CPJ at the UN Climate Conference

By Karri Munn-Venn

Welcome! Bula! Willkommen!

These were the words of greeting at the site of the UN Climate Conference (COP23) in Bonn, Germany. Under the leadership of the government of Fiji, COP23 focused on the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Over 20,000 people, representing nearly 200 countries from around the world, attended COP23. With the exception of the most austere negotiating rooms, COP23 was a colourful display of diverse culture and common purpose.

I was there for CPJ, to learn, to meet others in the climate justice community, and to bring a voice of Canadian Christians into the conversation. And I wanted to see firsthand how the Canadian government would frame their priorities in this international context.

When I spoke with Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, she highlighted two key priorities for Canada: the Indigenous Peoples’ Platform and the Gender Action Plan.

“Indigenous peoples need to be part of the conversation,” she said. “They need to have the ability to share their experiences. We’re working very closely with our national indigenous organizations and Indigenous elders to get this.” She also highlighted the disproportionate impact climate change has on women, saying that it’s important that “we think about women when we make decisions around climate change, and that they … be more engaged in the [climate] negotiations.”

The adoption, then, of both a strong Gender Action Plan and the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples’ Platform was celebrated by many. Catherine Abreu is the executive director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Canada, a coalition of over 100 environmental, labour, and faith-based organizations working to address climate change. She referred to Canada’s contribution to these discussions as “glimmers of real leadership.”

Edmonton NDP MP Linda Duncan was in Bonn with a clear eye on the impact of federal climate action on workers, especially in light of the November 10 announcement that the province of Alberta would provide $40 million to help workers affected by the coal phase-out. Following a just transition event that featured Canadian, Quebec, and Alberta trade unionists, Duncan told me that she felt that this was one of the most important conversations at COP23.

CPJ has long advocated for a just transition to a low-carbon economy. A just transition would ensure that workers and their families receive support as they retrain and move to jobs outside the traditional energy sector.

That’s why we were pleased to see Minister McKenna also announce that the government of Canada will create a Just Transition Task Force and implement a series of measures to support workers moving out of the fossil fuel industry, starting with coal workers in Alberta.

Still, all this good news is not enough. French President Emmanuel Macron reminded government leaders – and all of us present – in Bonn that the world must course correct within the next five years to have any chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels.

Canada’s emissions reductions targets are still too timid. And developed countries are not providing enough financing to support mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage in the most vulnerable regions of the world.

When I asked Green Party Leader Elizabeth May for her assessment of COP23, she said that we’re more or less on track to get a ‘rulebook’ in place by COP24. “The problem is,” she said, “we haven’t done nearly enough two years after Paris to actually be reducing emissions to meet the Paris goals.”

Because CPJ is a member of CAN-Canada, I was also curious to hear from Catherine Abreu on where we go from here. “We’re one of the 10 wealthiest nations in the world,” she said, “and it is incumbent upon us to follow-through [on our financial commitments]. And of course, … we need to make sure that we’re walking our talk at home.”

Canada needs to stop increasing GHG emissions — immediately. Then, to align with the Paris Agreement, we should move our emissions reduction target from 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 to at least 50 percent.

The world can’t wait.

From November 13-17, 2017 she attended the UN Climate Conference (COP23) in Bonn, Germany as an observer under the accreditation of the United Church of Canada. The videos of Karri’s conversations with Minister McKenna, Elizabeth May, and Catherine Abreu are available on CPJ’s Facebook page.

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