Written by: Lena Phillips
There exist strong sentiments by many that the United Nations process is ineffective. Notably, Canada’s lead negotiator called the entire process into question just weeks before climate change talks were set to start here in Canada. I will admit that I have not always been entirely confident in the UN’s ability to deliver effective and equitable solutions to the world’s problems. However, when it comes to climate change I cannot think of any other viable forum through which to thoroughly address the issue. Climate change is not unique to distinct regions or parts of the world; further, it is fundamental that we address climate change as it relates to every other global issue that we are currently experiencing (poverty, disease, resource scarcity and so on). Every single part of the globe is feeling the effects of climate change, and those who are currently feeling them to a lesser degree are disproportionately contributing to its causes. Taking REALITY into consideration, the discussion on climate change eventual needs to occur at the international level. This is not to take away from any progress taking place at national, regional and local levels. However, that progress is seriously hindered if nations collectively fail to take ambitious action.
For example, even if Toronto took drastic measures to become car free in an effort to reduce air pollution, the city would be limited in its ability to fully achieve this unless parts of the north eastern United States made similar decisions. This is because air pollution is transboundary by nature (as are most environmental systems) and much of the pollution contributing to Toronto’s smog problem comes from outside the city (and in this case, the country). So, who is actually responsible for making these decisions? The answer to that is government. Governments and political decision makers are the ones who are supposed to provide guidance and expertise in areas such as environmental and climate change policy.
At the international level, the current Canadian government is meant to represent the interests of all of citizens (not just the minority of people who voted them in). Time after time, it has been shown that Canadians want action on climate change and the political party in power should not determine whether or not the government chooses to take action. The last several years, the Canadian government has consistently pushed climate change policy to the side by weakening our targets, ignoring our international commitments (Kyoto), and killing existing climate change policy by abusing the position and power of an unelected Senate (read up on Bill C-311 for more info). Tens to hundreds of thousands of people are set to die annually due to climate change through a wide range of consequences including: famine and extreme weather conditions. Having said all of this, it is difficult to understand why climate change or environmental problems have become partisan issues. Why should explicit ‘green’ policy be the exclusive role of just one or two political parties? The survival of humanity should be the primary concern of all governments. Political parties dissolve, reform, and drift in and out of power. The state of climate change action cannot be left to such volatile conditions.
It is irrefutably clear that the vast majority of countries present at COP16 want ambitious action on climate change. In order for this to happen, countries like Canada need to take leadership. Canada is amongst the highest per capita emitters in the world. But, Canada also has a tremendous capacity to bring about change- both at home and abroad. That said, the primary barrier to reaching a binding agreement at COP is not the UNFCCC process (despite its flaws) but the political will of the parties involved. We are quickly approaching the end of negotiations this year with just a few hours left on the clock. My hope is that Canada (and other nations stifling progress) get over the politics and realize that climate change goes way beyond an election outcome.