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It’s time to strengthen the grassroots movement for climate justice in communities across Canada

Last night, I attended an event hosted by the Toronto Climate Campaign. It featured panelists giving first hand analysis of the Copenhagen negotiations from the perspective of wanting to build a vibrant movement for climate justice in Toronto. Sitting behind a table hosting a banner, “you can’t prorogue climate change” was a stellar panel featuring Kimia Ghomeshi from the Canadian Youth Delegation in Copenhagen, Dave Martin from Greenpeace Canada, Carolyn Egan from the Steelworker Toronto Area Council, and keynote speaker, Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Here are some highlights from the evening – the good, the bad and the ugly (then back to the good!) coming out of Copenhagen.

The good:

The significance of Copenhagen was not in what emerged from the official talks. It was the unprecedented level of collaboration of movements, activists and trade unionists in the Bella Centre, at the alternative people’s summit (Klimaforum) and in the streets of Copenhagen calling for system change, not climate change, that is the beacon of hope.

Whether it was students in the Bella Centre consciously choosing to ignore UN laws and pulling off almost daily actions of civil disobedience, the Indigenous People’s Caucus leading the 100,000 strong march on Dec. 12, symbolic of a primary climate justice principle affirming the place of frontline communities in leading the call for environmental justice, trade unions fighting for just transition policies and green jobs for all or the Reclaim the Power action which literally pushed for climate justice in challenging the physical barriers keeping people back from hosting a people’s assembly focused on real solutions in the Bella centre – it is clear that the movement for climate justice is building.

The bad:

The Copenhagen Accord will not bring about climate justice. It remains unclear what it’s legal standing is in relation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC (many predict that it is an attempt to undo commitments to the Kyoto Protocol and two-track negotiation process under the UNFCCC). The 2 and a half page document is laughable. It is not legally binding. It does not include commitments to emission reduction targets. Climate financing is not sufficient, nor is there any indication that it will be additional to already pledged financing or managed democratically under the UNFCCC (as opposed to the World Bank).

Market-based solutions such as carbon offsets and carbon trading continue to dominate discussions on climate mitigation options (mechanisms to stimulate emission reductions). Clayton spoke specifically to the problems with forest offsets under REDD – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries. There is a lot at stake with REDD. The proposals to turn the needed conservation of forests over to the carbon market through forest offsets under REDD, if implemented, could result in massive land grabs from indigenous and forest peoples and provide yet another method for major polluters to buy their way out of reducing their emissions (through the purchase of forest offsets under REDD). Clayton warned that this will become an issue in Canada in the coming years with a number of proposals moving forward to use this model for conserving the boreal forest (potentially giving tar sands operators an option for buying their way out of emission reductions). Clayton argued that, fundamentally, there is a problem with equating natural forest based carbon with polluting carbon emissions under the banner of putting a price on carbon and opening it to the market to be traded as a mechanism to reduce emissions.

The ugly:

Canada was an eco-outlaw in Copenhagen. The fact that this came out so clearly inside and outside the Bella Centre and in Canadian and international media speaks to the success of actions exposing the Canadian government. In particular, the tar sands were put in the spot light and used to expose how the Canadian economy is dependent on an export-oriented exploitative resource extraction model that is having serious social and environmental impacts – a model the Harper government is committed to.

Clayton argued that this model is a key reason why the Canadian government is one of three countries that has refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Were our country to sign, our government could be forced to recognize how major oil and gas developments and transmission lines across the country are consistently located near indigenous communities and are having serious impacts.

Further harmonization with the U.S., as proposed under a North American cap and trade system and under the Clean Energy Dialogue, will not help us break from this model (in giving corporations significant rights while limiting government regulatory options, NAFTA helps to entrench this model).
 Back to the good: Building a climate justice movement in Canada

The fact that this panel brought together people speaking about climate justice through the lens of indigenous rights and environmental justice, trade unions interests in a just transition to green jobs for all, a prominent environmental organization committed to tackling the climate crisis and a burgeoning youth movement in Canada, was inspiring.

While there is much work to do and discussions to be had, the commitment to building solidarity and working together in making a better world where human and ecological rights are respected and come before the interests of profit, was palpable. G8/20 organizing for Toronto, June 2010 was identified by all involved as the next big mobilization moment to continue this important work.