OTTAWA– Over 1,000 young Canadians gathered in Ottawa last weekend to attend the largest youth summit on climate change in the nation’s history. Power Shift Canada was timed to coincide with the International Day of Climate Action, with over 5,200 demonstrations taking place in 181 countries.
The three-day summit featured workshops aimed at equipping students to build a successful climate movement. Participants joined prominent environmental activists to discuss environmental justice and climate policy, and attended a green job symposium. The events led up to a day of lobbying with members of Parliament.
Maggie Knight, a SSMU Environment Commissioner and the National Recruitment Coordinator for Power Shift, explained the need for Canada to adopt a better climate change policy in anticipation of the 15th annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP15).
“Currently, Canada is an international laggard when it comes to climate change. Our nation is expected to be a major detractor from efforts to come to an agreement on international climate policy at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen this December,” said Knight. “We have yet to see meaningful climate policy that has science-based targets, which leaves Canada in a disgraceful position heading to the negotiations.”
On Saturday, summit participants joined forces with 2000 other environmental activists at the Fill the Hill climate change rally, to demand that the federal government establish more comprehensive climate change legislation. Events included a speech by Green Party leader Elizabeth May and a flash mob dance performed by Power Shift Canada participants. Demonstrators synchronized phone calls to Prime Minister Stephen Harper dialed by hundreds of cell phone-bearing protesters, ultimately disabling his office voicemail.
The conference brought together a diverse group of students from all provinces and territories. Nearly 100 McGill students took part in the event, and SSMU provided buses to transport 50 McGill students to and from Ottawa on the day of the demonstration.
Knight explained that “marginalized communities often bear the brunt of climate change. We worked hard to bring together youth from every province and territory – including many indigenous, northern, rural, and immigrant youth, as well as young workers and young parents.”
COP15 will take place in Copenhagen this December, with a G8 Leaders’ Summit planned for Huntsville, Ontario in July 2010. Both are key intergovernmental gatherings, where countries will have the opportunity to launch strategies to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Canadian environmentalists have demanded the government pass Bill C-311, a bill for climate change accountability that would tie the federal government to science-based targets for greenhouse gas emissions. It was hoped that the bill would pass in time for the climate change talks, but was delayed in the House of Commons on October 21.
McGill student Devon Willis, who will represent Canadian youth at the COP15 conference, commented on the importance of the bill.
“What we are asking is for the government to pass Bill C-311, and to be a progressive force at the UN Climate Change Summit to attain a fair, ambitious, and law-binding agreement.”
Last Monday afternoon, protesters disrupted the House of Commons during Question Period, chanting “Pass Bill C-311” and “When I say ‘climate’, you say ‘justice,’” from the public gallery. All 120 individuals in the gallery were removed, with six protesters detained.
Powershift organizers said the summit and rally mark the beginning of a nationwide action on climate change. Rosa Kouri, the former director of the Sierra Youth Coalition and the founder of Sustainable McGill, said that, “[Power Shift] has catalyzed a powerful social movement to tackle global warming head on. Young people are ready for the clean energy economy. In fact, we are building it already.”
Hosted by the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, Power Shift Canada is a part of an international youth climate movement that began in the United States in 2007. Since then, youth have participated in the similar summits in Australia and the United Kingdom.