Taking Canada’s negotiators to task on climate change

“Jesus Christ! Let’s not argue about the sex of angels.”

I stared across the table at Guy Saint-Jacques, not believing what I’d just heard Canada’s chief climate change negotiator say. Up until now our meeting had been tense but we’d all kept our emotions under control. Now Saint-Jacques was angry, “I will meet with you in Durban. You will do your homework and I will try to do mine,” he said.

All of this happened because we’d done our homework. We’d challenged him, argued our fundamental objection to Canada’s climate change negotiation strategy and surprised the head negotiator with direct examples of contradictions. In Cancun I participated in the Canadian Youth Delegation’s meeting with Saint-Jacques, and watched him dodging our questions. Now, ten months later we were prepared to debate every subject.

We also wanted our concerns reflected in the government’s negotiating position. Would this meeting with the Canadian negotiating team translate into our demands being taken into account, or would we be given lip service? “There are many ways to affect change by working very actively against Environment Canada,” Amara said, “so I just want to make sure that we have the discussion about how we can work together first.” We began by pointing out Canada’s lack of consultation with youth and front line communities around Canada’s climate policy. “There’s a comment box feel to it,” Cam said “–we put our suggestions into a box, and then something might come out the other end. You can’t dismiss our concerns.”

For the next half hour we went back and forth on climate financing. We argued that Canada’s climate finding commitment to developing countries was insignificant and fundamentally flawed. Much of the money given is in the form of loans and goes through the World Bank, a corrupt organization distrusted by many developing countries. Saint-Jacques and his aides countered that Canada had committed sufficient adaptation funding and that World Bank’s involvement was limited. The conversation continued, with the atmosphere in the room shifting as we began directly criticizing the Government’s strategy.

“I think we agree on the end goal, it’s just a question of how fast we get there,” Saint-Jacques said. We could not have disagreed more. Canada’s emissions reduction target is equivalent to a 3 percent increase in emissions from 1990 levels. Scientists say 25-40% cuts in emissions are absolutely necessary to avoid runaway climate change. Saint Jacques responded that responded Canada should not take action before countries like Brazil, India and China took action. “If the grass on my lawn is overgrown, I should not be yelling at my neighbour to mow his lawn” Cam said.

“These negotiations are primarily economic,” said Saint-Jacques. “This is the position that Japan has taken, they have lost industry because when they try to impose more stringent regulations those industries move to China.” “I’m not sure where 21,000 people a year dying because of the impacts of climate change fits onto a balance sheet,” Cam shot back. “If that’s the way you’re going into it that’s one of the fundamental problems with the viewpoint of walking into a negotiation looking only at money.”

Chris asked our final question. “Documents revealed that Canada’s Copenhagen negotiating position was influenced by concerns that an agreement on international climate finance would impact Canada’s domestic climate finance obligations, specifically around Arctic indigenous communities,” he said. “This was a memo to your predecessor, Michal Martin. Have these issues influenced negotiating negotiations under your watch?” Saint-Jacques spent a minute trying to talk around the question, before Cam took another stab at the question.

“The fundamental issue here is that you told one of our delegates in Cancun that you would look into it. It is an important issue for him and you dismissed his concerned. This is just concrete example of you dismissing us.” “Why would I lose my time debating the sex of the angel for Christ’s sake? It’s a stupid memo and I don’t care about it. I’m serious about these negotiations; I want to have serious discussions. I will want to meet with you again. I want some seriousness from you. You will do your homework and I will try to do mine.”

We walked home, stunned by what had transpired. The flustered ending proved that negotiators could no longer sit down with us without being prepared for a serious discussion. No longer could the Government give us the runabout and expect us to say nothing.

One Response to “Taking Canada’s negotiators to task on climate change”
  1. Cam Bell says:

    You guys are champs for having had that meeting – keep up the good work, and we’ll all keep the pressure on!

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