The Deal in Durban

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The Durban Conference on climate change ended in a most Canadian fashion – sudden death overtime. Unfortunately for us all, the environment lost in the shootout.

Youth for Eco-Justice at a demonstration in Durban - photo courtesy of World Council of Churches

The European Union and some countries of the Global South pushed to continue Kyoto beyond its scheduled expiry in 2012 (if large emitters agreed to negotiate a new legally binding treaty, with deeper reduction promises, by 2015.)

However, this achievement does not amount to an agreement, but (as CBC News labeled it) “an agreement to work towards an agreement.” The Pembina Institute concluded that, "Current pledges still leave the world on a course for more than 3˚C of warming,” even though the agreed-upon target is to limit warming to under 2˚C.

Environmental groups were deeply ashamed of Canada for earning the “Colossal Fossil” award for announcing that “Kyoto was in the past,” and for lobbying other countries to abandon this legally-binding accord. A report released on December 6th called the “Climate Change Performance Index,” placed Canada at #54 of the 58 highest-emitting countries based on both CO2 emissions and climate policies. Summarizing the event, a World Council of Churches official was especially critical of Canada, saying, "Some of the industrialized countries have prevented a more ambitious and effective regime. The decision of Canada of withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol is an example of the failure of the negotiations".

Ottawa’s reticence to take meaningful action to lower greenhouse gas emissions at home was evidenced, critics attest, by continuing subsidies of over a billion dollars to the oil and gas industry, and for endless promotion and expansion of the Athabasca oil sands.

Durban Democratic Dynamics

Canada’s Environment Minister, Peter Kent, concluded, "We want to avoid another Kyoto-like pact at all costs. Kyoto was not effective and was not good for Canada. The previous government should not have ratified it. The Durban Platform is a fair and balanced framework for responsible and effective action…”

Elizabeth May, MP and Leader of Canada’s Green Party, reported from Durban that, “Yes. Progress was made - but too slowly and we are running out of time.” Unlike in years past, Mr. Kent refused to include representatives of Canadian Opposition parties in the Canadian delegation to Durban. Ms. May (who has participated in several previous negotiating conferences) went to COP17 on her own dime, and only got into the official sessions as a representative of the Government of Papua New Guinea!

Signs of Hope?

Despite rather dismal appraisals of the success of COP17, there were at least two points of hope for Canada at Durban: the roles of Canadian youth and faith communities.

The NDP’s Deputy Critic for the Environment, Laurin Liu, attended the conference. Ms. Liu, 21, is the youngest woman in the House of Commons, and spent a good deal of her Durban time in support of the Canadian Youth Delegation. From Canadian youth, delegates received clumps of sand, covered in molasses, as signs of Canadian commitment to exporting bitumen. And during the conference, six young Canadian activists stood and turned their backs when Mr. Kent was speaking, causing them to be removed from the conference. Nonetheless, the Canadian youth reportedly received louder applause than the Minister.

The General Secretary of the Mennonite Church, Canada, Willard Metzger, described the situation in his blog: “What would cause these youth to express such displeasure? Some would dismiss them as misinformed idealistic youth. But having witnessed the articulate and researched presentations that have consistently characterized their statements, such a dismissal is indefensible. For some reason the youth have lost faith in their leaders. So they are taking back their future. There is a feeling that such an irreplaceable commodity as the future cannot be entrusted to those willing to gamble with it. “Kyoto is in the past,” stated Kent. But the delegation of the future clearly seemed to disagree.”

Interfaith Action

Canadian faith communities were involved with climate change issues as never before. Just two years ago at COP15 in Copenhagen, United Church Moderator Mardi Tindal found that she was the only North American church leader present. This was not the case in Durban, where Tindal and Metzger were also joined by Christian Reformed Church representatives. Prayers were offered across Canada for the success of the Durban negotiations, and a former United Church Moderator fasted during the conference.

The Canadians went to Durban with a statement on climate change signed by over 60 faith community leaders. As well, thousands of signatures from faith community members were collected on a petition in support of the Interfaith Call and sent to MPs. These signatures were added to an international petition, gathered by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who met government leaders after an impressive rally of tens of thousands of people of faith who gathered in Durban during the Conference.

After meeting Minister Kent, Mardi Tindal reported what faith communities must do next: “Our challenge is clear. The Minister has read our Canadian Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action and has indicated that our recommendations are reasonable. Now is the time to take him up on his openness to more conversation.”

But only hours after arriving home, Mr. Kent on December 12th pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol.

Joe Gunn serves as Executive Director at CPJ.

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