Archive for the ‘Climate News’ Category
The most recent meeting of the UNFCCC at COP 18 meeting in Doha saw the premiere of Neko Harbour Entertainment Inc’s third edition of the Youth Climate Report (YCR). Producers Mark Terry and John Kelly premiered the film for representatives of the United Nations, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other delegates at the Doha Round of climate change negotiations.
The production included interviews with senior researchers and students from around the world, including researchers and students from York University. The project showcases the latest climate change research and discoveries made by scientists from around the world. The four interviews with researchers and students from York University represented one of only two submissions from a Canadian university.
This edition of YCR included interviews with Dr. Ellie Perkins (Faculty of Environmental Studies(FES)), Dr. Kaz Higuchi (Faculty of Environmental Studies(FES)) & Liberal Arts and Professional Studies (Geography)), Dr. Richard Bello (Liberal Arts and Professional Studies (Geography)), and Dr. Gregory Thiemann (Faculty of Environmental Studies(FES)). Students from a variety of faculties participated as the interviewers including, Sindy Singh (FES), Shishir Handa (LAPS – Geography), Masao Absinthe (LAPS – Geography) and Kristina Delidjakova (LAPS – Geography).
The film included submissions from four other countries including the United States, Cameroon, Sudan and Singapore and has been screened daily at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) symposium since the beginning of the negotiations. This project was coordinated by CC-RAI, a partnership between York University and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). TRCA and York University are currently leading the development of the Ontario Regional Climate Change Consortium with support from other Ontario universities.
Many thanks to the students and faculty that participated in this project as well as the Faculty of Environment Studies, our partner on this project. The Ontario Regional Climate Change Consortium (ORCCC) aims to equip public and private sector decision makers with regionally-specific climate data, intelligence and adaptation services that enable effective policy and investment responses to climate risk in Ontario. The ORCCC initiative has been led by the TRCA and York University. For additional information contact Program and Communications Manager, Stewart Dutfield at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Youth Climate Report is produced by Neko Harbour Entertainment Inc., a documentary and media production company based in Toronto, Canada. To date, the company has produced two documentaries — The Antarctica Challenge: A Global Warning and The Polar Explorer — that have brought the science of climate change to audiences worldwide. The current project showcases the latest climate change research and discoveries made by scientists from around the world. The United Nations had also invited Neko Harbour Entertainment Inc. to screen the film at the United Nations in New York City.
Focus on Sustainability Film Festival: Food – Call for Submission 2013
The second annual Focus on Sustainability Film Festival returns to York University this winter semester 2013, with a spotlight on the increasingly vital and complex topic of Food. In addition to feature films, panel discussions, and prizes centred on food, the upcoming festival also gives local film makers in the York U community an opportunity to have their food related film featured. Following the submission deadline, the festival presenters will choose one prize-winning film to be highlighted, and up to three runner-up films to be exhibited.
- York University enrolled (or previously enrolled) student in any department
- Run time for films must not exceed 60 minutes
- Films must be focused on any food related issue
- Suggestions include: animal rights, agriculture, veganism/vegetarianism, local/global
- Deadline is January 10th 2013 to Jessica Reeve, IRIS Junior Fellow
- Email submissions to email@example.com; or drop in person to 395 York Lanes, IRIS Offices
- Submissions must be in digital formats, and accompanied by a 250 word abstract, title, and
This call for submission is brought to you by The Osgoode Environmental Law Society (ELS), The Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS), and The Climate Consortium for Research Action Integration (CC-RAI). For more information please contact Jessica Reeve at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our fall newsletter is here!
After a record breaking summer researchers in Canada continue to advance our knowledge of a changing climate. If you are interested in learning more about our work with the Ontario Regional Climate Change Consortium (ORCCC) or efforts to build capacity for interdisciplinary collaboration around climate change research and action in Canada and internationally please contact Program and Communications Manager – Stewart Dutfield.
In addition to the information provided in our newsletter you can learn more about our various projects including our climate literacy project, regular blog series and other initiatives by talking a stroll through CC-RAI online.
