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Report from the Ground: COP21 – The Light at the End of the Tunnel

It’s almost the end of COP21, and pressures are rising palpably at the conference centre. This is Diane, representing the Canadian Youth Delegation (CYD) and the Council of Canadians in Paris. The last few days have been hectic!

Monday with the CYD was full of meetings. We finally got to meet with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna. We began with some of our stories and experiences in the team. Atiya Jaffar talked about her experience in Pakistan during the floods, and how vulnerable countries and people can be designated as sacrifice zones. Sophie Harrison spoke about growing up with COP21 (she is as old as the negotiations themselves – 21 years) and a literal lifetime of disappointment. Erica Violet Lee explained how she is from a frontline Indigenous community in Canada that suffers under a fossil fuel economy that does not truly respect rights of Indigenous peoples, especially those who dissent or take action for the land. We pressed McKenna for a plan to meet the 1.5 degrees of warming target – the shining goal of the negotiations which she unofficially agreed to on Sunday. We know that this goal means immediate and bold action – including laying the groundwork for a zero emissions, 100% renewable economy by 2050. Practically, this would include a freeze on tar sands expansion and no new pipelines. The CYD also met with Elizabeth May, and it was great to hear her words from years of experience at COP and in environmental politics. We spoke strategy and discussed the 1.5 degrees goal and what it means for Canada.

Tuesday saw some incredible actions, including an anti-REDD+ (forest carbon trading) event with Indigenous allies, and a major 1.5 degrees action inside the conference centre that focussed on the “fork in the road” that we face right now. The theme of the day for the CYD was “loss and damage” as we got more familiar with the text in the agreement that promises financing for the most vulnerable countries – something that Canada and other wealthy countries are trying to get out of. The CYD also met with Premier Wynne of Ontario – pushing on issues like stopping the Energy East pipeline, implementing UNDRIP provincially like Alberta is promising to do, and a “climate solidarity” financial commitment similar to Quebec’s. We look forward to pushing more on these issues after COP21 and the roles of provinces becomes clearer.

On Wednesday the morning began with some Eastern CYDers presenting Brian Gallant, Premier of New Brunswick, with a package on behalf of the Peoples’ Lawsuit Youth of Elsipogtog, a First Nations Community who demand a 25-year moratorium on fracking within the province. Later, the CYD held a tongue-in-cheek action in the conference centre – celebrating the “retirement of fossil fuels” now that Canada has said it would support the 1.5 degrees of warming goal. This was meant to show our interpretation of what 1.5 degrees of warming really means in terms of action: a halt to the fossil fuel economy and a just transition to an economy based off renewables. There was wine, and music, and speeches saying farewell to fossil fuels who we’ve known all our lives, and introducing the new leaders who are stepping up (renewables).

Officially, the most exciting thing that happened on Wednesday was the release of the draft text of the agreement. We were very disappointed to see the removal of human rights language in the text, including “the rights of indigenous peoples, migrants, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and under occupation.” We have been pushing our government to do their part in keeping remaining justice language. In response to the draft text and to the “loss and damage” financial maneuvering of wealthy countries, there was a massive sit-in inside the conference centre – 400 people, including the CYD, came out to raise our voices for wealthy countries to do their part in financing climate justice. The CYD topped off the day by accepting a “Fossil of the Day” award on behalf of Canada – noting that though people seem to think “Canada is back” we are also back on stage for the fossil award. This was awarded, along with the “umbrella group” of wealthy countries, for trying to skirt those loss and damage financial commitments to the most vulnerable countries.

That’s all for now, but you can help us out in pressuring our government – want to get your name to Paris? Sign on to the call for Zero Emissions by 2050 – we will be presenting these signatures here at COP21 in our final official CYD action on Friday.

Salut – Diane