BLOG: Finding Hope at COP24

BLOG: Finding Hope at COP24

Why I attended COP24
I never thought I would attend a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP). My community and country have always been my focus. Mostly though, l really don’t like flying in airplanes.

As the International Outreach Manager for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, gaining a global perspective is key to my work and as you will see, the networking and intelligence gathering are unparalleled at these types of events.

Greta Thunberg
On December 7, the day before I left for COP24 in Katowice, Poland, a group of us from nine Canadian cities and as well as other communities around the world facilitated #FridaysFutureStrike events in solidarity with Greta Thunberg who has been striking from school in Sweden. The Canadian youth made the CBC National News and Greta shared her appreciation on Twitter and  Instagram.

Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, was my first day at COP24. The COP24 venue included a conference centre with a tent city attached to it. It contained 8 distinct sections and enough room to accommodate 28,000 people. Totally by accident, literally within my first 10 minutes inside the COP 24 venue, I walked into Greta, and she asked me to thank the Canadian youth for their Fridays For Future strikes.

At COP 24, Greta reprimanded adults in her speech to the UN secretary general António Guterres, on Scientists Warning TV in the UN Media Centre with Stuart Scott, and in the COP24 Plenary on December 12, 2018. She spoke the truth to power and said, ”You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to your children.”

While at COP, I helped a dozen Polish youth groups with their Fridays For Future climate actions on December 14 by placing them on our Greta’s World Map and subsequently connected their organizer to Polish media.

Media Interviews
On Tuesday, December 11, 2018, I was interviewed twice. My first interview was on Norwegian Radio. They were very curious about Canada’s carbon pricing policy. The delightful interview can be heard here (1:00 – 13:00). Don’t worry, my answers are in English.  I also spoke about Canada’s Carbon Pricing on in the COP 24 Media Centre with Stuart Scott on the program Scientists Warning.

Climate Heroes
Greta was not my only brush with fame. On the first day and three times thereafter, I connected with Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party of Canada.

On day two, I met the Honourable George Heyman, the Environment and Climate Change Minister for the province of British Columbia. Thanks to the actions of our CCL volunteers in Vancouver, Mr. Heyman knew all about CCL.

On day two I also got to speak briefly with the Honourable Catherine McKenna who asked me to relay a thank you to my daughter Sophia for her work on plastic pollution and her climate activism. Sophia had made a pinky promise with Minister McKenna in the summer of 2017 to get adults to do more about protecting the climate.

On my second last day at COP24 I was in a Talanoa Dialogue session with the roving Ambassador for climate change and a long time Facebook friend Ronny Jumeau. He was in the session supporting climate-concerned youth from Seychelles.

Take-home messages about Canada from COP24
Canada supports the 1.5C report from the IPCC although it was not adopted formally because of obstruction by Russia, the USA, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. 

Our government is committed to putting people and communities at the forefront of the transition. This takes time and people committing to action in a non-partisan way.  

The Trudeau government committed to strengthening our climate goals in 2020. Meanwhile, back home, the Conservative Party of Canada leader, Andrew Scheer has shifted his position and will no longer commit to Canada’s Paris goals. 

The goal of this COP was to create a rulebook for the Paris Agreement and that was achieved with Canada’s support.

I asked the Canadian government’s delegation what messages could I relay back home to people working at the grassroots level? I am paraphrasing them but they said, “Climate action begins at home. We need to know where we are and that is why the Global Stock and Transparency are critical elements in the Paris rulebook. Finally, to get where we need to go we need to leverage the financial markets.”  

Canada is now world leader on carbon pricing
Did you know that Honourable Catherine McKenna is a graduate of the London School of Economics and is currently the High-Level Co-Chair to the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition too? This is a very good thing for Canada because we are being positioned to grab onto the $26 trillion clean tech opportunities that will be available between now and 2030.

On December 12, in a Nature editorial, Canada’s carbon pricing policy was praised as a way of making carbon pricing more palatable to the taxpayer.  

As International Outreach Manager for Citizens’ Climate Lobby as well as in my experiences with civil society at the G7, G20, IPCC and COPs, I can tell you first hand that the world has its eyes on Canada’s carbon pricing policy.  

History Lesson on Canada’s Climate Action
Canada currently has highly insufficient climate commitments. And, we have the highest GHG footprint per capita in the G20.

Literally, in 2015,  Canada finally began the hard work of developing a national plan to a low carbon future that includes so much more than carbon pricing. It is called the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.  And, in the process of developing this plan was intensive public input. You would have to be asleep under a rock to have missed opportunities to give feedback. 

PM Trudeau’s government inherited the woefully inadequate GHG targets from the previous government and under PM Harper the provinces did most of the heavy lifting in reducing greenhouse gases between 2008-2015.

As well, between 2008-2013 at the yearly UN climate negotiations, Canada was the most obstructive country. It was so bad that in 2013, Canada was awarded a Lifetime Unachievement Award from Climate Action Network International.

Canadians live in one of the richest countries the world has ever known. The climate crisis is really urgent, yet Canada and including especially now my province of Ontario are not doing their part to solve this crisis.

Previously, only Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant was against the world along with President Donald Trump in opposing the Paris climate commitments. Now the entire Conservative Party of Canada will no longer commit to meeting even our woefully inadequate Paris climate commitments.

