Earlier this week at the United Nations climate talks in Lima, Peru, Green Party leader and Member of Parliament Elizabeth May said that the Canadian government was in a “post-shame society”, wherein negotiators at the conference are no longer ashamed by the actions they are taking here. Sadly, these words ring true – the current government is not representing Canadians’ best interests when it comes to climate change.
After two straight sleepless days, the COP20 climate change conference ended early Sunday morning, over thirty hours past the scheduled closing time. The agreement that was signed, a non-starter when it comes to acting on global warming, has been billed as a success by many governments, particularly Canada. In reality, the text itself is no more than a vague reiteration of what countries ought to do, rather than a commitment from countries (particularly those that are developed) to make any real, specific, concrete commitments that are needed in order to solve the climate crisis. It goes without saying that the conference was, for all intents and purposes, a failure.
The Harper government’s enthusiasm for a text that did nothing other than provide a false assumption of progress shouldn’t come as a surprise, particularly to non-negotiating Canadians at the conference like May. Youth delegations and other non-governmental organizations have noticed the stark position Canada is taking at the UN: it seems to have no intention to bring anything positive to the process, and every intention to disrupt and stall it. This wasn’t always the case with Canada; there was a time where we were seen as leaders in environmental issues and international diplomacy. Of course, the tar sands industry is a significant influence from this shift.
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At the UN, Canada has been singled out for its closeness to the fossil fuel industry, for its disregard of its youth and other important stakeholders, and for bullying other countries that are trying to make progress within this process. Canada was even awarded the infamous Fossil of the Day on Friday, a non-award given by civil society that is designed to spotlight countries’ bad behaviours.
Evidently, the Harper government does not speak for us – for the majority of Canadians who are not Chief Executive Officers of fossil fuel companies.
There is so much I wish I could ask negotiators, if only I could obtain honest responses. I’d ask how our government could possibly expect to reach the reductions it committed to merely five years ago, if it consistently pushes the carbon can further and further down the road.
I’d ask why Canada has been singled out more than once at U.N. talks for being a bully when it comes to disrupting negotiations, why we are lumped along with Australia as the poor players in this game.
These are questions to which all Canadians should demand answers: they touch upon values that form the very fabric of our society, most importantly our commitment to justice. I’d request no less than the truth – we as youth may be young, but we are certainly not uninformed. We matter too.
It’s truly about the kind of global community we want to build and leave for our children. As Canadians, we have the power to act, to make a difference, to tell our grandchildren that we were aware of what was at stake and did everything in our ability to change the course of history – or we can owe them more apologies than we can ever possibly live to make.
Leehi Yona is a youth delegate at the COP20 United Nations climate negotiations in Lima, Peru. She was named Canada’s Top Environmentalist Under 25 in 2013. Follow Leehi Yona on twitter: @LeehiYona.