Leehi Yona: Canadians’ best interests “certainly not represented” at COP20

by: Leehi Yona | Published Thursday, Dec 18, 2014

Activists demand action during recent COP20 conference in Peru. (Photo: Adopt a Negotiator)

Activists demand action during recent COP20 conference in Peru. (Photo: Adopt a Negotiator)

There’s a sad realization many of my peers have come to while at the United Nations COP20 climate talks in Lima, Peru last week: real solutions, ambition and equity are not on negotiators’ agendas. What we witnessed instead was international-scale finger pointing, childish blaming and passing around of the hot potatoes known as emissions cuts.

Canadians’ best interests were certainly not represented by our negotiators. Indeed, fossil fuel companies seemed to be stealing the attention and focus of our government, from dominating stakeholder briefings intended for Canadian organizations, to securing precious meeting times with our elected representatives. It goes without saying that the government could have done much, much better to represent us.

Moreover, I couldn’t help but ask, what exactly are the roles of youth and non-governmental organization delegates at these conferences? Are we expected to have an actual influence in the decision-making process, or are we merely glorified spectators? We barely had a voice at COP 20, and our pleas went virtually unheard to the Canadian negotiators roaming the halls of the convention centre.

Yes, many of us voluntarily spent our own time, money, and energy to be at COP20, to provide a voice for those directly impacted by climate change. As youth, more starkly than future generations, it is our very generation that will tomorrow suffer the brunt of today’s lack of political willpower. What difference does it make, though, when your cries fall on deaf ears?

Even worse, countless attempts were made to convince us that actual progress was indeed taking place. Countries, scrambling to show the world that they are doing something, anything, to fight climate change, presented false progress to the problem. What kind of progress, do you ask? If empty promises – such as the non-additional “contribution” of Australia to the Green Climate Fund, designed to aid those affected by climate change – is progress, then I guess one could call conference a major success.

Canada was no exception to this bad behaviour. To add to the frustration while being at COP20, I represented a country whose actions to date have earned it special recognition, having received the infamous “Lifetime Unachievement Fossil” award at previous COP conferences for its lack of vision and of ambition year after year. Not only does the Harper government have no intention of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and fulfilling the promise it made to do so in the 2009 Copenhagen talks, but it is attempting to orchestrate a distraction by framing other greenhouse gases, such as fluorocarbons, as the country’s most significant gases to control. Of course, this gimmick serves only to shift the blame away from the tar sands industry and, if successful, would be condemning future Canadians to a life of climate destruction.

I ask myself, is this the climate legacy we want to leave? Dear readers: what kind of world do you want your children to have – is it as least as good, as livable, as the one into which you were born?

Or conversely, I ask: would you stand for the tar sands industry undermining our Canadian values of justice and basic human rights? Tar sands pose a significant environmental justice issues to First Nations communities and to communities nationwide that are in the path of its intended transportation. The way things are looking, depleting our tar sands reserves alone will put us well over the two-degree limit scientists say is necessary to avoid your grandchildren living in a world that is entirely different from today’s.

I also would have liked to ask our Canadian negotiators in Lima: if your own children were sitting at the negotiation table with you, would you still make the same decisions?

The only way to reach these people is to put pressure on them to cooperate with other nations. You each have the power to do so – speak to your elected Members of Parliament, write a letter to our Environment Minister, and remind them: what kind of climate legacy do they want to leave?

More importantly, what kind of climate legacy do we as a collective nation want to leave? Because, by the looks of it, at this rate, they’ll owe our grandchildren more apologies than they can possibly live to make.

Leehi Yona is a Montreal-based a recipient of the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec’s Youth Medal and was recently named Canada’s Top Environmentalist Under 25.  She was a youth delegate to the  recent COP20 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru. 

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Leehi Yona

Leehi Yona is a Montreal-based a recipient of the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec’s Youth Medal. She was recently named Canada’s Top Environmentalist Under 25. She was a youth delegate to the recent COP20 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru.