From November 11–22, 2013, the annual climate negotiations for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) were held in Warsaw, Poland. The UNFCC is an international treaty that aim to combat climate change, but the treaty has no binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions for countries that sign it. The parties to the convention have met annually since 1995 at the Conference of the Parties (COP) to negotiate an international treaty or protocol that would potentially set binding limits. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), UNFCC has set 2015 as the year by which an agreement on how to keep the planet’s climate change under a net increase of 2 degrees Celsius should be reached.
For roughly every five years since 1990, the IPCC has released an assessment report based on scientific climate research. In late September this year, the first part of the fifth assessment report (AR5) was released. The report expressed that there are extremely high odds — around 95 per cent — that climate change is human-caused. Now that the science is clearer than ever, countries should feel the urgency to act — but something very apparent in the atmosphere at cop19 is that some countries, Canada included, are not listening. There is an undertone that Canada’s climate change policy is sorely lacking.
The situation is not a simple one. Though the science behind climate change is clear and there is an apparent need for reducing emissions, the proper method for countries to orchestrate reduced emissions in order to stay within the UNFCC goal is not. Climate change is a result of the increased emission of co2 into the atmosphere; this release began in the 1800s, as many countries began to industrialize. Industrialization was made possible by cheap and dirty fossil fuels — including oil, gas, and coal. Though many countries — such as Canada, the US, Australia, and the United Kingdom — have developed and taken advantage of these cheap fuels, other countries are just starting to develop now. This industrialization gap is where the issue arises. How do climate-policy makers tell developing countries that they must invest in clean technologies that are evidently more expensive than coal and other fossil fuels?
Climate negotiations are difficult because developing countries need investments from developed countries. Many developed countries, especially Canada, are reluctant, possibly in part because of a refusal to grasp the gravity of the current environmental situation. Indeed, these countries often appear to be ignorant of the urgency of the climate change talks. Just last week, for example, the Canadian government publicly congratulated Australia for its dismantling of the Australian carbon tax.
This past Monday, the Climate Change Performance Index placed Canada and Australia fifty-eigth and fortieth, respectively, the worst rankings of all developed countries. Canada received this not-so-prestigious ranking as a result of its reluctance to move forward with any sort of climate change policy.
This issue is important for many Canadians, as the effects of climate change are not isolated to any nation or group of nations, but influence the entire world, as well as generations to come.
Young people have made their voices heard at these negotiations. However, this year, youth face a unique challenge: as the venue changes from year to year, the amount of spaces available for young delegates differs. This year, although the venue was a large stadium, only a specific number of delegates were allowed due to security purposes. All constituencies — including secretariat, government parties and NGOs — needed to make cuts in the number of delegates they sent to the conference. Young people in particular felt that they were underrepresented, as NGOs are the only constituent that commonly offer space for youth delegates. In response to this, on the first Thursday of the conference, an intergenerational equity day was held that promoted the voice of the youth.
Young people are beginning to play prominent roles in climate negotiations, but University of Toronto students were conspicuously absent from the Warsaw negotiations. U of T does not send a formal delegation — something that we should be working to change. There is a precedent among other universities: the Australian National University, for example, does send delegations to the negotiations. These delegations include students and professors, who attend for various purposes — for research, or to foster engagement. U of T is willing to send students, but logistics need to be worked out. Accommodation and flight costs must be addressed, and the issues upon which U of T personnel should focus their energies must be decided. To promote change, Canadians need to be more involved. Youth involvement is one way to ensure that the policy in Canada becomes more constructive and forward-thinking.