While scrolling over the news last week one could not help seeing mention of the massive decrease in the amount of Arctic sea ice. A front page news story to be sure. The coverage focused on the reality that the extent of Arctic sea ice had reached its lowest level since measurements began. While this disturbing fact was widely reported the implications and effects of such a dramatic decline in the extent of Arctic sea ice have seemed relatively muted. For many this story may have simply read like another tidbit of news in the annuals of reporting on the natural world. For those individuals who study and live in the Arctic, the dramatic and shifting conditions of the polar region is evidence of a disconcerting trend. Another canary in the same old coal mine. The ice, a proxy for the proverbial canary continues to go the way of the dodo bird
The early nineties Swedish band Ace of Base could well provide the theme song for the sweeping changes we are seeing as a global consequence of climate change, particularly the last week of summer 2012. The band’s popular refrain: I saw a sign and it opened up my eyes, …, No one’s gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong…” Although it is doubtful the group was thinking about anything close to climate change when they wrote this, it gets one thinking how many ‘tidbits’of natural world news stories does one have to read before one “SEES THE SIGN”. As Hurricane Isaac delayed the opening of the Republican National Convention, George Monbiot suggested that we remember the August the 28th as the day the world went ‘raving’ mad. As George points out, “When your children ask how and why it all went so wrong, point them to yesterday’s date [August 28 2012], and explain that the world is not led by rational people”
His assertion isn’t misplaced when you consider what the decline of the Arctic sea ice means. Let us forget about the sophisticated climate models, and the thousands of scientific studies, and simply consider the basis of science itself – observation. We are observing unprecedented changes in our natural world, that when applied to the predominant scientific theory purported to explain these changes seem to confirm over and over again that anthropogenic climate change is a reality. Who is going to drag the collective us into the light?
Let us neglect the discussion as to how this epic thaw has the potential to release large amounts of previously held GHGs; the inherent ecological issues for polar species, the complex dynamics of ocean chemistry, the impact on rising sea levels, not to mention the impact on the people of the world’s polar regions, and of course the reality that the Arctic regions are the next go-to locations for oil and gas extraction. This list of issues is of course much longer, but for now why not simply focus on what is happening right now. As Arctic sea ice vanishes, drought ravages crops across the planet, floods have inundated cities across the globe including the Big Easy once again, and of course Tampa – the host city of the Republican National Convention.
As a news junkie, a skeptic, a cynic and an overall believer in the scientific method, I’ll do my best to remain rational as I continue to see the irrational interfere with science, observation and communication. On a side note, I’m not assuming that everyone that doesn’t agree with climate change is irrational, I am simply asking that they consider the significant changes we are seeing. The disappearance of Arctic sea ice is, after all, a wakeup call for the everyone and every government worldwide, whether they choose to hear it or not.
Let us be thankful for the coverage the Arctic did receive especially in a week where Jersey Shore’s Snookie gave birth to Lorenzo, and Clint Eastwood (I love Clint by the way) had a conversation with a chair.
P.S. If you are looking for some great reporting I have to recommend the September issue of National Geographic and a special mention has to go to my new favourite person, a rational weatherman and meteorologist from South Carolina’s WLTX, Jim Gandy.
Summer Blog Series – Kirstin Silvera Blogs from Costa Rica – Climate Change and Sea Turtle Conservation
As part of our summer-long blog series, Kirstin Silvera, a member of the CC-RAI team will be discussing climate change and its impact on coral reefs, biodiversity and more from a research placement in Costa Rica. Kirstin is currently a graduate student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University and will begin her Law degree this coming fall. In the final blog of the series, Kirstin outlines the impact climate change could have already dangerous endangered sea turtle species.
Tortuguero, a small village located on the northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is the most important nesting beach for green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the western hemisphere (STC, 2011). The beach is also an important nesting site for leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta). Of these species, greens and loggerheads are listed by the IUCN as endangered, while leatherbacks and hawksbills are listed as critically endangered. This makes Tortuguero a crucial player in the successful nesting of these species, and therefore an important factor for their continued existence.
This summer I was working for an organization around Tortuguero, collecting data on nesting sea turtles. In preparing my final blog for the summer I thought it might be interesting to explore how climate change may impact these already endangered species.
