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Standing on guard for thee, tar sands

And we're off ... again.

The 17th round of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks started up today in Durban where even the most optimistic predictions are pretty dismal. Around the globe, skepticism over the potential for the creation of a global climate accord that would ensure and enforce international action has become pervasive after the failure of the 2009 talks in Copenhagen. But progress has not simply stalled, it has been bound, gagged and lashed to the ground by the influence of the fossil fuel industry and the actions of governments like Canada who negotiate on behalf of it.

Today the Canadian Youth Delegation launched a new set of uniforms for our nation's negotiating team in Durban. Emblazoned with corporate logos from Canada's oil patch the uniforms show exactly how Canada is putting polluters ahead of people and standing in the way of global action to prevent runaway climate change.

But it hasn't always been this way. As recently as 2005 Canada was internationally celebrated for forging a pathway towards a global deal at the United Nations climate talks in Montreal. Since 2006, when the government of Canada pulled millions of dollars in support from the Nairobi round of climate talks, it has positioned itself as one of the most obstructive forces when it comes to global action on climate change. They currently stand alone as the only nation to weaken its international commitments after the Copenhagen conference, the only nation to renounce its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, and now the first nation to take an absolutist stance against a second round of Kyoto commitments.

So why are they doing this? The main reason is a massive scar in the Earth up in northern Alberta that can be seen from space. With the potential to line the pockets of Canada's oil barons, the Athabasca tar sands have become Canada's crown jewel at these climate talks, to be protected at any cost. The costs are steep: immense and highly polluting water use, the consumption of millions of cubic meters of natural gas, the poisoning of downstream communities, and a climate forcing potential that NASA scientist James Hansen says would mean "game over" for the global climate. Our leaders have decided to protect the short-term gains of our fossil fuel driven economy in lieu of ensuring my generation, and those that will follow, a just and sustainable future. In short, Canada has decided to put polluters ahead of people.

In the last year alone, Canada has been outed internationally for its efforts lobbying on behalf of the oil patch. In Europe the government has joined with oil companies to try and submarine the European Union's Fuel Quality Directive, a step towards reducing emissions from Europe's transportation sector. At the same time, our government has dispatched agents to try and force the Keystone XL into the United States, despite the massive upswell of resistance all along the pipeline route, and across the United States.

The impacts of climate change, and the extractive industries that are driving its expansion are threatening the lives and livelihoods of people here and now. Canada faces a choice. Will it continue to labour in defence of an industry driving one of the greatest crises of our generation while the world leaves us behind? Or will we make the shift to a just, sustainable and green economy that puts the needs of all people ahead of the wants of a few major polluters?

At the global table, youth from across Canada are tired of watching our government play the role of the unwanted dinner guest. We're not willing to simply sit at the kids table and watch them mortgage our future to protect the fossil fuel regime. Canada needs an oil change, and if our government won't do it, you bet we will.

This launch marks the start of Operation Oil Change, a campaign to hold Canada accountable in Durban.

Check out more and get involved back home.

Cameron Fenton is the National Director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition and is currently in Durban, South Africa with the Canadian Youth Delegation at COP17.

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