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System Change Project at CUPW Convention

Today I had the honour of leading an environment seminar at CUPW’s convention. I was invited by Donald Lafleur, 4th National Vice-President with CUPW. Donald was part of the Canadian delegation that attended the World People’s Conference on the Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Donald, on behalf of CUPW, has been involved in an ad hoc group unions and social justice organizations working on climate justice in Canada that the Council of Canadians is also involved in. The group collaborated on polling in the lead up to the UN climate talks in Cancun Mexico, and recently released a climate justice factsheet, which is available here.

The convention spans this week, they are certainly covering a lot of ground. From a variety of caucus meetings including LGBT and First Nations, Metis and Inuit caucuses, to a report from the National Executive Committee to tomorrow’s solidarity march to Occupy Toronto.

The atmosphere is certainly lively, here is a union that has been under intense fire lately. There is a lot of energy here, it is clear that CUPW remains committed to defending worker rights and contributing to the strengthening of Canadian social movements.

Attending this morning’s environment panel were a number of CUPW member locals and CUPW staff including the President of the union, Denis Lemelin. Andrea Peart, Health, Safety and Environment with the CLC and Donald also spoke. 

 I was asked to speak about the climate justice movement, some of the shared experiences we’ve had alongside CUPW and our introduce our new multi-media project, System Change not Climate Change (flyers for the project will be shared on the Convention floor with members).

Here are my speech notes in preparation for today’s panel:

Hello, welcome and thank you to Donald and to CUPW for the opportunity to be with you here today.

I want to begin by acknowledging that we are on traditional territories of Indigenous Peoples. 

For those of you who may not be familiar, I work for the Council of Canadians, a membership based organization that campaigns in the areas of water, trade and climate justice, and other issues of interest to our members. We have over 60 volunteer chapters across the country that we work with. As Donald mentioned, I am the Energy and Climate Justice Campaigner.

During the recent CUPW strike we were in frequent communication with CUPW staff, we honoured and supported the strike, and continue to see CUPW and other unions are important allies in the struggle for social justice. 

There is no doubt that we are living at a time requiring great change. We are facing a climate crisis, driven by human actions, that requires profound changes to our economy and society.

The roots of this crisis are shared with the causes of other crises we face – water, growing inequalities, biodiversity.

There is a growing global movement demanding justice in the face of this climate crisis, climate justice, and seeing this as connected with the struggles for water justice, social justice and workers rights.

I’ve been asked to share with you today some of the shared experiences we at the Council of Canadians have had with CUPW as part of a growing global movement demanding climate justice, and to share an invitation to participate in an exciting new project launched by the Council of Canadians, the System Change not Climate Change project.

I’d like to start by setting the context as to why we feel the campaign for climate justice is important, beginning with the urgency of the climate crisis and role of the Canadian government, then discuss some of our experiences at an influential conference held in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

While our understanding of climate science continues to evolve, what is crystal clear is that climate change is unfolding quicker than anticipated.  

2010 was the warmest year on record in Canada and the world.  And while it is difficult to attribute any individual severe weather occurrence to climate change, the pattern seen in 2010 and 2011 so far, of increasingly severe and more frequent extreme weather, is consistent with what we’ve been warned of.

A recent report confirmed that arctic ice is melting faster than predicted with sea level rises of up to 1.6 metres by the end of the century. This stands to have devastating impacts on low level islands and coastal communities. 

And while negotiators and world leaders meet yearly under the UN for an international agreement on climate change, little progress is being made. Even if all the countries, including Canada, meet their pledged targets submitted to the UN, global temperatures will still rise by nearly 4 degrees Celsius above their pre-industrial levels. Consequences include:
– Billions of people will suffer water shortages due to melting glaciers.
– Melting polar ice caps will cause sea levels to rise several metres displacing over 100 million people
– Droughts will imperil Prairie farmers and our food supplies.

Clearly for ourselves, for our children and grandchildren, we have a responsibility to act in the face of what has been called the most serious crises humanity has ever faced.

And on this front, we, as Canadians, have our work cut out for us.

In the 2011 Climate Change Index, Canada is ranked 57th out of 60 countries surveyed on actions addressing climate change.  We were trailed only by Australia, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.

Under the Harper government, we have seen:
• A muzzling of federal climate scientists, Funding cut to a key federal renewable energy programme while continuing to subsidize the oil and gas industry to the tune of 1.4 billion a year
• A failure to meaningfully regulate the fastest growing source of emissions in Canada – the tar sands in Alberta – while actively lobbying against climate policies in the U.S. and Europe that would penalize the tar sands as a high carbon fuel
• Walking away from our Kyoto Protocol commitments and having the dubious title of being the only country to come out of the Copenhagen climate talks to actually worsen their greenhouse gas emission reduction target. Oh and by the way, we don’t even have sufficient plans to meet the weak target we have. 

This is the context in which we can understand the urgency to act.

The good news? There is hope.

