The story of my involvement in COP 17 planning and vision for ‘getting us there’

Rachel Hirsch

This all started with one little idea. My idea was simply that it would be very important to provide, if possible, a way for Canadians (especially northerners) to share their experiences living with or studying about climate change at the 17th Conference of the Parties in Durban, South Africa. More information about COP 17 is available here.

York’s IRIS had already been involved with COP 15 and 16 including having official observer status and being part of civil society activities associated with the COPs.

I circulated a call for papers in April in order to prepare for an application to SSHRC for workshop funding and as a first step towards preparing to submit official side event applications for COP 17. The response to this call was phenomenal! I was astonished when Dr. Ian Mauro suggested that we screen the film he co-produced with Zacharias Kunuk on Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change in Durban. Additionally, Mariette Wheeler located in South Africa came onboard as one of our project organizers helping us partner withAPECS and offering to connect us to the COP 17 activities happening on the ground in Durban. Students, faculty members, community members, and youth from across the Canadian North and South indicated interest in getting involved and helping out.

I grew concerned about how to select 5 or so people (the number the SSHRC grant would cover travel costs for) to work with on a COP 17 side event application. Just a few days before the SSHRC application was due, I met with our organizing committee. They had a brilliant idea! We should focus our efforts on providing space for dialogue – not ONLY getting people to Durban. It was clear that many Canadians wanted to share experiences and talk about climate change, climate politics, and what COP 17 means from a Canadian perspective. APECS already had been hosting online workshops and poster presentations using Adobe Connect software. So, we decided to shift the SSHRC application to focus on two goals: 1. to host a virtual workshop or series of workshops leading up to COP 17 and 2. work on multiple COP 17 side event applications with the workshop attendees. So, we began thinking about how to promote dialogue and debate leading up to COP 17 that would include EVERYONE that responded to my original call.

Just a few weeks ago the organizing committee met again and discussed further how we might be able to initiate dialogue about COP 17 across Canada and also bring a delegation to Durban. We decided that it was too amazing of an opportunity to focus on one particular geographic location in Canada. Instead, we have decided that we will work towards building a network with a strong online presence by hosting content in several places: IsumaTV, APECS, and others as opportunities are presented.

IRIS is working on a COP 17 Portal website that will be used to connect and tie together all these other online initiatives as well as to advertise the virtual workshops that will allow communities across Canada to tell their stories about climate change and open up spaces for dialogue. We plan to host such a workshop at York at the end of September where students and faculty can share their views and pose questions to communities across Canada that they consider essential to the COP 17 climate debates. In addition to York’s activities, Ian Mauro will be working with students and faculty at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick to broadcast COP 17 content including a seminar to be led by the renowned Canadian Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier.

Our next step is to work with other communities (Arviat!!) so that they can be involved specifically with the York workshop or even broadcast their own event. One idea is that a different virtual session on each of the proposed agenda topics (see attached) be hosted through York so that individuals from across Canada can be brought together on common topics such as digital media in knowledge mobilization or climate change adaptation planning etc. The response from my first call for abstracts was enough to support a three day workshop with multiple discussion topics!

We would also like to invite communities to be part of the side event application process as these are due early in August. We can develop side event proposals by working together to build online content including documentary film, blogs or photography from community members. Then once we submit our applications to host one or more side event in Durban – we can use the online workshops to tease out the really important issues and questions that will then will be brought along and put up for debate at COP 17 in Durban.

Much is yet to be done but if we can bring together communities across Canada and get their experiences, questions and hopes online; I know we will see much fruitful discussion and dialogue that will go a long way towards unifying Canadians that are concerned about international climate politics.

Rachel Hirsch is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Arctic Climate Change Policy at York University’s Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS). IRIS is striving to bring a democratic Canadian perspective to COP17. 


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