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Stop Everything #13: Beyond Copenhagen: It's the institutions, stupid

rebecca mcneil

UN Climate Change Summit Enters Final Week

Environmental activists hold a demonstration in the centre of Copenhagen on December 15, 2009 in Denmark World leaders started arriving today to attend the Climate Summit where they hope to work towards a global agreement. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

A lot of stock has been put into the current International Climate Change Conference. Not only a stake in our future, and the world as we know it continuing to exist, but our national identity—how we deal with international conflict, how we assist other countries needing a hand, and when we choose to exert a leadership role. For the issue of climate change has never just been an environmental one, but a moral one.

Yesterday, unexpectedly, the Canadian government announced that Canada had changed its position and would lead in climate reduction figures and commit to aid for developing countries to do the same. In what turned out to be a bit of a cruel joke, however, it was actually a hoax. For Canadians, it remains quite sad that the possibility of our government adopting a leadership role on climate change is just that—a joke.

Long gone are the days when Canada was seen as an international leader. We’re now generally considered one of the bigger obstructions during international discussions on the biggest issue of our time.

Not only are our political leaders positions embarrassing, but some other outspoken Canadian figures. Today on CBC’s Metro Morning Jeff Rubin, former CIBC Chief Economist and author of Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller, echoed a disappointing attitude that Prime Minister Harper and Minister Prentice have voiced before—the idea that Canada is not the biggest polluter globally, and therefore it’s China and India that should step up to the plate and reduce their emissions first.

What a sad state of affairs it has become that our national attitude is to rely on developing nations, who still struggle with more basic problems of hunger, housing and poverty, to lead the way. Canadians use more oil per capita than Americans, making individual Canadians more than proportionally responsible for their part in the global climate change dilemma. It is morally reprehensible to expect those with a lower standard of living to “do their part” before us.

Yet an interesting article from the Washington Post suggests that while Canada and America do need to step up to the plate, perhaps the best thing we can do back home to send a clear message to Copenhagen is to make December “Green Free” month—that we should stop our individual efforts and demand institutional change. During the civil rights actions of the 1960’s, the author argues, it would not have been adequate for a few progressive folks to adopt integrative values in an otherwise bigoted environment—the difference is in institutional change.

So too, it argues, should be our attitude to hold our leaders accountable. It will not be acceptable to go half way, it will not be acceptable to rely on individuals to take action, and it will not be acceptable to point fingers and say someone else isn’t doing their part so we shouldn’t have to either.

We can hear the tck tck tcking of the clock as the summit only has a few days before its conclusion. What will leaders emerge with? That they have finally adopted the positions of leadership that their titles would suggest? Or is it up to us, as individuals, to paint the world green? And what, as Canadians, will we choose to hold on to as our national identity?

Flopenhagen, Hopenhagen… it may well be time for Copenhagen. As in, how are we going to cope with the aftermath and repercussions of this conference?

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