There are tangible, real solutions that will help us address climate change. Public and community owned renewable energy, reduced energy use, sustainable agriculture. There are examples of local and national campaigns such as demanding an end to federal subsidies to oil and gas and campaigns against local climate crimes like the Wave against the Pave project our chapters are engaged in BC to stop a proposed highway and shift these funds to public transit. There are examples of local and some provincial policies that will head us on the right track.

The Council of Canadians alongside a number of Canadian allies has also been active not only in demanding climate action, but also, demanding climate justice, and this is where we draw hope.  I have had the honour to participate in a number of mobilizations in Canada and internationally that has influenced our climate justice campaign. I’d like to take some time now to share some of these experiences with you.

The climate justice movement is diverse, ranging from community-based engagement to mobilization demanding national and international action.Understood simply, climate justice is about seeking solutions to climate change that both help reduce emissions and advance equity.

The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Cochabamba Bolivia in April, 2010 was a critical turning point for the climate justice movement.

The Council of Canadians was part of a Canadian delegation that participated in this influential conference hosted by the Bolivian government. This delegation included a team of PSAC staff and delegates, and representatives of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and Common Frontiers. We met daily, coordinated our participation in key meetings and presentations and reporting back to Canadian members.

The conference was hosted by the Bolivian government shortly after the failure of the Copenhagen climate talks to produce a fair and effective climate deal. Bolivia is on the frontlines of climate change, already experiencing water shortages as a result of melting Andean glaciers.

The conference had an astounding 34, 000 participants. It was an open and participatory space with academics, community activists and government representatives present. There was a strong indigenous presence. All in attendance to discuss what can be done to equitably address the climate crisis.
Working groups were the focus of the conference. The conclusions of these working groups directly informed the final document containing the conclusions of the conference – the people’s agreement.

In arriving in Bolivia, the Canadian delegation quickly learned that, while the primary stated goal of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen was reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the climate crisis, the Cochabamba conference began with a different starting point. It was approached with an emphasis on protecting, loving and respecting Pachamama – Mother Earth.

While this was a new term for many of us, but central to indigenous peoples world wide, it speaks to the relationship and needed balance between humans and the Earth. There was a strong indigenous presence at the conference. Indigenous knowledge as it applies to both ways to adapt to and address the climate crisis was weaved throughout the conference.

Discussions about the rights of nature featured prominently at the conference. Rather than seeing nature left out of key decisions or as a commodity to be bought and sold for profit, we must recognize nature’s innate rights and consider these as a factor in all levels of decision making. This will help us  ensure generations to come have a healthy and safe environment in which to live.

This led to many discussions and conclusions that affirm that when we think of the climate crisis, we should not only of the release of greenhouse gas emissions and the need to reduce this, but also, think about what is causing the situation we are in.

This includes recognizing patterns of over production and consumption and an export-oriented global economic model that puts the profits of corporations ahead of the interests of people and the environment.

Using the common slogan, climate justice is about system change, not climate change.

It is no coincidence that when the global economy slowed in 2009 in the face of the climate crisis, that global ghgs dropped for the first time in years.

We are faced with an export-oriented global economy premised on the continuous expansion of the economy.

Economic interests and global trade rules are premised more on protecting profit then protecting the interests of people and the environment. This is contributing to an equity crisis with, haves and have-nots between and within countries. 

It is contributing to an environmental crisis, climate change being the most profound symptom.

What came out clearly from the Cochabamba conference, and in subsequent climate justice organizing that we’ve been involved in, is that climate justice is about recognizing this and taking action together for transformational changes toward equitable economies and societies that are in harmony with nature.
While there is clearly no one perfect solution or answer, using this understanding of what is contributing to the current crises we face to evaluate and choose how best to address it, will help us lay the groundwork, one action at a time,  to build a more equitable just economy and society.

Conference conclusion: People’s Agreement

This ‘lens’ influenced the conclusion of the Cochabamba conference, a people’s agreement based on the conference working group discussions.


An example of a false solution highlighted in Cochabamba is carbon trading and carbon offsets. 

Real solutions include examples like recognizing the rights of nature, direct government regulations to reduce pollution and create the appropriate support for critical solutions such as public transit, local sustainable agriculture and renewable energy.

It also includes Global North countries like ours taking the lead on reducing emissions and helping the Global South adapt to climate change.

This is a critical point to emphasize, climate debt repayment is a fundamental rally cry for climate justice. It refers to the cruel irony that people in the global South, or developed countries and small island communities in the Pacific, communities in the Arctic are being hit first and hardest by the impacts of climate change while countries such as ours have contributed the most to the causes of climate change. This is a fundamental demand of Global South countries under the UN climate talks.

This agreement, while not perfect, does offer important guidance on both real and false solutions, using this climate justice framework.

This document continues to inspire the movement. The spirit of it is embraced in a recent statement from the Africa Trade Network (ATN), the International Trade Union Confederation-Africa (ITUC-Africa)  and the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) in the lead up to the next big round of UN climate talks to be held in Durban South Africa this December, which I’ll return to later.

The Canadian delegation in Cochabamba was inspired and, upon returning home, decided we wanted to better understand Canadian public opinion on key themes that emerged from the conference. The results continue to inspire us. 

