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Report back from Montreal Cochabama +1 conference

I’ve just returned home from the Cochabamba +1 conference in Montreal.  The conference, held one year after the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba Bolivia, brought together environment, labour and social justice activists to discuss how we advance the movement for climate justice in Canada.

The Council of Canadians participating in the Cochabamba conference and we continue to be inspired by it through our Climate Justice: for People and the Planet campaign.  You can read blogs, press releases and watch video taken at the Cochabamba conference here.

You can watch the Montreal conference’s Friday night opening panel here and watch Maude’s presentation on climate justice one year after the historic Cochabamba conference here.

In her presentation, Maude highlighted a new project of our climate justice campaign – an e-teach-in for system change, not climate change.  Launching this September, the project includes a website featuring videos of high profile speakers addressing both the climate crisis we face and examples of real solutions that will help bring about the transformational change we need. The website will also feature local climate justice action toolkits and will encourage people to use these videos and tools to host community teach-in’s across Canada in the lead up to the UN climate talks in Durban (December 2011). The teach-in’s will help raise awareness of the real solutions to the climate crisis that exist and provide the space to support and pursue local climate justice campaigns.

Throughout this weekend, talented videographer Alex Lisman worked with me getting video footage of a number of the speakers present at the Montreal conference. 

The Montreal conference organized by Alternatives and Canadian Dimensions (the Council of Canadians was one of several conference partners) covered a variety of topics including the problems with shale gas development, importance of sustainable local agriculture, false solutions like geo-engineering and cap and trade, importance of protecting biodiversity and more.

It brought together people associated with labour unions and groups such as Greenpeace Quebec, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Climate Justice Montreal, Canadian Auto Workers Union, Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, The United Steelworkers of Canada, L’Association Quebecoise de Lutte Contre la Pollution Atmosherique, Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union, Indigenous Environmental Network, Jubilee South, Polaris Institute and more.

A clear recurring theme of the conference was the need to recognize and understand how corporate led globalization, an economic system that puts profit above the interests of people and the environment (many presented this as neoliberalism or neoconservatism) and the historic relationship of western civilization seeing nature as something to dominate and use, is at the heart of why we are facing climate and environmental crises.

As was the importance of recognizing and seeking out areas of connection (or intersection) of our struggles for worker rights, reducing emissions and local environmental pollution, respect for human rights and advancing social justice, in helping to build and advance our movement for climate justice.  

Yesterday I spoke on a panel focused on global North South solidarity and ecological debt. Ecological debt affirms that global North countries are disproportionately responsible for the climate crisis we face, having emitted more than two thirds of all historic emissions, and as such owe a debt to the global South. This includes an emissions debt, meaning that countries like Canada have a moral responsibility for deep emission reductions domestically, and an adaptation debt, meaning a responsibility to assist (both in mitigation and adaptation measures) those facing the negative impacts of climate change (predominantly in the global South) adapt to this reality.

I spoke to our experiences on the caravans for social and environmental justice in the lead up to the Cancun talks, as an example of global North South solidarity. I shared the story of Cerro San Pedro with the audience of around eighty people, speaking about the fight against a subsidiary of NewGold (headquartered in Vancouver)  over the water and destruction of a culturally and historically significant mountain for what community members described as an illegal mine. Both Brent and I blogged about our experiences on the caravan including in Cerro San Pedro, which you can find on our Cancun webpage (scroll down).

Drawing from our experiences in San Pedro, I made three central points.

First, the inclusion of San Pedro which was largely not about the emitting of ghgs (this was not the case in other caravan stops focusing on the export agri-business and fossil fuel industries) in a caravan on climate justice is noteworthy. San Pedro was chosen because it is emblematic of the struggle against the disregard for people and the planet and the drive for profit that is at the heart of the environmental, climate and social crisis we face. To me this means that when we think of the climate crisis we should not only think about the need to reduce emissions but also about what is causing the situation we are in. I believe this can inform our mobilizing here in Canada in organizing beyond our silo’s as Maude often refers to them. Silo’s that threaten to separate struggles that on the surface may seem different but when you dig deeper, are connected in a common struggle.

I also think that the caravan’s featuring of local struggles like San Pedro provides useful insight. The stories and experiences of the caravans informed and provided inspiration and motivation to the alternative spaces during the Cancun talks. They were representative of the reasons for why we were present, pressuring our governments for change. There is value and strength in listening to and acting alongside people in the global South and in our country for whom climate change impacts and the struggle against industries contributing to the crisis are a daily reality.

I also argued that the featuring of local struggles on the caravan was also relevant to the repayment of climate debt. At the heart of the demand for this repayment is the need for countries like ours to commit to deep emission reductions. Internationally climate talks are far from achieving the change we need and are faltering. In Canada we are faced with a federal government that remains committed to being an energy superpower focused on export oriented energy change to the detriment of action on climate change. We are so woefully behind on our responsibilities. While we absolutely need to be vigilant in our demands for international and national action, we are nearing the time when actions could be too little and too late. It is in this context, that people coming together in their communities can play a vital role in advancing climate justice. Local campaigns challenging climate crimes and advancing real solutions to the climate crisis in Canada will help contribute to meeting our debt responsibilities through emission reductions and help build the mobilization and support needed to demand far more on the part of our governments. Here I gave the examples of the wave against the pave campaign in B.C., and the variety of programmes and initiatives we heard of on our caravan stop in Dolores Hildago.