Up to and including the point at which sea turtles reach sexual maturity they face many natural and anthropogenic threats including, human development and subsequent habitat destruction, by-catch threats, pollution, and a range of natural predators(Hawkes, Broderick, Godfrey, and Godley, 2009). Sea turtles are one of the oldest species on the planet and “have evolved with continuous habitat alteration through natural coastal processes such as seasonal erosion, accretion and high-tide flooding. The extensive coastal development seen in the last 30 years on many Caribbean islands, however, has occurred within the time required by some turtle species to reach maturity, and then impacts of rapid habitat modification are only now starting to emerge” (Fish, Cote, Gill, Jones, Renshoff, and Watkinson, 2003).
Other climatic factors that could be affected by climate change, “such as extreme weather events, precipitation, ocean acidification and sea level rise also have potential to affect marine turtle populations” (Hawkes, Broderick, Godfrey, and Godley, 2009). Because of this, as climate change alters sea turtle habitats, impacts from natural and anthropogenic sources could be exacerbated. Of particular importance are 3 key characteristics that make sea turtles vulnerable to climate change impacts.
1. Turtles are loyal to their nesting sites
Beaches are essential habitat for nesting sea turtles (Fish et al, 2003). Recent studies suggest that marine turtles return to the same beaches where they were born to nest – year after year. As a result it is critically important that these beaches remain intact. Climate change and associated sea level rise has the potential to have serious impacts. As sea levels rise, the natural shoreline becomes more eroded than usual (Fish, Cote, Gill, Jones, Renshoff, and Watkinson, 2003). Due to development associated with tourism on many parts of the Caribbean coast, nesting beaches could be lost. In addition to threats from erosion and development nests are also at risk from inundation, thereby resulting in increased hatchling mortality and an overall decrease in the success of nesting females (Robinson et al, 2005; Fish et al, 2003).
2. Sexual determination is temperature dependent
Temperature dependent sex determination means that for species, such as turtles that lay their eggs in the ground, the sex of the offspring depends on the temperature of the eggs during incubation (Hawkes, Broderick, Godfrey, and Godley, 2007). Even if the temperature of the nest changes as little as 1 degree Celsius, the sex ratios of offspring could be altered. As the climate changes and the temperatures of nesting locations change, sex ratios can become skewed either towards males or females (Hawkes, Broderick, Godfrey, and Godley, 2007; Janzen, 1994). If clutches become female biased, there may not be enough males to fertilize eggs in the future, and if clutches become male biased, populations may not have enough females to continue to reproduce successfully.
3. The range of sea turtles is growing
Like other reptiles, turtles are cold blooded. They rely on their environment to moderate their body temperature. If ocean temperatures warm as a result of climate change, the range for various turtle species may expand. Many turtle species have very large ranges. (Hawkes, Broderick, Godfrey, and Godley, 2009). As the ranges expand, it will becomes increasingly difficult to make sure that they are protected in different locations. Climate change could also disrupt food chains as well as surface currents, all of which could have a profound impact on sea turtle species (Hawkes, Broderick, Godfrey, and Godley, 2009).
Like many species already facing threats from climate change a wide array of potentially detrimental factors are in play. As many species of sea turtle are already critically endangered the risk a changing climate could have is extremely worrying. In order to maintain, sustain and protect this ancient species will necessitate new research and a renewed commitment to the species currently and potentially at risk.
Fish, M.R., Cote, I.M., Gill, J.A., Jones, A.P., Renshoff, S., and Watkinson, A.R. (2005). Predicting the Impact of Sea-Level Rise on Caribbean Sea Turtle Nesting Habitat. Conservation Biology, 19, 482-491.
Hawkes, L.A., Broderick, A.C., Godfrey, M.H. and Godley, B.J. (2009). Climate change and marine turtles. Endangered Species Research, 7, 137-154.
Hawkes, L.A., Broderick, A.C., Godfrey, M.H. and Godley, B.J. (2007). Investigating the potential impacts of climate change on a marine turtle population. Global Change Biology, 12, 923-932.
Hays, G.C., Broderick, A.C., Glen, F. and Godley, B.J. (2003). Climate change and sea turtles: a 150-year reconstruction of incubation temperatures at a major marine turtle rookery. Global Change Biology, 9, 642-646.
Janzen, F.J. (1994). Climate change and temperature-dependent sex determination in reptiles. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 91, 7487-7490.