Canadians are deeply concerned about the climate crisis and, in tune with the conclusions of the Cochabamba conference, understand that the climate crisis requires a change in economic, social, and environmental priorities.
For example:
87% of Canadians agree “Industrialized countries which have historically produced the most greenhouse gas emissions, should be the most responsible for reducing current emissions.”
85% of Canadians agree that “The root cause of climate change is too much focus on economic growth and consumerism. We need to have an economy that is in harmony with nature, which recognizes and respects the planet.”
83% of Canadians agree: “The Canadian government should invest in green jobs and have transition programmes for workers and communities negatively affected by a shift away from reliance on fossil fuels.”

We also recently released a new joint factsheet on climate justice in the lead up to the Durban UN climate talks this December, and plan to continue to mobilize together.

It is this understanding of climate justice that inspired our System Change not Climate Change project.
We wanted to bring forward voices that are making these connections between the climate, equity and economic crisis and examples of solutions that provide the groundwork for, or help create transformational change – that reach beyond actions that consistent of business as usual, and help us transition to the economy and societies we want to live in.  We wanted to bring this forward in an accessible way that helps to build and broaden the movement for climate justice in Canada.

The System Change not Climate Change project is a website – www.systemchange.ca that features over 25 videos from a range of speakers including academics, activists and union representatives.

We currently have 6 videos available with French subtitles and are working with allies to provide more.
The videos, 3 to 10 minutes in length, help frame the climate crisis from a variety of perspectives, and delve into key system change areas.

The videos are included under the themes of:
The economy
Energy transportation and agriculture
Testimonies of resistance transition vision
The rights of nature/commons

A couple of examples of solutions raised in System Change videos:

Recognizing the problem is part of the solution – a first step in the right direction. Bill McKibben of 350.org and Elyzabeth Peredo, author and activist from Bolivia, both give compelling accounts of climate change impacts that compel an urgency to act. Andrea Peart.

In tune with climate justice and understanding how climate change is connected to a broader problem, two videos I find helpful are Peter Victor’s video on No Growth Economics, and Steven Shrybman’s video on the connections between an unjust international trade regime and climate change.

Peter, an economist, describes in details how the climate change crisis is connected to an economic crisis. He also discusses No Growth Economics, a solution to a key problem he identifies – the pursuit of economic Growth.

Steven’s video helps to underscore how challenging free trade rules is a climate solution. This is why one of the action toolkits that will be provided on www.systemchange.ca concerns passing municipal resolutions to keep communities out of CETA. CETA could allow corporations to challenge local procurement and could heighten the rights of corporations in the tar sands.

We also have a video of John Cartwright, President of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, speaking about the opportunities for good green jobs in many sectors, drawing on experiences in Toronto.

It is a free, public, interactive website – it is our hope that the speakers’ messages will be shared broadly. Already, the videos have been viewed over 4500 times.

I encourage you all to visit the website, watch videos and share it with friends, family and colleagues, use videos at chapter meetings and events or however you see fit to use them.

The project not only aims to build awareness through people watching these videos, but to also inspire actions for climate justice in Canada and around the world, including through the organizing of community-based teach-ins.

The Council of Canadians is encouraging chapters and other groups and organizations to host teach-ins in the lead up to the next major round of UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa, November 28 to December 9, 2011.

While there are already predictions that the climate talks likely won’t produce the meaningful actions our planet needs to halt and reverse the effects of climate change, these teach in’s are a forum for dialogue about what needs to happen and opportunity to demand better. The work we do mobilizing in communities across Canada before, during and after the talks builds the pressure that can influence decision making.

What is a teach-in?

Teach-in’s can be held in a variety of settings including workplaces, classrooms, community centres, at conferences and even in your living room. 

While there is no set, or right way to plan a teach-in, www.systemchange.ca is a tool you can use, featuring free and accessible videos that provide insightful information on system change and climate justice topics and compelling stories of people taking action in their communities. We invite you to use these videos to educate, engage and inspire.

Finally, I’d like to close by recognizing that while this type of transformational change  – system change – may seem daunting, large scale change certainly isn’t impossible.

Let us not forget the example of Rosevelt’s “New Deal” which saw government spending during the Great Depression through central economic planning and stimulus programmes help create needed mass transformation. Work relief to unemployed, reforming business and financial practices, social programmes, and an economic recovery.

And while recognizing questions may be raised about whether slowing our economy could mean hardships and job loss, the truth is that while, while there could be some truth to this, it is certainly not the only outcome.

There is a strong and growing body of knowledge about how we can pursue no growth economics, or a steady state economy.Jobs can be transformed and new jobs generated by improving efficiency and productivity, under a sustainability model, instead of a growth model.

Recycling of all kinds – closed loop production and consumption cycles. Delivery of vital social services. Renewable energy production, public transit and sustainable more localized agriculture. All of these require work.

There are real tangible solutions to the climate crisis. There are measures that could be put into place today that can reduce emissions and advance equity and more long-term efforts that will help build a just economy for people and the planet.

What we are missing is political will. That is something that we have the power to change by building a strong and effective movement for justice and it starts with discussions like this.