Road to Paris: Notes from the UN Bonn climate negotiations

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Photo: Leehi Yona

On Thursday June 11, the United Nations climate change negotiations wrapped up in Bonn, Germany. The negotiations, aimed at consolidating a text in time for the massive COP21 conference in Paris later this year, succeeded in trimming the agreement draft a mere five pages in 10 days of talks -- down from 89 pages to 85.

The co-chairs of the process -- representatives from Algeria and the United States -- stressed the importance of investing time in Bonn building trust rather than streamlining the text. They lauded countries' willingness to cooperate, all the while dismissing that it would require months to reach a meaningful agreement at this pace, not the 10 days that are actually scheduled between now and Paris.

I am returning from Bonn to Montreal drained. It is hard to carry hope for these talks which have historically delivered shoddy deals that are nowhere near what scientists tell us is necessary to avoid the most severe climate change impacts. As young people, it is our future that is being taken hostage between the lines of UN jargon.

The Bonn conferences -- a series of negotiations that will be taking place over 10 days spread between now and October -- are moments for cooperation, for countries to move forward and show they are serious about an agreement in Paris.

However, I am not convinced we are going to get to a meaningful outcome at COP21 if business remains as usual. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process has failed more times than is acceptable when it comes to what's at stake. I in fact am younger than the UNFCCC itself. Yet, my generation finds itself the first to be affected by climate change, and the last in which action can still be taken to protect us from its most catastrophic impacts.

Going to Bonn, I am experiencing all these emotions -- deep fear, irrational hope, the gravity of the reality we are facing -- but I do not see the Canadian government doing the same.

"Climate change is really important to Canada as a Northern region," Canadian Chief Negotiator Louise Métivier stated in a presentation of Canada's climate change commitments in Bonn. She then went on to explain the ways the Canadian government would act on climate change: "investing heavily in technology development and CCS [Carbon Capture and Storage]."

In other words, the Canadian government is planning on reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by relying, in large part, to the creation of geoengineering technologies. The ethical challenges of CCS aside, the kind of machinery necessary for storing Canada's emissions doesn't even exist yet. The government is relying on a pipe dream.

At the end of her presentation, Mme. Métivier showed a picture of the Arctic. How considerate of negotiators to show the UN the region the Canadian government is so intent on discarding.

I found myself concerned by the government's references to the Arctic. It is a place that has taught me reverence, where the days and nights never end. A part of my heart will always remain in the tundra. I research the region and am both in love with the Arctic and conscious of the southern-caused issues that are responsible for many challenges faced by local communities. Hearing the government disregard and appropriate the Arctic struck a nerve.

I frequently ask myself what it would take to reach a global agreement on climate change. I wonder what negotiators would have to do to get there.

I believe we have to ask ourselves if we love each other enough as fellow human beings to move beyond our differences, our petty finger-pointing. We have to ask ourselves if we can love each other, our magnificent and breathtaking world, enough to change. Enough to save it.

When it comes to climate change, young people don't need sympathy. I don't want anyone's uncomfortable silence, or heartfelt comments. I want people to feel angry, and mad, and sad, and loved. I want people to carry my generation's burden with me, too.

The future of the world will not fall squarely on Paris. It will be a defining moment for us, and can put us on the track to ambitious climate action, certainly, but it is not the be-all end-all for the climate movement.

And Canadians wield more power than they realize. The March for Jobs, Justice, and the Climate taking place in Toronto July 5 is an opportunity to shift the climate inaction narrative. The upcoming Canadian federal elections are, as well. Current polls suggest everything from a Conservative majority to NDP majority lead. Canadians can demand a new government that prioritizes climate progress, but only if we mobilize.

Looking toward Paris, I feel a tempered sense of faith. I don't know how much I believe in the UN process, but I believe in the ability of Canadians to demand the future they deserve from their elected officials.

 

Leehi Yona of Montreal is a climate justice community organizer. She is studying Biology, Environmental Studies, and Public Policy at Dartmouth College. In 2013, she was named Canada's Top Environmentalist Under 25.

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