The 2015 Paris Climate Conference began on Monday, Nov. 30 and so far Canada has made some significant promises.
Montana Burgess, community organizer for West Kootenay EcoSociety and a resident of Krestova, has been on the ground in Paris for the whole of the conference so far, and was also in Paris for Sunday, Nov. 29’s day of climate action.
While the march originally planned for that day was cancelled because of the terrorist attacks in November, there were still several actions that took place.
“After the terrible attacks in France a few weeks ago, the government kind of locked down Paris, and banned any of the public demonstrations that were planned, including the march and other affiliated events,” said Burgess. “So the NGO coalition here, they had three different alternatives that they put forward.”
The first was a website called march4me.org, where Parisians could sign up to ask people from around the world to march on their behalf.
The second was a human chain.
“They had a human chain that they formed on sidewalks, so not blocking traffic and not having a large number of people gathering in one specific venue, that actually did take place [last] Sunday, and they had a 10,000 person turn out and it was peaceful,” said Burgess.
The third took place at the Place de la Republique, where thousands of empty shoes took the place of protesters who couldn’t be there.
“There were people doing things, but not nearly to the scale that they had planned, but there was a way for people to stand up for climate action and show their solidarity in line with the rest of the world that was taking part in climate marches that day,” said Burgess.
The Place de la Republique is also home to a monument that Burgess said “has become a vigil point,” covered in cards and flowers, as some of the terrorist attacks took place not too far from there.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Catherine McKenna, Canada’s new minister of environment and climate change, and several premieres were in Paris for the beginning of the conference on Monday, Nov. 30.
Burgess stopped by a lunch attended by some of Canada’s female premiers, including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Christy Clark.
“It was neat to have all of these leaders coming together and reaffirming their commitment to climate action,” said Burgess.
Trudeau reconfirmed his commitment to the environment on the first day of the summit and said, “Canada is back.”
“Which is great to hear, but we’re not quite sure how he’s back,” Burgess commented the next day.
Trudeau did pledge $2.65 billion over the next five years to help developing countries combat climate change at the Commonwealth summit on Friday, Nov. 27, and since the first day in Paris, Canada has made some strides is showing a stronger commitment to fighting climate change.
On Sunday, McKenna made a surprising statement, saying that Canada was committed to a global warming increase of no more than 1.5°C by the end of the century.
“There’s this idea that we can’t have … global warming increase more than 1.5°C by the end of the century or we’re kind of hooped,” explained Burgess, “and this is what all the NGOs are kind of pushing and want, but before we’ve always been framing it around no more than 2°C by the end of the century, like governments have been saying that, and that’s kind of where negotiations have been. All those vulnerable islands and vulnerable people around the world are like 2°C is too much, 1.5 to stay alive.”
McKenna also said that the Paris agreement needed to include language for indigenous and human rights.
“It just makes the agreement stronger and more in line with what we actually need,” said Burgess.
The Canadian government has also committed to working with provinces to reduce carbon emissions and on Saturday Premier Philippe Couillard announced Quebec will contribute $25.5 million over five years to help French-speaking developing nations fight climate change.
Burgess hopes that BC will follow Quebec’s lead on climate change.
“I hope BC can do the same thing and step it up more,” she said.
This is an improvement over Canada’s performance at past climate talks, but it still may not be enough, as the United Nations has said the emissions-reduction commitments from countries attending the Paris climate summit isn’t even enough to meet the 2°C target.
Burgess said efforts will also need to be made at the local level.
“Whatever comes out of this, we’re going to need to take it seriously, locally too because it’s not going to be enough, even though it’s going to be a great big step forward, so the West Kootenays and other communities and cities need to figure out what is their fair share and how to transition to a 100 per cent renewable energy economy really quickly,” she said. “It’s a big challenge for the whole world, not just our government.”