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MONTREAL—Battle lines are being drawn as governments, environmental organizations and grassroots organizers are gearing up for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Cancun, Mexico.
On one side, nations from the Global North—including Canada—are setting up to push the agenda of the Copenhagen Accord, an agreement that emerged from last winter’s UN conference in Denmark—one that failed to establish any binding terms for carbon emissions reductions.
On the other side, many nations from the Global South have rallied around the Cochabamba Accord, the end result of April’s World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Bolivia. The final text includes calls for a global referendum on climate change, the establishment of an international climate justice tribunal and the recognition of a declaration on the rights of Mother Earth.
Civil society organizations in the North have also begun to lend support to the Cochabamba proposals. A statement from this summer’s United States Social Forum in Detroit issued a call for “all governments engaged in the United Nations (UN) to incorporate proposals from the Cochabamba Protocol and to adopt and implement the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.”
“After significant efforts on the part of the Bolivian government and social movements, text from the Cochabamba Accord, or People's Agreement is included in the negotiating text for Cancun negotiations,” said Andrea Harden, Climate Campaigner for the Council of Canadians. “While some commentators have framed this as a step backwards...it is finally putting goals reflective of social movement demands and the gravity of the crisis we face on the table.”
Indeed, Bolivia and its allies have faced resistance from the governments of many wealthy, highly polluting nations in getting the Cochabamba text recognized for consideration at the Cancun round of talks.
The Canadian Government has been one of those opponents.
“Canada welcomes all input into the UNFCCC process; however, Canada remains committed to the Copenhagen Accord as the basis for a new global climate change regime,” Henry Lau, a representative of Environment Canada, told The Dominion.
Harden points out that governments from the Global North called the Copenhagen text an accord even though it wasn't approved by the consensual process usually required to grant the "accord" label—an indication of their lack of respect for the UNFCCC process.
Lau declined to answer questions about the Athabasca tar sands and its expansion projects—such as the Keystone XL pipeline—which were a focus of protests during the Copenhagen talks. Instead, he focused on draft regulations for personal vehicle tailpipe emissions and reductions in coal-fired power generation to “help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve air quality for all Canadians from coast to coast to coast.” According to a 2008 report from the National Energy Board, around 13 per cent of Canada’s total power generation capacity comes from burning coal.
These commitments are part of the Canadian and US strategy of setting "economy-wide emissions targets," a move that may have influenced the selection of Canada’s new chief climate negotiator, Guy Saint-Jacques. A seasoned diplomat, he is also a vocal promoter of Canada-US economic interdependency. At a speech on free trade to US Chamber of Commerce in 2008 he noted that “as the new US administration defines its energy policy, it is important to keep in mind that America’s largest supplier of energy is your neighbour to the north.”
The Canadian government has pledged “$400 million in new and additional climate change financing,” a promise that many believe has a darker side.
Organizers point to these proposals as false solutions which fail to deal with climate change, and which have the potential to exacerbate existing economic, social and environmental problems. “This amount still pales in comparison to what the Global South is asking for,” Harden said. “There is also a lot of concern as to where this money is coming from...such as the REDD program (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), carbon offsets and using other market based mechanisms to meet nation’s climate debt.”
During inter-sessional negotiations in Bonn, Germany, in August, proponents of the Copenhagen Accord announced that access to financing coming from the Global North would be contingent on support for the Accord.
As Cancun draws nearer the United Nations is introducing stricter rules for civil society participation. Bright red text in the UNFCCC Information Note on Cancun warns that they hold “the authority to take any action necessary to maintain [their] security.” Civil society representatives are barred from holding “unauthorized demonstrations." Limits have been placed on the distribution of materials or displaying posters at the discretion of UN officials.
Many civil society delegates were excluded from the Copenhagen conference after participating in the Reclaim Power action—where organizers inside and outside the summit attempted to create a People's Assembly inside the Copenhagen talks—a precedent that has many organizers worried these rules are meant to stifle political dissent.
But Cancun is not the only place where organizers are looking to mobilize. In late July, La Via Campesina, the international peasant network, issued a call for "thousands of Cancuns...[to] unite the force and resistance of peasant peoples of the world, who are already cooling the planet." Their call is for people around the globe to take action in support of grassroots solutions such as those articulated in the Cochabamba Accord.
This call represents shifting values within parts of what is being called the global climate justice movement. Many grassroots climate activists are seeing this summit as an opportunity to shift focus away from UN meetings towards local, grassroots community organizing.
"I don't plan to attend Cancun because it is not my place," said Dave Vasey, a Toronto-based climate justice organizer who was in Copenhagen last winter. "But it is important to respond to the vision and wisdom [of local organizers].”
Vasey, along with many other organizers will be staying home this time. Instead, they plan on bringing the message of "System Change, Not Climate Change" to communities across Canada, and taking action against the root causes of a changing climate.
Cameron Fenton is a former intern and Membership Coordinator with The Dominion and a community organizer in Montreal.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.