Thoughts from Paris
Matt Hammer (Next Up Calgary 6)
This deal sucks. It also is a historic opportunity, a significant step forward on addressing one of the defining challenges of our time. We got it through people power, mobilization, and the struggles of frontline communities, and if the deal means anything, it will mean something because of those same things.
I am writing this from Paris where I have been for the past two weeks, observing the negotiations for 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. I’m here as part of the Canadian Youth Delegation, a collection of some of the most kickass climate justice organizers from coast to coast. We went there to hold the government accountable and make sure that that people power, mobilization, and frontline struggles was heard in the conference halls. We witnessed the voices of the global south, indigenous, people of colour, and frontline communities forcing the world to recognize that keeping warming to 1.5 degrees celsius is necessary for some chance of survival for their peoples. We witnessed a push back from those same groups, supported by global civil society, against the USA’s desire to never pay for the climate crisis rich countries have made outsized contributions to creating.
I’m also currently part of Next Up in Calgary, and I do work with the Calgary Climate Action Network. I went into the first day of COP with images of hundreds of Calgarians out in the snow to send a message here. I left the last full day of COP by filling the office of the Canadian negotiators with the names of Canadians who stood up with us for a 100% clean and just future. The names of my community, and my fellow Next-Uppers felt particularly important to me, because we are going to need all those people. The deal I saw signed yesterday was quite simply inadequate in a number of ways. References to human rights, indigenous rights, and a just transition for workers were moved from the binding portion of the text to the non-binding preamble. The language that would have prevented public finance from being used for climate destroying infrastructure was removed. A long term emissions reduction goal was removed and then even the vague language suggesting carbon neutrality “in the second half of the century” was weakened by emphasizing the ability to use carbon sinks like carbon capture and storage. Canada’s role in all of this is mixed. Our new government took some strong stances on indigenous rights, and supported a goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, all of which we should celebrate them for. The Canadian negotiating team also though backed the USA on denying climate vulnerable countries compensation forever and supported the Umbrella negotiating group in limiting our ability to get countries emission reduction pledges where they need to be before 2020.
What is clear from all of this is that we have windows of opportunity but we will have to fight with everything we have to keep them open. The world has pledged to pursue keeping warming below 1.5 degrees celsius, and if taken seriously, that gives us ten years of emissions as usual. For Canadians, that has to mean talking about freezing oil sands expansion and building a just transition for workers. It has to mean creating a clean energy economy that also forefronts the needs of and solutions being built by indigenous and frontline communities. Getting there will require all of us to be bolder than ever. It is going to take putting our bodies on the line and being willing to risk more than we ever have before. I know that the community in Calgary and the community of Next-Uppers will be key in this work. The Paris Agreement means that we have a chance, but we have to seize it.