Robinson, R.A., Learmonth, J.A., Hutson, A.M., Macleod, C.D., Sparks, T.H., Leech, D.L., Pierce, G.J., Rehfisch, M.M., and Crick, H.Q.P. (2005). Climate Change and Migratory Species. A Report for Defra Research Contract CR0302.
Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC). (2011). Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica. Retrieved from: http://www.conserveturtles.org/volunteer-research-programs.php?page=tortnp.
Weishampel, J.F., Bagley, D.A., and Ehrhart, L.M. (n.d.). Earlier Nesting of Loggerhead Sea Turtles Following Sea Surface Warming. Department of Biology, University of Central Florida.
Witt, M.J., Hawkes, L.A., Godfrey, M.H., Godley, B.J., and Broderick, A.C. (2010). Predicting the impacts of climate change on a globally distributed species: the case of the loggerhead turtle. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 213, 901-911.
As part of our summer-long blog series, Kirstin Silvera, a member of the CC-RAI team will be discussing climate change and its impact on coral reefs, biodiversity and more from a research placement in Costa Rica. Kirstin is currently a graduate student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University and will begin her Law degree this coming fall. In the first of the series, Kirstin outlines the impact of climate change on coral reefs around the world.
While some marine organisms can afford to change habitats in response to changing climates, coral reefs do not have that option. Therefore it is important to understand the effects that climate change can have on our ocean’s coral reefs and species.
Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse habitats on earth, and the most biodiverse of all marine ecosystems, containing approximately 25 percent of all fish species (IPCC, 2007). However, as the oceans warm while the earth’s temperature increases, corals are at a higher risk of mortality.
Corals are harmed with climate change because of ocean temperature increases and because of increased ocean acidification (U.S. EPA, 2011). Coral reefs are sensitive to changes as small as a one degree Celsius rise in ocean temperature, and if sustained for a period as small as six weeks extensive coral bleaching can occur (Australian Government, n.d.). In these situations if temperatures do not return to normal, widespread coral mortality can result (Australian Government, n.d.).
As temperatures in the oceans rise, algae, which have a symbiotic relationship with corals, are lost (Nicholls et al., 2007). This causes the corals to stress and bleach, and as previously mentioned if increased temperatures are sustained, coral mortality will occur. In addition, ocean acidification increases as a result of increased carbon dioxide emissions (U.S. EPA, 2011b). As ocean acidification increases, the availability of calcium carbonate declines, which results in a decrease in calcification for corals (Fischlin et al., 2007). It is important to note that climate change is not the direct contributor to ocean acidification, but rather is a result of increased CO2 which also causes climate change (U.S. EPA, 2011b).
The world’s corals provide refuge and habitat for many marine species (Fischlin et al., 2007). For the world’s biggest reef, the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian Government (n.d.) has identified climate change as the reef’s greatest long-term threat. On top of losing precious biodiversity, an Oxford Economics report estimates the economic losses that could be suffered to Australia’s economy would be around $37.7 billion (ABC News, 2009).
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the world’s second largest reef, has been suffering as a result of climate change as well. Currently, the reef, which is not only biologically but economically vital for the region, is suffering from coral bleaching as a result of warming ocean temperatures. The loss of the reefs which provide habitat for a variety of species has resulted in losses for fisheries, which depend on species that need the reef for their survival.
When bleaching occurs the coral loses its colour and its ability to function. While some corals may return to their natural state after bleaching if environmental conditions return to normal, fecundity and growth rates may still be negatively impacted (Nicholls et al., 2007). Below is an example of what coral bleaching looks like.
When thinking about the state of the world’s coral reefs, it is important to remember that “coral reefs are among the most vulnerable of all ecosystems to climate change” (Australian Government, n.d.). Overall, the state of the largest coral reefs in the world depends on mitigating stressors from multiple sources which threaten their survival. However, if we are to address any of these factors, climate change should be very high on the priority list.
If you are interested in any the references listed above or would like additional information check out the reference guide Kirstin prepared. Also take a look at Kirstin’s other blogs from Costa Rica.
Spring is here and so is the CC-RAI newsletter. To learn more about CC-RAI’s ongoing work simply click on the image below. It has been a busy year and we look forward to an even busier few months to come. CC-RAI is always looking to work with researchers, students and practioners interested in the diverse array of issues associated with a changing climate.
