DAY TWO – Klimaforum, Danes and Arcticirq
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second post from Copenhagen by Shauna Sylvester.
I’ve found the perfect cappuccino in a small cafe down the street from where I’m staying. It’s in Noerrebro, a funky neighbourhood not far from the famous cemetery which houses Hans Christian Anderson and the Nobel Prize nuclear physicist Niels Bohr.
I’m staying on an air mattress in the living room of a young Danish man’s flat. I’ve rented this corner room for the week which overlooks the Jewish cemetery, Denmark’s finest Thai restaurant and a day care. My generous host Martin was recently employed in the clean energy sector but lost his position due to the recession cut backs – it appears that not even Denmark is immune to the global financial crisis.
Yesterday was a big day in Copenhagen – just prior to the official opening of COP 15, the Global Campaign for Climate Action (based in Montreal) – a.k.a tck tck tck – presented to the official delegations, over 10 million signatures of citizens who want an immediate and binding agreement on climate change. Their efforts were also bolstered by the launch of Hopenhagen (www.hopenhagen.org) an international movement that is also preparing a climate justice petition and the opening of the Citizens Klimaforum (www.klimaforum09.org) – the two week People’s Summit that is being organized in parallel to COP 15.
After getting my bearings by walking half the downtown core, I visited the Klimaforum which was crowded with activists and academics, camera operators and reporters and dozens of volunteers decked out in big orange t—shirts. Having just organized a national conference, I was struck by the enormity of the coordinating effort. Just how many hours went into putting all of this together? The Danes clearly are the masters of bringing order to chaos – which makes me think that maybe there is still hope for an agreement in Copenhagen.
Each morning I receive an email to my blackberry from the People’s Climate Action team who work through the night to bring the highlights of the day’s proceedings and the feature events of the coming day. It’s a one-stop shop to the eclectic series of events around the city which range from talks by a cyclist who has recently arrived from Australia overland (can you imagine the mountains that man has climbed) to acrobats climbing the walls of the French Embassy. (I’m not sure what the acrobats have to do with climate change but I think it may be linked to the opening of the Embassy’s photo exhibit “Climate Change – People’s Stories”).
Following a traditional Danish lunch of open faced sandwiches at one of the oldest restaurants in the city, my University of Calgary colleague and I chanced upon the World Wildlife Fund’s Arctic Tent which was celebrating the international day of Indigenous People. I couldn’t help but notice the number of Canadians lined up to speak at the tent – the Isis project from York University, former President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference Mary Watt-Cloutier and a troupe of young people called Articirq.
This last group was a team of three men and one woman who had studied with the Cirque du Soleil in Iglook, a remote community in Canada’s north. They performed a one hour show that opened with a video of elders talking about the impacts of climate change on the north, and proceeded through various routines inspired by local customs, games and songs. The sound for the entire performance was provided by a young and very talented woman whose throat singing was unlike anything I’ve ever heard.
As I watched the Articirq, I realized how important the Inuit are to Canada’s identity as a northern country. These young people, who barely spoke English, were quick to acknowledge that they were from the Canadian Arctic (and not Greenland as some in the room had assumed), that they were Inuit and, as others before and after them pointed out, they collectively held a large part of the Arctic as their traditional territory.
I returned to my flat and pointed out Nunuvut to Martin on the map in his kitchen. We talked about Arctic sovereignty and how climate change is causing our countries to step up the rhetoric on territorial integrity. I then thought about this community of Inuit youth and how I barely knew anything about their culture or their territory, and yet, as a Canadian I claimed them as my own.
What does it mean to claim the Inuit as our own? What say do these communities who live and work in the North have in the discussions of climate change in the Arctic? Who, at COP 15 is representing their interests?
The melting ice has become an icon in the global warming debate, yet Articirq have helped me understand in a way that no documentary, book or speech ever could, that climate change isn’t just about ice melting and polar bears – it’s about the rights and survival of our northern Canadians.