Yes We Can! goes Global

Elizabeth May

I have been in Poznan Poland all week as the fourteenth Conference of the Parties (COP14) for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change drags on.  The goal, and it is a deadline, is to have a successor agreement for Kyoto ready the minute the first phase of Kyoto (2008-2012) ends on December 31, 2012. There was a strong launch for this process at COP11 in Montreal in 2005, progress at COP13 in Bali last year, but this year, progress is hard to find.  This year in Poznan Poland, this conference has felt like treading water, or worse.  

Elizabeth May with Nobel Prize Winner Wangari Matthai (Green Party of Kenya MP) and Eva Quistorp, co-founder of the German Green Party.Canada has been held up by international NGOs at this gathering as particularly appalling in its positions.  Yesterday back in Ottawa, news of Canada’s actions here, refusing to allow language about indigenous rights in the language used to protect forests, enraged First Nations leaders who were meeting with Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl.  “The actions of Canada in Poland are designed to undermine the rights of indigenous people here and elsewhere,” said AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine, “It's completely unacceptable.”

Canada has objected to the necessary binding targets for industrialized countries, we have made special pleadings that we should do less because the tar sands are very profitable and very polluting, that we are cold and big…  The rest of the world has been shocked by discovering that even now that George W. Bush is on his way out, Canada has not veered from its Bush-like positions.  GermanWatch issued its annual respected index of climate policies for the 57 industrialized countries.  Out of 57, Canada rated 56. Only Saudi Arabia got a lower grade.  As one NGO journal, referring to Canada, put it “It’s lonely at the bottom.”

I was surprised to see in the Sun media back in Canada (no English language Canadian reporters are here, so the interview was by phone) that Environment Minister Jim Prentice decided to take a shot at me.  He apparently thought it was inappropriate for me to criticize Canada in an international forum.  (I actually like Jim Prentice on a personal level, so I should give him the benefit of the doubt that the interview was being spun in the direction of getting him to attack me).

Strange then that as Prime Minister, Stephen Harper thought it was appropriate to attack his Liberal predecessors from the podium in the Australian Parliament.  That was clearly embarrassing and inappropriate. As Leader of the Green Party of Canada, I have not been privy to any confidential delegation negotiating instructions.  I only know what I (and the rest of the world ) witnessed.  Canada is threatening the future for my children and grandchildren and their grandchildren.  There are no rules of protocol to suggest opposition parties not criticize their government abroad.  It is what Opposition Parties do.  Of course, it would give me far greater pleasure to cheer on our government as I was able to do at COP11, when we were still the ones wearing the White Hats.

The mood in the corridors here has been somewhat gloomy, as this round of talks has continued with a clear lack of positive momentum and much foot-dragging.  In fact, it has been hard to find reasons for optimism.  

We got a big fat dose of hope from an unofficial presentation.  A packed plenary hall listened attentively to someone not representing his government’s positions, but like the 7th Cavalry to the rescue, in thundered Al Gore.

Gore set his talk in the context of the tension between hope and fear. He started with a brief recitation of the litany of climate indicators that tell us we are in an escalating crisis.  That we emit 70 million tons of carbon every single day to the atmosphere and 25 million tons to our oceans.  That our actions threaten the survival of human civilization.  He set out the most recent science on loss of glaciers, particularly the “water tower of Asia  -- Tibetan plateau.”  All the great rivers of Asia have their source in the Tibetan plateau and it is rapidly melting. Nearly one and a half billion people rely for more than half their drinking water on water from rivers that originate in the Tibetan plateau.

The grim catechism of climate caused death tolls –from flooding, increasingly severe storms, typhoons, hurricanes, fires. It has the tone of a Revelation-inspired Apocalyptic vision, but it is empirical science.  Gore made it clear that aiming to hold emissions at 450 ppm is not a sufficiently ambitious target. On the current science we need to reduce emissions such that we can reduce concentrations in the atmosphere to 350 ppm. 

“We won't get credit for a good try,” Gore said, “We must resolve in our own hearts the struggle between hope and fear.”

And then he set out the reasons for hope.  That all the major industrialized countries of the world (he did not mention “except Canada”), all the major industrialized countries of the world have announced major investments in Green energy as an economic stimulus. That the UN Secretary General has called for a Green New Deal for the world.  That China is now on board and no one in Poznan claims China is blocking progress with its “$600 billion to green initiatives, China is ready to help lead the world.”

That the European Union has been meeting in Brussels and has now settled on tough targets for reductions by 2020. That developing countries such as Brazil are bringing forward serious strategies to end deforestation. 

The list went on to culminate in Gore’s reflection of his speech in Bali.  One year ago this week in Bali I asked you to anticipate the possibility that the US government would significantly change its position as a result of the upcoming elections,” (I wonder if Bush thought Gore should not have criticized his country’s dreadful record in Bali?)

The crowd was ready for the good news: “Just prior to coming here to Poznan I went to Chicago and met with President-Elect Barrack Obama.  He has assured me that climate change will be a top priority for his administration. The US will engage vigourously and will participate in these negotiations...Here is some of what the President-elect has said recently: ‘the time for delay and denial is over. … The science is beyond dispute. The facts are clear.  My administration will... work to solve this problem.  Once I take office you can be sure the US will once again participate vigorously in the negotiations.’”

And then, Gore added, “It is not a question of if we can have an agreement by Copenhagen.  We can and we must….as people in the United States have realized recently, Yes, we can.” 

As the crowd rose as one in a roar of approval, for the first time in these bleak days, I believe we can. 

Originally written for Jon Newton for the blog site p2pnet.