend and support them.

Engagement with democracy is a responsibility of living in one. When we’re informed and involved, we get the government we need. When we become distracted by political games or we cynically disengage from the political process altogether, we get the government we deserve.