Tria Donaldson: World has one more shot at climate change deal in Cancun

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      Almost a year ago today, I boarded an airplane with a heart full of hope and headed to Copenhagen for the UN Climate Change Conference, where our world leaders had a chance to tackle the biggest issue facing my generation. I was sure that President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper would make the right move, and work in good faith toward a climate deal that would protect our planet.

      But the outcome and the process in place in Copenhagen was a complete letdown. The Copenhagen Accord, hailed by some leaders of developed nations as the best thing since sliced bread, was little more then political greenwashing. The backroom deal coordinated by U.S. negotiators left most of the global south in the dark, and scrapped any legally binding targets for emissions reductions.

      The widespread consensus in the environmental community is that this deal fell far short of what we need to stall catastrophic climate change. And we need to take immediate action to solve this problem.

      I am reminded of this constantly. This past weekend, I took a beautiful fall stroll along one of Victoria’s few salmon-bearing streams. Fallen leaves, brown and gold against the wet grass, crunched as I walked. Overhead, geese flew to wherever it is they call home during the cold winter months.

      Watching the geese fly away, I was struck by just how fragile and interconnected our world really is. We are one living, breathing system under a shared atmosphere—an atmosphere we are quickly changing.

      When I talk to people about climate change, they often think it is a distant threat that won’t impact us in our lifetime. But the impacts are already being felt. For coral atoll nations, like Tuvalu, rising sea levels are eroding beaches, flooding homes, and turning precious fresh water salty. In Canada’s own Arctic, thawing permafrost and melting glaciers and sea ice are drastically changing an ecosystem that people and animals have thrived in for thousands of years. Across B.C., pine beetle, droughts, and forest fires all leave a visible reminder that climate change is having an impact today.

      The grim reality is that unless we turn back the clock on climate change, my generation and the generations that come after us will not have a lot of certainty about what to expect from good ol’ Mother Nature. Everything from wild salmon migration patterns to the life cycles of B.C.’s iconic forests to the very food we can grow to sustain ourselves will be forever altered.

      But in the face of this uncertainty about the future, there is one thing I am certain of: we can stop this.

      We have the technology. We have the solutions. We are just seriously lacking on the political will front.

      But next month, we have a chance to seal the deal that slipped through our fingers at Copenhagen. The next round of high-level climate negotiations will take place in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29 to December 10. This is Harper’s and Obama’s chance to step up their game.

      Since Copenhagen, not much has happened on the political front. Canada committed $400 million to help poorer countries tackle climate change and adapt to climate impacts. We have also finally endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a move that has been long awaited. But the tar sands are still expanding, emissions are still skyrocketing, and our government, with Minister John Baird at the environment department, is gearing up to bring back a slew of Fossil of the Day Awards from the upcoming negotiations in Cancun.

      Like every year, there will be a dedicated crew of Canadian young people who will be at the negotiations holding our government accountable. The Canadian Youth Delegation will be asking the hard questions, bearing witness to what is happening there, and informing Canadians back at home what our government is up to.

      These young people are one of the things that always make me feel hopeful. The generation that will feel the brunt of climate change is ready to solve this problem. And we are not going anywhere until governments of the world step up and take this issue seriously.

      Tria Donaldson is a youth climate activist that has been involved with the goBeyond project, the Sierra Youth Coalition, and the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. She is currently the Pacific coast campaigner for the Wilderness Committee.




      Nov 17, 2010 at 12:41am

      It was a costly mistake not getting it done at Copenhagen in more ways than one. According the International Energy Agency's '2010 World Energy Outlook':

      "A lack of ambition in the Copenhagen Accord pledges has increased our estimated cost of reaching the 2 °C goal by $1 trillion and undoubtedly made it less likely that the goal will actually be achieved.""

      Lisa B

      Nov 17, 2010 at 1:39am

      As a tired old eco-politico gal, it really gives me hope and strength to carry on the struggle for social, ecological and economic justice when I know that Tria and other equally committed young people are determined to see us make that crucial shift to a better world.

      Thanks, Tria. Much love and respect to you.


      Nov 17, 2010 at 3:16pm

      Gee Tria, if this really is a crisis situation maybe you and your globetrotting cohorts could reduce their carbon footprint and watch the show from home. Any other behaviour is just passing gas.....


      Nov 17, 2010 at 11:07pm

      I hope that our government actually pays attention to the science and takes real action on climate change at this conference. The lack of action so far is beyond shameful. I hope that the media shines a light on this a little more effectively than last time.