Dal students stage climate change protest at Durban talks

Back-turning protest earns international media attention

- December 12, 2011

James Hutt (facing forward, on left) and Sonia Grant (standing to his left) before being escorted out of COP17. (Canadian Youth Delegation photo)
James Hutt (facing forward, on left) and Sonia Grant (standing to his left) before being escorted out of COP17. (Canadian Youth Delegation photo)

Dal student James Hutt knew what he was getting into when he and five other youth delegates staged their silent protest at the United Nations climate change conference in Durban last week – but he says they felt like they had no other choice.

The six members of the Canadian Youth Delegation, representing the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, earned international media attention after they were removed from the premises—and had their accreditation revoked—when they stood up during Canadian environment minister Peter Kent’s address to the attendees at COP17 and, turning their backs to him, revealed shirts that read “Turn your back on Canada.”

“When we stood up, we turned our backs on Peter Kent the same way that the Canadian government turns its back on us by coming here to negotiate in bad faith and support corporate interests instead of our future,” says Mr. Hutt, speaking on the phone from South Africa.

The Canadian Youth Delegation consists of 18 young people from across Canada who work to speak as the voice of the Canadian youth climate movement. Mr. Hutt, who studies environmental studies, international development and Spanish at Dal, is part of the delegation’s Actions and Strategy Team, all of whom—including fellow Dalhousie student Sonia Grant (international development studies)—took part in the protest.

"No alternatives"

Mr. Hutt has been involved with the delegation since this summer, and says that the team spent a lot of time deliberating over the action. When asked whether he thinks such a visible protest was worth the consequences, he says that the team believed strongly enough in the cause—and were adamant that their voices were not being heard—that they were compelled to act.

“We knew that losing our accreditation and not being able to attend the rest of the conference was the most likely outcome, and we fully anticipated that,” says Mr. Hutt. “The fact of the matter is that we had no choice. We tried everything else, but the government has left us with no alternatives. We tried writing letters, we tried meeting with them, we tried talking, but it’s apparent that the voice of industry speaks clear to them.”

Canada’s role in addressing climate change on the global stage has been a subject of increasing debate in recent years. The current government has been highly critical of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and has made its opposition to a similar pact clear, saying that it was not a good deal for Canada. It's expected that the government may formally pull out of Kyoto as early as today (Monday).

The Durban conference ended with an agreement to start negotiations on a new accord that would take effect by 2020. In a statement, Minister Kent reiterated the government’s belief that a new international climate change agreement must commit all major emitters to binding reduction targets, and refused to devote funds to the new Green Climate Fund—part of the Durban agreement—until such targets are in place.

Minister Kent’s statement that the government’s actions at the conference are “in the best interest of Canadians,” though, rings hollow to Mr. Hutt.

“We knew that, based on previous COPs and actions by our government, that our leaders are firmly embedded with some of the most polluting corporations on the planet,” he responds, passionately. “We knew what would happen here. We really wanted to put pressure on our government to put the interest of people before polluters.”

Though they were not part of the protest, Dalhousie student Emilie Novaczek (biology and sustainability) and recent grad Robin Tress (environmental science and biology) were also members of the Canadian Youth Delegation to COP17, both on the Media and Communications Team.


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