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Reflections from the People’s Summit

Sitting on the train returning home from the People’s Summit, I am enjoying reflecting on two days filled with interesting conversations, informative debates and collective learning. 

With workshops in areas ranging from CETA, to inter-species justice, human rights and community-based organizing, there were many options for where I put my time. I chose to focus on climate justice.

Here are some highlights from four workshops I attended (as a panelist or participant) and some of my reflections on climate justice.

One important aspect of climate justice discussed at each event is the need to recognize and listen to people and communities bearing the consequences of the climate crisis. This includes both hearing experiences of climate injustices as well as ideas, plans and actions being taken to address these injustices.

In the panel, From Copenhagen to Cochabamba, Cancun: Building a movement for Climate Justice in Canada participants heard from two panelists, both part of the recent G20 Not Business as Usual Climate Justice tour, speaking to the direct impacts the climate crisis is having on their communities. Naty Atz Sunc (General Coordinator of the Association for Community Development and Promotion in Guatemala) spoke about the drastic changes in weather in Guatemala and how this is affecting food systems. She also spoke about how carbon-intensive mining companies, vast majority are Canadian companies, are running roughshod over community and human rights. With images of Tahiti and other small island states in the Pacific, Francois Pihaatae (from Tahiti, he is the Ecumenical Animator on Climate Change for the Pacific Council of Churches) visually conveyed the changes being brought about by rising sea levels.

Both Naty and Francois spoke to the inherent injustices of a climate crisis, caused by global North (or rich country) emissions, hitting the global South first and hardest. They also called for real solutions to the climate crisis (not false solutions like carbon offsets that allow for business as usual) like climate debt repayment – deeper domestic emissions in the global North and significant financial transfers to the global South for mitigation and adaptation efforts – regulations which leave fossil fuels in the ground, community-owned renewable energy projects and localized food systems (Naty shared a number of real solution examples coming from grassroots organizing efforts in her country).

The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights came up frequently in each of the workshops. Risking sounding like a broken record, the Cochabamba conference was a significant moment for the global climate justice movement. It was significant not only in generating a peoples’ agreement which recognizes the serious crisis we face and calls for radical change, but also in giving a space for the many voices that were marginalized and shut out in Copenhagen.

The Conference is also significant in the rejection of market-based mechanisms as solutions to the climate crisis. This generated many questions during the workshops. Can there be market based mechanisms that aren’t unjust? Is a carbon tax a market mechanism or is the problem with market mechanisms more associated with treating carbon as a tradeable commodity (emission trading / carbon offsets)?

The critique of the capitalist system included in the People’s Agreement also generated discussion. Many people agreed that it is hard to deny the connections between the climate crisis and an export-oriented (over-consumption driven) global economic system that puts profit above people and the environment. Many also expressed that there is no ‘perfect’ solution or ‘idealized other system,’ (as well as questioning whether we need an alternative vision to engage in a critique of the current system).

There was a recognition of the significance of the Cochabamba conference in bringing forward the concept of Mother Earth Rights, or more generally, living in a way that respects the very real connections between human life, well being and ecological integrity (and recognizing that there is knowledge and wisdom which speaks to this that exists in many forms, in many cultures).

While the strengthening of the Canadian climate justice movement depends on deepening these discussions and debates, this weekend’s events also affirmed for me that we have significant areas of convergence. Everyone was united in recognizing that our Prime Minister is a formidable obstacle to advancing climate justice and that we have a responsibility to call the Canadian government to account. Canada’s failure to meet Kyoto targets. The tar sands. Repealing of environmental regulations. Overlooking indigenous rights. Lack of urgency in investing in our future including public and community owned renewable energy, increased conservation and energy efficiency.

Everyone also recognized that there is good work happening, whether it is the campaign for a Robin Hood Tax, transition town movement spreading across Canada, or campaigns demanding a tar sands free future – people are taking actions to end climate injustices and create the better world we all want.

While there is no doubt that more needs to be done (as Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, often says – Mother Earth, or death) I’m walking away from the Peoples Summit with renewed hope that the passion and dedication exists to create radical, positive change for all.