If you are interested in learning more about our work with the Ontario Regional Climate Change Consortium (ORCCC) or efforts to build capacity for interdisciplinary collaboration around climate change research and action please contact Program and Communications Manager – Stewart Dutfield.
In addition to the information provided in our newsletter you can learn more about our various projects including our climate literacy project, regular blog series and other initiatives by talking a stroll through CC-RAI online.
A Q&A with Prof. Mark Winfield on his new book: Blue-Green Province: The Environment and Political Economy of Ontario
Canada has been in the news quite frequently of late in terms of environment policy as it relates to climate change and the oil industry across the country, in particular the Alberta Tar Sands. Understanding the complexities of federal environmental policy not to mention provincial policy can challenging for policy makers themselves, not least those organizations and communities who will be impacted by that policy. At a fundamental level policy level is an iterative process informed by the changing winds of political priorities and ideology.
In Blue-Green Province: The Environment and Political Economy of Ontario, Prof. Mark Winfield addresses the complex and often contradictory arena of environmental policy in Canada at the provincial and national level.
In his new book, Winfield investigates the link between environmental policy and the influence of successive Ontario government’s social, political and economic priorities. Through an in-depth analysis of the differences between the reign of Conservative to Liberal parties and the most recent federal and provincial elections of 2011, Winfield explores the implications of environment and energy policy in Ontario and across Canada.
CC-RAI recently had the opportunity to catch up with Prof. Winfield and get his thoughts on some of the implications of this research and the response to the work so far.
Since the 2011 election the primary political focus has been on the province’s economic challenges rather than the environment. Will Ontario be able to find a way to advance environmental sustainability and the economic prosperity?
I believe the potential to do that is there, but whether the province is going to carry through in those directions is an increasingly open question. The 2009 Green Energy Act, however flawed, represented the most serious effort ever seen by a provincial government in Ontario to link environmental and economic policy in a positive way. The legislation was intended to provide the foundation for a renewable energy technology manufacturing and services sector in the province.
Unfortunately since then the signals have become less and less promising. There has been a lot of wavering on the commitment to green energy – the pre-election ban on offshore wind projects, continued commitment to an electricity system that is 50% nuclear even in a post-Fukushima world and the uncertainty about the outcome of the FIT review. Moreover the government’s overall economic agenda has been incorporating some decidedly unsustainable dimensions – the emphasis on mining development in the boreal region of the far north, industry-friendly ”reforms” of the environmental approvals and forest tenure systems and looming cuts to the budgets of the Ministries of Environment and Natural Resources, leapfrogging sprawl-facilitative amendments to the Places to Grow Plan and the apparent withering of the province’s efforts on climate change mitigation – all come to mind. The positive agenda from an environmental perspective has by comparison been decidedly thin.
The Drummond report, with its emphasis on the province’s budgetary situation and the need to dramatically reduce provincial expenditures, has offered very little in terms of a positive agenda or vision for the future (although it does pointedly ask the provincial government to provide one). The province itself, although enthusiastically embracing the agenda what Mr. Drummond has provided it, seems as lost as ever on the actual way forward.
Is Ontario’s future green? Can we expect environmental policy to continue to play a prominent role in Ontario politics?
There is no doubt that environmental issues will continue to play a prominent role in Ontario politics. One of the most important features of the most recent wave of public concern for the environment in Canada and Ontario, which ran from the early part of the 2000s to the economic crisis of 2008, was the shift in the demographic base of concern for environmental issues. A decade ago those identifying the environment as their leading public policy concern to pollsters were typically age 55+, high income, high education and lived in urban areas. Current polling data indicates there has now been a generational shift in the base of concern to the under 35 cohort and that the concern is more evenly shared regionally and over different income and education levels. That suggests to me that the environment isn’t going to go away as a major issue anytime soon.
The collapse of the Green Party’s vote in the 2011 election was the result of a combination of factors that I describe in my book, particularly concerns over the prospects of a Progressive Conservative win in a very close election. However, if the other three major parties continue to fail to offer a positive vision for the province’s environmental and economic future, one can certainly envision support moving back in the direction of the Greens, particularly among younger voters.
