The UN Climate Change Conference has come to a close, but the challenge for our leaders is just beginning. Despite the conference running an extra day, due almost entirely to blocks by Canada and the United States, both countries eventually backed down to pressure from other countries, as well as from a groundswell of public pressure from the Canadian and American public.
This conference was both disheartening and inspiring. I saw international youth come together like never before to demand positive action on climate change, and a willingness by the international community to engage in an open dialogue with youth from around the world. I saw leaders such as Ban Ki Moon, Al Gore and Stéphane Dion impassionedly call for action, and small island states call for help to deal with potentially devastating sea level rise, which is destroying their homes and livelihoods now.
Climate change is no longer a far away threat. The North Polar Ice Caps may melt completely in the next five to seven years. Sea level has risen 10 to 25 cm in the past century and may raise 85 cm the next 100 years. Over the past 30 years, about 25 per cent of the world’s coral reefs have died. Animals and plant species alike are facing extinction, which also means a loss of livelihood for many, particularly Canada’s Northern peoples. Malaria and drought effected zones are growing. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that we have 10-15 years for CO2 emissions to peak and decline in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.
From political celebrities such as Al Gore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and John Kerry, to film stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney, this conference had a high-profile turn-out like never before. As much as these big names helped put pressure on policy makers to take action, Canadian citizens also answered the call. Within three days of posting a petition for the Canadian government to take action on climate change, we had amassed over 105,000 signatures. And, in the eleventh hour, when Canada’s position threatened to completely unravel negotiations, we put out a call for help to Canadian citizens. Within three hours, the switchboard of the Prime Minister’s Office was shut down.
The Canadian government changed its position because of an outpouring of pressure from its citizens; however there is still much more work to be done. Despite backing down from its blockading position, Canada played a large role in watering down the decisions made at these negotiations. It is essential that we as democratic citizens continue to place pressure on our government to do what is morally imperative and to take action to avoid dangerous climate change.
Whether students, profs, administrators or otherwise, we at Dalhousie all have a role to play in ensuring the sustainability of our country and our climate. I want to sincerely thank you for all your support.
Jessica Wishart is a fourth-year student in International Development Studies.
READ: Gore quotes NHL icon in apparent dig at Canada's climate stance at CBC.ca | Baird's Bali flip flop will haunt the Conservatives in The Toronto Star
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