Shauna Sylvester: Where's my Canadian pin at COP21?

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      By Shauna Sylvester

      After four days in Paris and following a whirlwind of events I’m running on limited sleep.

      I’m proud to be Canadian again. I’m proud that my minister of environment, Catherine McKenna, stood up during a working group meeting last night and tried to push the international community to agree that global temperatures must not exceed 1.5°C from pre-industrial levels.

      The current accord is to limit global warming to 2°C, which many island states and scientists like Tim Flannery have argued is too warm if we are to protect coastal and island communities or natural icons like the Great Barrier Reef.

      Minister McKenna also indicated that Canada is in favour of a legally binding agreement on climate change. After years of putting the brakes on international negotiations, Canada has re-emerged as a serious actor in the global climate change arena. 

      Minister McKenna is also being tapped to play a facilitating role for one of the working groups. This is a serious undertaking and a major responsibility as it means she will be putting in extended hours to design and deliver the negotiation process for a series of sessions. It is not yet clear which group the minister will lead, but it is expected that she will receive her assignment tomorrow.

      For those Canadians who were around international negotiations prior to the mid-1990s, you’ll know that this is a return to a Canadian core competency as our country was often recognized as the “go-to convenor” of complex international negotiations.

      You could feel the level of excitement among Canadians delegates tonight. This evening, the Pembina Institute, Équiterre, and Environmental Defence hosted a “Canada party” at an obscure but cool building near the Stade de France. For the first time during a Conference of the Parties (COP), Canadians from all sectors—people from businesses and NGOs, along with provincial and federal staff and elected officials—shared stories, traded business cards, and made toasts to a new climate policy regime in Canada.

      It was an event that could never have taken place in Copenhagen. There, Canadian negotiators were shunned or taunted. Federal ministers were inaccessible to civil society organizations; opposition party members were kept away from the official delegation; and business meetings were held in remote locations, often behind securitized lines.

      But that is all forgotten. The days when Canada consistently received the “Fossil of the Day” award seem to be behind us. Now we are back and our new minister of environment is demonstrating her capacity to seize the moment.

      So it does feel good to be Canadian again. And while everyone who attended tonight’s gathering of Canadians understands the immense challenge of implementing commitments made in these negotiations, it was still nice to just take a moment and acknowledge how far we have come.

      Shauna Sylvester is director of the SFU Centre for Dialogue, founder of Carbon Talks, and cofounder of Renewable Cities.