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Day 7 – Christiania, Copenhagen and the Cost of Doing Nothing

December 16, 2009

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Shauna’s last post from Copenhagen. Thank you for your thoughtful and interesting feedback during this process.

Copenhagen COP15 Stephen Harper Greenpeace Ad Protest Climate Change

Thumbs down Canada: one of the advertisements placed in the Copenhagen International Airport by a global coalition including and Greenpeace.

It’s the end of my stay in Copenhagen. I woke up early this morning, packed away all of the literature I collected from the Bright Green trade show, and headed off to the airport. My taxi driver asked me what I thought about all of “this klima talk.” “Did you know they are spending $28 million dollars a day for this – and for what I ask you – nothing – that’s what”, he scoffed.

On the way to the airport we stopped by Christiania, the large community that was set up by squatters on the outskirts of town. It has been the host to a number of Copenhagen climate change events led by artists and musicians. It’s an intriguing development that stretches several city blocks. The taxi driver loves Christiania. He tells me that Snoop Dog visited it last year and proclaimed that it was heaven on earth. I’m not so sure, but I’m impressed with the community they have created among the old dilapidated buildings. It’s a nice contrast to the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

I juxtapose Christiania with the Bella Centre and the sterile environment that surrounds most international negotiations. For anyone who has spent time in the bowels of the United Nations building, you can understand why creative thinking does not flourish in such dark and dismal spaces. Perhaps if our negotiators could just get out of these tombs, they might see the light. Instead they are burrowed away in their negotiating rooms, sustained with bad coffee and sandwiches and forced to negotiate into the early hours of the morning.

Alas, if I could only blame their limited vision on their working conditions but I know better. As I arrived home and crawled into bed last night, I was pleased to see that the lead story on the National was COP 15 related. Terry Milewski was reporting on the leaked documents outlining Canada’s new targets for green house gas emissions. If our strategy in Copenhagen wasn’t bad enough, now Canada is actually suggesting a dramatic weakening of our emission targets.

The reason for this weakening is to harmonize the Canadian oil companies with the weakest elements of a proposed bill in the United States that would protect energy intensive and trade exposed industries. Herein lies the difficulty for Canada when President Obama arrives in Copenhagen. Canada has decided not to negotiate with other nations in Copenhagen in good faith. Instead, our Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment have chosen to align themselves with the most conservative forces in the US.

The Obama administration is trying to carve out a greener, more progressive policy for the US at COP 15, but they will not be looking to Canada for support in this. Harper and Prentice have staked out their territory and unfortunately they have stood in line with the Republicans (intentionally or not) who are in Copenhagen to thwart the President’s initiative.

As I look back on this week, I can’t help but wonder how Canada could have fallen so far and so quickly from grace in the eyes of the global community. Is it our government’s inexperience in international negotiations that has brought us to this unenviable position? Or is it that they cannot see the larger picture because of their close bond with the oil and gas industry? Where are the voices of the other businesses in this country that stand to gain enormously from shifting to a greener, low carbon economy?

I think it is going to take a miracle to get a good deal out of Copenhagen. And if it is one thing I’ve learned in this last week, it’s that the negotiators are immune to the pleas of citizens. So, if citizens don’t matter, perhaps the engines of our economy should speak louder. Perhaps it’s time for other businesses to get vocal. If Coca-cola, Microsoft, Lafarge, and Unilever can call for a price on carbon in Copenhagen, perhaps it’s time that RIM, SNC Lavalin, Bell, MEC and other Canadian countries flexed their muscle.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. B. Humphreys permalink
    December 18, 2009 2:56 pm

    I was a participant at one of your little get-togethers in Calgary a few months ago. I doubt that you remember me (or maybe you do since I was the only one who asked “What do you expect to accomplish with all this posturing?”)

    I guess this answers my question.

    I didn’t realize at the time that you were not seeking answers to the world’s problems. You were seeking affirmation of your already established position.

    Fair enough. But you could have at least have been honest enough to state that you were firmly entrenched in the mythology of green and you weren’t prepared to examine any thesis that may challenge it.

    A few months ago you came out with a list of “questions” about proposed responses that Canada should have to various issues in today’s world. A noble undertaking … even though many of them were phrased in such a way as to evoke only the politically correct answer.

    Shame really. You had the opportunity to actually be a new voice in the discussion about where we are and where we are are going. Instead you opted to join the chorus of those who know very little and contribute even less.

  2. Mara Kardas-Nelson permalink*
    December 18, 2009 9:36 am

    Thanks for a great post, Shauna. I agree with you that Canada has fallen (very far) from grace, and that the country has made itself essentially the laughing stock of the international community, aligning, as you state, with only the most conservative interests that even the formal U.S. delegation doesn’t agree with (and it’s pretty hard to be more conservative than the Obama government on this one). I also agree with you that watching closed-door negotiations in contrast to the energy and ideas of “the street,” as it were, is disheartening and depressing, giving little hope to any notion of change and rather indicating that we’re likely going to see more of the same.

    However, I don’t agree that what citizens have to say is disregarded by politicians and global bodies like the U.N. Protests and civil disobedience and the naming and shaming of countries and companies that don’t speak for the people helps to put pressure on those who are slated to represent us. The media is especially essential to such a process, by filming and reporting on the wants and needs of the people in contrast to stuffy middle-aged men in suits, sitting around large tables eating their stale sandwiches and drinking yet another cup of coffee. One need only look to the 1999 WTO protest to see how the voices of the people can impact an international forum. While we may, at most times, feel powerless, individual people must still join together to raise our voices and demand change. This whole Cop 15 ordeal has depressed me greatly, but the one thing that has given me hope is the perseverance, anger and hope of civil society shaking up the Bella Centre. Let’s keep that energy going.

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