Canadians are apologetic people. Yet, navigating the halls of the COP18 climate negotiations as a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation (CYD), the “sorry”s I gave weren’t stereotypical Canuck politeness. Instead, they were apologies of shame for the inaction of our government when it comes to tackling the unprecedented issue of climate change.
Yesterday, the CYD released a technical report detailing Canada’s colossal failures to meet its international commitments. Canada not only withdrew from the Kyoto Accord at last year’s COP, but its low emissions targets prevent developed countries who are still signatories to the accord from increasing their ambition. Canada is not on track to meet its own emission reductions targets, with the tar sands largely to blame. Furthermore, emissions from ongoing tar sands development are enough to push the planet past the warming limit of 2°C since pre-industrial levels. Canada is violating its commitments made in Copenhagen and Cancun. Yet again at COP, it is letting the world down.
Yesterday, Germanwatch’s Climate Change Performance Index listed Canada as 58th out of 61 countries in terms of climate progress, barely eking out Kazakhstan, Iran and Saudi Arabia and claiming the title of worst developed country. Furthermore, Oil Change International found that Canada’s fossil fuel subsidies outstripped its financial contributions to fast-start climate finance by nearly 8 times. This is greater than the developed countries’ average of fossil fuel subsidies exceeding financing at a rate of 5 to 1.
Progress on international agreements at Doha has been stagnating, and at some points even deadlocked, particularly around the financing. Canada won a first-place Fossil of the Day earlier in the week for stating that it would not commit to any further financing until a new accord was set.
Environment Minister Peter Kent arrived this week as high-level negotiations begin. Despite Kent admitting the severity of climate change in Canada, there has been no forward movement yet. COP itself feels strangely calm given the urgency of the issue, especially against the backdrop of typhoon Bopha, currently devastating the Philippines. Global youth issued a statement of solidarity with the Philippines today, for which a member of their negotiating team shook my hand and thanked the youth. The Philippines and other nations at high risk are putting pressure on developed countries. Fortunately, the discussion around finance is back on the table, but ongoing inaction from developed countries is troubling.
The final week of COP presents an opportunity for Canadian leadership, or at the very least, a limit to the obstructionism that has become expected from us in recent years. Yesterday, New Zealand was awarded a first-place fossil of the day for being “worse than Canada.” Commentators joked that perhaps the ‘award’ should be renamed ‘Canada of the Day,’ given to the country best emulating the obstinate and self-serving behavior of the Canadian government.
Today, a negotiator from The Congo approached me in the hallway. “I have only one question for you,” he told me. “Your country is the worst. You don’t want to help the international community. What is your government even doing here?”
In typical Canadian fashion, all I could do was apologize. There are four days left of negotiations. This is the last chance for Canada to turn its reputation around and, for once, to commit to cooperation and an ambitious agreement. If we do not, our reputation as global pariahs will continue to grow, and we will have to keep saying sorry.
Alana is a writer, research, and activist, though not necessarily in that order. She is a member of this year’s Canadian Youth Delegation (CYD) to COP18. The CYD advocates for young Canadians at United Nations climate negotiations and holds our government accountable for their actions at these talks. You can follow the CYD’s activities at COP at www.cyd-djc.org and @CYD_DJC. Keep up with Alana at www.alanawestwood.com.
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