What should a group of canadian youth do when the first week of a COP is coming to a close and they’re wishing with all of their beings that they could be more effective, that their government would listen, and that a paradigm shift would occur within the UNFCCC negotiating world?

They should talk to Sheila Watt-Cloutier and Naomi Klein, that’s what. 

Last night, the Canadian Youth Delegation (CYD) had the pleasure of meeting Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an award winning and awe-inspiring Inuit activist (for her speeches, click here). Many of us, in the past few days, have been struggling with the issue of efficacy and wondering about when, why and how people should walk away from systems that they recognize as being broken. A tired but energizing Watt-Cloutier, who’s worked tirelessly making the link between Inuit, climate change, and international human rights for decades, told us that she can’t walk away from this sytem. For her grandson, she cannot afford not to be here.

While the system may not produce the results that so many inside and outside this centre are looking (and dying) for, it does bring more than 190 nations together. Of Canada, Watt-Cloutier said that the vital environmental work that needs to be done to prevent dangerous climate change is occuring at the provincial level and in our cities but that we have to be here, to be present, to speak our truth–that we have a right to a sustainable future and that our leaders are abdicating their responsability vis-à-vis future generations–and to bring our energy to this process. 

She underlined how important it is to learn the ropes, and reminded us that this attempt we’re making to bring about change, and this energy and this time we’re giving is important, and, in turn, gives her hope. “This is our purpose,” she said, “you, your generation, belongs here more than most who are here.”

This morning, after one of our daily CYD meetings, Naomi Klein came to speak to us. This time about the importance of people’s forums, underlining the fact that the real issues, the real problems that we’re facing are not even on the negotiating table–namely, for Canada, a moratorium on Tar Sands development.

What I’ve always so loved and admired about Naomi Klein is her ability to reframe issues, the way she invites her readers to think–and discuss and theorize and organize–differently. To reclaim power. To reclaim language, and frameworks and the space in which these can–and need to–occur. In this meeting she eloquently said (and this is a rough paraphrase), “Why are there are these panel discussions and side events about how the Island States and Least Developed Countries need to adapt to climate change when there should be workshops for people from the Global North to make it clear that adapting to climate change actually means shopping less, addressing corporate power, kicking our oil habit..?” 

What we need now more than anything, Klein argued, is not leadership, what we need is for Canada to follow the rules. We, as Canadians, need to recognize that by signing and ratifying the Kyoto protocol and by doing nothing to meet those targets, our country needs to face sanctions. We have undermined multilateralism, we have broken the law. If this were the WTO, we would be in trade court. It isn’t only the tar sands that are tarnishing our image, she said, it’s this lawlessness.

As we shook hands before we all rushed off to other meetings, we thanked her for her work and she for ours. If anything, the solidarity among climate justice activists in this centre is energizing.

Now to use that energy.