Why were you motivated to right the book at this time?
Although the book was a long time in development - parts of it in fact date back to my doctoral thesis completed more than 20 years ago – the timing of its release has I think worked out well. The province is searching for a way forward in the face of some very serious environmental and economic challenges. My hope is that this refection on the evolution of the relationship between the province’s changing society, environment, economy and politics will help to inform those conversations in a constructive and useful way.
Why do you think scholarship in this area is so lacking despite the increasing importance environmental policy provincially? Nationally?
The Canadian environmental policy literature on events at the provincial level remains very thin, despite the fact that over the past 20 years the provinces have become increasingly dominant players in energy, environment and natural resources policy. They have also become the key focal points for environmental policy innovation – witness British Columbia’s carbon tax, Quebec’s climate change strategy, and Ontario’s coal-fired electricity phase-out and Green Energy Act.
The situation with respect to scholarly work is beginning to change, and I think there is increasing recognition that, at least for now, the real centre of environmental policy action in North America has shifted to the sub-national level. At the same time, it is the part of the reflective and analytical nature of scholarship that it will inevitably lag somewhat behind where the conversations are at in the real time world of politics and public policy.
What has the response been to the book so far? Have you heard much from the Ontario government?
No congratulatory notes from the premier so far, but the general response has been very positive – the book seems to have filled a gap in the existing literature on environmental policy in Canada and on Ontario government and politics.
Late last year a Victoria publisher frustrated with Canada’s withdrawl from Kyoto sent a short climate change primer to every Canadian MP If you could place your book on the MP reading list along with a few others what would they be?
Tim Leduc’s Climate, Culture, Change: Inuit and Western Dialogues with a Warming North. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press 2012 would be an obvious choice.
Professor Mark Winfield (Faculty of Environmental Studies) is co-chair of the FES Sustainable Energy Initiative (SEI) and a Fellow of York’s Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS).
CC-RAI is pleased to highlight a national forum convened by our partners to mobilize knowledge generated from the work of the Regional Adaptation Collaboratives (RACs) in the area of change change and water resources. Project partners include: Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Research (CFCAS), the Canadian Water Resources Association (CWRA) and the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR) with funded provided by Natural Resources Canada.
It is already recognized that climate change is affecting water resources across Canada, with each region and community facing unique opportunities and challenges. Together, we can share knowledge to advance the state of practice for adaptation nationally. The purpose of this event is to share lessons and opportunities, and identify needs and potential challenges in advancing the adaptation of water resource management nationally. Participants will contribute directly to a national compendium for practitioners, assist in developing a briefing document, and exchange best practices and lessons.
- Provide learning opportunities for new ways of thinking about water adaptation.
- Reflect upon the current state of practice and share knowledge on water adaptation projects.
- Showcase a diverse range of projects led by Forum participants.
- Stimulate discussion to identify: Water adaptation knowledge needs of practitioners (e.g., engineers, scientists, policy analysts, project coordinators, planners, and educators);
- Opportunities for dissemination of knowledge and collaboration towards the mainstreaming of adaptation.
- Contribute to: A national compendium of knowledge on water resource adaptation to be used by practitioners; A briefing document on the state of and opportunities for advancing, water adaptation across Canada.
or call 416.661.6600 x. 5931.
This blog is was originally published on IRIS
As a graduate student from York University, I had the opportunity to attend the United Nations’ Conference of Parties (COP17) in Durban, South Africa this December. The experience helped me understand that climate justice is about knowing when to stop talking and start listening. It is about humility and creating institutional opportunities for the people who are most affected by climate change to voice their concerns.
During a COP17 protest, I sat down under a tree beside a group of rural women from Northern Cape, South Africa. They were tired, hungry, and thirsty from protesting all day, but they were there to fight for agricultural and land reform. I have tried to understand their cause, but I was left confused by their passion and determination for climate justice. My situation was a lot more different than theirs: I live a relatively comfortable life in Canada as a student researching climate change policies. I do not know what it means to have limited opportunities when your family goes hungry because of a shortage of food caused by climate change. I went to South Africa with a desire to better understand the Conference of Parties as a policy platform. However, I have quickly learned to stop asking pre-determined questions and just start listening. My lesson in the importance of listening can further be applied to the new ways that climate justice can be incorporated into the institutional structure of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the many programs that are part of this greater scheme.
