At UN climate talks, Canada must acknowledge loss and damage

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Photo: flickr/ Peter Blanchard

As the world begins to hammer out a draft for the next climate deal at the United Nations climate change negotiations in Bonn, Germany, Canada stands in the way of progress.

Insufficient and out of touch

Our government has put forward its commitment for the upcoming Paris COP21 climate negotiations in December. Canada's commitment, or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) in U.N. jargon, is to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions by a paltry 3.6 per cent compared to 1990 levels.

What's more, out of 90 proposed mechanisms behind this reduction, the direct impacts of 60 of these have not yet been defined. In fact, Canada stated that it was banking on much of these reductions to come from "indirect programs" such as "behavioural changes."

Needless to say, this commitment falls far, far short of what we are required to do according to the world's leading scientists, staying within a total 2 C threshold of warming.

In fact, just last week a South African negotiator pointed out this discrepancy, and asked Canada if it would reconsider submitting a more ambitious INDC, one that is "required by science."

However, Canadian negotiators have repeatedly asserted that Canada has no plans to reconsider its submission, which it calls "ambitious but achievable." 

Compensating climate catastrophe

There is an important element to Canada's responsibilities as a developed country at the U.N. This is bound in the historical responsibility we carry for all of the emissions we have pumped out in the past. This now links directly into the principle of Loss and Damage.

Loss and Damage refers to the impacts of climate change felt in countries that have done almost nothing to contribute to the problem -- such as the Maldives. Countries like this literally cannot adapt to many situations, things are just lost.

For Canada, whose tar sands production ranks among the most carbon-intensive and polluting methods worldwide, Loss and Damage is huge.

We possess the third-largest reserves of crude oil in the world. And yet, Canada has not contributed its fair share to the Green Climate Fund, the pool of money dedicated to supporting developing countries to combat climate change, and is blocking additional funds for Loss and Damage.

Out of the Fund's initial $10 billion goal, Canada pledged to contribute $300 million, three per cent of the fund's goals. For a country responsible for so many greenhouse gas emissions domestically, this contribution is more like a slap in the face than any real initiative on the part of the Canadian government to frontline communities.

Vulnerable countries cannot, and must not, be forced to suffer at the hands of our own will-full pollution. A 2 C rise would be devastating to so many countries.

This reality is what prompted the government of Vanuatu to sue the world's leading fossil fuel companies in an effort to "bring a case that would investigate the human rights implications of climate change and hold the big carbon polluters accountable to appropriate international bodies."

Earlier this year, the nation's capital city saw more than 90 per cent of its housing infrastructure destroyed due to Cyclone Pam.

Many vulnerable countries within the negotiations believe that there is a huge lack of financial support from developed countries to adapt to climate change. In fact, a recent United Nations report stating that climate change accounts for 87 per cent of disasters around the world.

What's worse, this report was conducted with a global average temperature warming of 0.8 C, not the four degrees we are on track to achieve or even the two degrees we are aiming for.

A question of Canadian recognition of human rights

These statistics are staggering and call into serious question the role of human rights within the context of the U.N. climate change negotiations.

Indeed, as ActionAid International's Harjeet Singh asserts, "In reality, the impacts of increasing temperature levels will not be linear, but will multiply what we face now several times over. What will happen at 2 C, 3 C or 4 C of warming is unimaginable."

Evidently, Loss and Damage is a climate issue deeply rooted in human rights.

As John Knox, U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and the Environment, affirmed last week:

"Even moving from one to two degrees of warming negatively affects the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights."

As Canadians, we pride ourselves on our humanitarian aid when disaster strikes.

The least we can do is start to take responsibility for causing some of these disasters and preventing them, not just cleaning up the mess.


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.

Photo: flickr/ Peter Blanchard

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