Getting Beyond Bad and Worse at the UN Climate Talks

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By Tasha Peters

Finally adjusted to the almost half day time change, I am writing from the UN Climate Conference in Durban.  People around me are speaking different languages, running from meeting to meeting, and muttering in frustration at the (in)actions of the Canadian government.

Despite all the action going on inside the conference, last year when I was at COP16 in Cancun I was more attracted to what was going on outside then what was going on in the conference itself.

Outside, civil society members from around the world come together to propose solutions that also create good jobs and empower communities.  They discuss leaving fossil fuels in the ground, which reduces emissions, ensures clean water, and ends human rights violations, rather than using complicated offset schemes.  They discuss moving from GMOs and big agriculture owned by wealthy land holders to small farmers controlling their own land, meaning food grown sustainably and securing meaningful employment.   They discuss supporting community-based renewable energy rather than dirty extractive projects because it creates more jobs and profits go directly to communities.  They discuss real solutions.

This year however, I’m mostly ignoring the discussions on real solutions going on outside.  Instead, I’m inside where they debate between, in my opinion, bad and worse.  They debate between targets that commit us to renegade climate change and targets that, while safer than the alternative, still allow the death and displacement of millions.  They debate still insufficient funding to communities affected by climate change, with countries pushing for the World Bank, an institution criticised for undermining community rights, to control it.  They debate whether to create more loopholes in mechanisms built for rich polluters to offset emissions.

Wait, did I just say my time is best spent where they argue between false solutions rather than discussing real ones?  The problem is, right now, insufficient and unfair on one hand and even more insufficient and unfair on the other are the only politically feasible options.

For the completely practical, but currently politically unfeasible, real solutions discussed outside the conference to become possible inside, one big thing has to change.  That big thing is largely one country that spends $1.4 billion/year subsidising the oil and gas industry; a country whose environment minister meets executives from dirty industry more than environmentalists, human rights groups, and labour representatives combined; and a country who lobbies other governments to join in protecting polluters over people.   That one country is Canada.

So, why am I am spending my time one the inside?  Because my country isn’t negotiating for the people in Canada, it is negotiating for our biggest polluters.  People back home need to know what our government is doing so we can unite with a resounding “NO”.  Until then, the solutions that are going to keep us alive and make our communities thrive aren’t going to be realized anywhere.

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