The current market-based approach in the UNFCCC to regulate greenhouse gases is supported by some and opposed by others. An interesting aspect of COP17 was how these different opinions were concentrated in different physical locations. The physical structure of COP17 in South Africa can be divided into three main physical spaces. There was the Durban Exhibition Centre, which has over two hundred information booths from various research institutes, NGOs, and private companies; this was also the location of various panel discussions on the technicalities of UN’s programs as well as discussions on private and public involvement. The official place for governmental negotiations on international climate change initiatives was the International Conference Centre. In these two spaces there was very little opposition, with the exception of a number of civil society groups such as GreenPeace and the Canadian Youth Delegation, against a market-based approach in mitigating climate change.
The third location, a park called the “speakers corner”, became a public space where people from different parts of the world would gather to express their dissatisfaction with carbon markets and governmental inaction. The plurality of voices in this space provided different opinions on what can be considered adequate and realistic action on climate change. That said, the majority of protesters were against a profit-based approach and were either calling for more participatory, accountable, and transparent UN climate negotiations or the disposal of the current process and the establishment of a new system that would be based on peoples-solutions to climate change. I believe that there is space for both – the governmental and peoples-driven approaches to climate change – but the key to success is greater interactionbetween these two systems.
A recognized advantage for the majority of the world’s population during COP17, relative to other COPs, was that this conference took place on African soil. This presented an opportunity for many civil society people from Africa and Asia to be able to attend this international conference and place ‘climate justice’ on center stage by either protesting or participating in panel discussions. ‘Climate justice’ is based on the understanding that industrialized countries such as Canada and the United States are historically responsible for the current climate crises whereas ‘developing’ countries and lower-income communities (including communities in the ‘developed’ world) will be most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992) the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ principle was introduced to outline that both ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries needed to introduce different measures to combat climate change as per their different responsibilities and capacities. This principle is arguably being eroded by the pressures of certain big players such as United States and Canada to incorporate ‘developing’ countries into a legally-binding climate agreement while refusing to provide adequate financial support to help developing countries develop their economies sustainably. Placing a greenhouse gas emissions’ cap on certain developing countries would limit their economic development. For this reason, a number of developing countries, including India, have been very vocal about ‘equity’ and ‘right to development’ during COP17 and in future international climate negotiations. The ‘climate justice’ slogan became a common sight and chant during COP17 protests. What does ‘climate justice’ mean now after the signing of the Durban deal where countries have agreed to move forward with a legally binding agreement that will incorporate the ‘developing’ world?
‘Climate justice’ in future COPs should be about creating the right institutional opportunities for those who are currently lacking the space to voice their concerns and propose their different solutions. In short, ‘climate justice’ is about recognizing that industrialized countries have a circumstantial privilege in not only dealing with climate-change impacts but also during climate change negotiations at the United Nations level. Countries such as Canada and the United States need to learn when to stop talking and start listening. Although COP17 proved to be the fertile ground to explore the realities of many developing countries that are already being disproportionately affected by climate change, the institutional structure and negotiation climate at COP17 did not place enough emphasis on the importance of listening. The official delegates were in Durban to represent their government’s perspective and their national interests. However, it must be recognized that it is in their interests to hear what others, including the protesters, have to say about climate change. The protesting of many people from around the world on climate change was often categorized as unrealistic and unpractical opinions. But the conversations that happened at protests contain valuable information on how to approach ‘climate justice’ in international climate change policy and should inform the future development of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. ‘Climate justice’ is about meaningful dialogue between developed and developing countries, private and public sector representatives, and the national delegates and the people.
On January 12th, 2012, IRIS will be hosting a debriefing of COP-17 with the delegation from York University and the youth delegation from Nanisiniq.
Date: January 12, 2012
Time: 3pm to 5pm
Location: Stedman Lecture Halls (SLH) Room 120E at York University, Keele Campus
If you cannot attend in person, you can still join us electronically at http://connect.yorku.ca/cop17debrief
Ewa Modlinska is a Master of Environmental Studies candidate at York University. Her research focuses on the application and assessment of ‘sustainable development’ in projects administered under the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism.
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