Thankfully, other countries around the world are moving forward. If Canada loses our carbon pricing policies and the clear market signals they are sending,  Canada will lose out on the $26 trillion opportunity that awaits for jurisdictions with the right climate policies. Mostly though, we will be the laughing stock of the world if this happens. Think about it.  Carbon pricing is such an obvious solution that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce endorsed carbon pricing on December 15, 2018.  Not surprisingly, Moody’s downgraded Ontario’s credit rating recently.

Image Source: Government of Canada

Global Connections
On Tuesday, December 11, 2018, I attended a Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition event where there were three Canadians on the panel: the Honourable Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable George Heyman, British Columbia’ Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy and Arlene Strom, Vice President, Sustainability & Communications, Suncor Energy Inc..  Yes, of course, oil companies in Canada support carbon pricing.

Last year, at a similar event at COP23,  I asked a question about how governments of the world plan to create carbon pricing equivalencies between the various types of carbon pricing. This is important because trade issues will arise as carbon pricing rises. Last year, my question was left unanswered, this year, panelists told me they were studying it.

In the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition event, I also learned that Costa Rica has been pricing carbon since 1998 and it now represents 22% of their tax base. I also learned a valuable lesson from Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Minister of Environment and Energy, Costa Rica on how to communicate carbon pricing in the Global South: reframe it to address the social cost of deforestation. I brought that idea to an event later in the week in the Nigerian pavilion and it seemed to resonate.

Later in the week, I was a participant at a Talanoa Dialogue event with youth from around the world. I learned things and made connections that I know will serve us all well in 2019.

On Friday, December 14, I took part in the massive sit-in against global polluters inside the COP 24 venue. People held banners that said, “Which side are you on?” and “People Not Polluters” and “System change not climate change.”  We chanted and sang and blocked the main stairway. The speech by Rita Uwaka of Friends of the Earth Nigeria motivated me to do more in 2019.  

Heed Warnings
In between the beautiful city of Krakow and the industrial city of Katowice lies the town of Oświęcim, renamed Auschwitz by the Germans in World War II. Every day our bus drove by Oświęcim. On my last day in Poland, I spent the day at Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

Fellow CCLer and Climate Reality leader, Dr. Peter Joseph read my  Facebook post and left this comment: “My father fled Berlin in 1933 at the age of 20 with his small family and lived to the age of 87. A successful physician, he taught me to HEED WARNINGS…or else. All humanity is now in that position and we are NOT heeding the warnings. Many analogies now apply.”

What comes next?
Some of you are going to read this blog and search for answers. The answers don’t lie within me or the United Nations. They lie within you.

I know that climate action begins at home, and that is why I never planned to attend a COP. However, my city of Sudbury “gets” climate change.  Ten years ago, I wrote a blog called My Green Sudbury and CBC TV sent a crew to my house to film a three-minute documentary about my view of Sudbury.

While I was at COP24, members of CCL Sudbury arranged for Dr. Dianne Saxe, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, to give a public presentation at our local university and Grand Rounds at Health Sciences North, Northern Ontario’s largest hospital, on January 8 and 9th. And both of these events will be broadcast. I no longer have to expend a lot of time and energy to defend climate action in my backyard because many others are doing it with me in Sudbury.

Ultimately we need enshrine climate goals into law which might be on the table for Canada because some politicians are sadly using carbon pricing as a wedge issue in Canada. The  Globe and Mail Editorial Board rightly said this about carbon taxes, “Taxing is usually the most honest and least economically damaging way of inflicting that pain. Voters should be wary of leaders who say otherwise; there’s a good chance they either want to make you pay through the back door or don’t care about climate change at all.”

Action = Hope
As I write these words, I know they probably won’t make much of difference because the solution to the climate crisis is on-the-ground-action and not more words, blogs, books,  social media posts, and especially not the circular-firing-squad arguments on social media. Get out of social media, unless of course you an expert at troll-smashing and it does not get under your skin.

It is madness to think we can talk our way out of this mess.

Find a group of people who are not guessing and know what they are doing and commit to helping change the world in 2019 as if your world depends on it because it does. We don’t have time to guess now.

The key is not to work alone because this work can be too hard, too lonely and frankly your ego can get the better of you and trick you into engaging in futile actions.

Bold, consistent, proven,  and countless face-to-face actions by CCL volunteers in Canada and across the world over the last eight years have produced incredible results in 2018.

We need more people. Our volunteers in 2019  will have to dare greatly because insidious forces are harnessing social media as a weapon, dismantling mainstream media and muzzling environmental watchdogs.

If you don’t have time then please consider donating money. Goodness knows “the other side” has more money than most governments. But they lack truth and love, and their movement is filled with lies, partisanship and fear. We have the greater good on our side.

As Greta said, “We have had 30 years of pep talking”. She went on to say, “Yes, we do need hope—of course, we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere.”

Cathy Orlando has put her words to work for the climate by getting letters and opinion pieces published in newspapers in every province in Canada. When she’s not safeguarding the climate alongside the best volunteers on the planet, you can probably find her stargazing, dancing, reading books not about climate change, hanging out with her husband Sanjiv, and mothering her three cherished daughters.