Features  Copenhagen, close to home

McGill panel discusses climate change on the eve of pivotal summit

In the heart of paper season, Climate Action Montreal and the McGill Environment Students’ Society hosted “Canada and Climate Change: Epic Fail?” a panel discussion about Canada’s role in climate change, and the upcoming climate negotiations in Copenhagen from December 7-18. Climate Action Montreal is a group of youth from all parts of Montreal, including McGill, Concordia, and Dawson College. Present at the event were 100 students from the three schools.

The panel featured Shannon Walsh, director of H2Oil, a new documentary about the tar sands; NDP Deputy Environment Critic Nathan Cullen; Dr. Catherine Potvin, professor in McGill’s Department of Biology and member of the Panamanian Delegation to Copenhagen; and Andrew Cuddy, McGill student and member of the Canadian Youth Delegation to Copenhagen.

Potvin spoke about the history of the climate change negotiations, beginning in 1992 with the founding of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). While the UNFCCC set the stage for concerted action on climate change, it was not enough. The Kyoto Protocol was introduced in 1997, with a target (five per cent), a reference emissions level (1990), and a period of commitment (2008-2012). However, Cuddy noted, Canada is the only developed country of 38 that ratified Kyoto that does not plan to meet its emissions targets, “breaking two domestic laws.”

Kyoto also does not include the United States, Brazil, China, and India, so “what Kyoto can do is only limited,” said Potvin. There is the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWG – LCA), from which a new treaty should emerge. Though the Kyoto process has been slow, after African delegations walked out at the Barcelona round of talks in frustration in November, the EU took on emissions targets of 20-30 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and Australia 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. Canada maintains a target of just three per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, while the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report indicates that a reduction in emissions of 25-40 per cent from industrialized countries is necessary to prevent dangerous climate change.

Cuddy spoke about climate justice, emphasizing that it is not just people in countries far away from Canada that are being affected by climate change – “indigenous peoples in Canada are being affected.” An intern at the Pembina Institute in Ottawa, Cuddy explained that a recent Pembina Institute-David Suzuki Foundation report shows that under current government targets, GDP would grow 2.2 per cent per year between 2010 and 2020, while a plan to reduce emissions by 25 per cent under 1990 levels by 2020 would lead to GDP growth of 2.1 per cent per year. Further, 90 per cent of revenue raised by carbon tax in Alberta would go back to that province, which would still have the highest GDP, and Alberta and Saskatchewan would remain the fastest growing economies.

Walsh spoke about the tar sands, a carbon-intensive project consisting of an excavation the size of Florida in Alberta, using large amounts of water and natural gas to separate the oil from the sand. Toxic tailing ponds in the tar sands can now be seen from outer space, and the project has been blamed for rising rates of rare cancers in the indigenous community of Fort Chipewyan in northern Alberta. This is an immense problem. “If we all stopped driving our cars in Canada – all of us – we still couldn’t meet Kyoto,” Walsh exclaimed. She called the audience to action: “At what point will you act – when you can’t turn on your tap…? We’re in a certain state of emergency here…. It’s time for us to take the lead.” Her statement was timely, as McGill students demonstrated against the tar sands on Wednesday, November 25.

Cullen framed his discussion of indigenous peoples of Canada with the statement that 35 per cent of his constituents are indigenous. “The trees are all dead [from the pine beetles], the salmon are not returning, things have changed fundamentally, and they are terrified,” he said. He also stated that Canada has a sullied international reputation for obstructing the negotiating process.

Cullen recalled having a conversation with a French diplomat at COP13 in Bali, when the diplomat realized that he was Canadian, took two steps back, and stated he had to go. “It was the first time in my life I’ve been embarrassed of being a Canadian.” Further, the Commonwealth has recently discussed removing Canada as a result of our unwillingness to fight climate change.

These kinds of events are invaluable – and oftentimes rare for McGill students who have packed schedules. The University I want allows for students to balance their academic responsibilities and interests with the life of a passionate and engaged citizen.

Devon Willis is a U2 Political Science and Environment student, and a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation to Copenhagen. You can read the rest of this article at mcgilldaily.com. Make sure to follow Andrew and Devon’s blog from the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen.

No Tar Sands in Montreal demonstration: Monday, November 30, Sherbrooke and McGill College, 12 p.m.

Go see H2Oil December 4 at Cinema Parallel (3536 St. Laurent)