All is not lost! Keeping the Faith in the United Nations Process: A Message to Canadians from Cancun

Written by: Lena Phillips

As I read the media being transmitted from the Cancun talks back to the Canadian public, I worry that the urgency of the issue (and the importance of reaching a strong and binding international agreement) is not getting through. Messages are focusing on the bleak outlook of the negotiations while others are calling the entire UNFCCC process into question. Although polls indicate that Canadians are concerned over climate change, I wonder to what degree the average citizen actually considers it a primary issue for Canada.

Climate change science is irrefutable. The IPCC has warned that if we (humanity) want a coin-flip of a chance to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees (ideally below 1.5), then we need to peak emissions by 2015. So we don’t have much more time to dance around the issue. Climate change is already linked to high numbers of deaths around the world with estimates ranging between 150,000 and 300,000 annually. If this warming trend continues (and there is no indication that it won’t), and exceeds 2 degrees, the results will be disastrous. Considering the number of people living in poverty around the world, we are in no position to adequately adapt to this. In Canada, climate change is currently wreaking havoc all over the country. Unseasonably hot summers, mild winters, droughts where there should be rain, rain where it should be dry, sea ice melting, and permafrost thawing in the arctic provide just a broad overview of what is happening to the Canadian environment. Notably, Canada is dependent on its environmental and natural resource wealth. As a result, the social and economic landscape of the country is in continuous decline as a result of climate change so I am urging Canadians to take serious note of the issue. So, where do we go as an international community to take on the challenge of climate change?

The existence and application of an international forum is essential if we are going to have any chance. The United Nations is by no means flawless. It lacks effective enforcement capabilities and, despite its one country-one vote structure, can perpetuate unequal power structures among countries. However, it is the ONLY institution with global membership thus providing the opportunity for all nations to provide their input. Currently, there are a lot of media messages foreshadowing the death of the Kyoto Protocol. This document is the result of a decade and a half worth of international negotiations and is the only binding agreement calling for emission reductions. Kyoto is not perfect but we can’t complacently accept it as dead. Next time you see an article in this vein, challenge it.

So, don’t abandon the UN and its climate change negotiations. Rather, create the political will in Canada required to force our government to take leadership and action. If they don’t feel the heat, they won’t push for change.

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