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2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21)

Trust-building is both an encouragement and a challenge

By Mardi Tindal

It's early here at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21), and premiers Christy Clark, Rachel Notley and Kathleen Wynne are joined by Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna. She addresses an overflowing room of Canadians, talking about how they intend to work together to ensure that Canada plays a constructive role in combatting climate change. Of course, even though their approaches differ, it's important to note that they say “we must and we will” find solutions together.

Glen Murray, Ontario’s minister of Environment and Climate Change, also voices what seems obvious: these women in leadership have created a more intelligent, dynamic, connected and productive conversation than ever before.

“There isn’t room for failure, and it’s critical that we understand that,” Ontario Premier Wynne says, naming church groups in the room as part of the important representation of civil society. “We need civil society especially right now because without that participation, we wouldn’t be here. I now have a responsibility to be an influencer in this realm, but so many of you have been doing this for so long."

Talking to fellow United Church delegate Christine Boyle and me earlier in the day, Wynne said that she and other leaders need to be both encouraged and challenged. Only the day before, a member of the Canadian youth delegation had pushed Wynne hard on her stance on the Energy East Pipeline — something that prompted the premier to reflect: “Good for her for challenging me; that was me 35 years ago.”

The diverse nations gathered in Paris represent a complex international reality — a challenging context within which to seek a fair, ambitious and binding agreement. There are also important lessons to be learned about the kind of leadership that builds trust and makes it possible for us to find our way forward together. Ultimately, we need to understand that we are all in this together, east to west and north to south. And we must be accountable to one another. Although appropriate responses to climate change may differ, we must each commit ourselves to taking the most ambitious actions we can while remaining encouraging and challenging. That's something quite different from constant critique which happens to sap one's energy and demoralizes.

Indeed, it’s a far more positive experience to be a Canadian at this climate conference than at previous ones. The whole world seems excited by the dramatic change in tone from Canada. National leaders’ speeches normally receive polite, subdued applause, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received a warm and rousing one when he closed his opening remarks. "Canada is back, my good friends," Trudeau said. "We're here to help, to build an agreement that will do our children and grand-children proud." On the other hand, India’s delegates, for example, insist that any agreement must ensure that if a party says it will do something, it will. They name Canada as a prime example of a nation that has broken its promises in the past.

Over the past few days, we've heard inspiring words from faith leaders offering a spiritual dimension to the talks. We’ve taken our part in a demonstration with global ecumenical partners. We’ve spoken to members of the Canadian delegation about our partners’ concerns regarding compensation for the loss and damage they're already experiencing — from events they had no hand in shaping. We’ve participated in ecumenical and Canadian civil society strategy sessions, and joined more than 100 others to break the Fast for the Climate, in which 10,000 of us from around the world have taken our turn.

Each of us needs both encouragement and a challenge. I, for one, intend to continue bringing both to Canadian negotiators and to global faith partners, just as I intend to remain open to their questions and ideas that may encourage and challenge me, too.

Such is the way of trust-building. And without trust, it’s hard to see how we'll meet this enormous test.

See more posts and blogs from United Church delegates at uccancop21.wordpress.com.

Mardi Tindal is a facilitator and mentor with the Center for Courage & Renewal and a former United Church moderator. She will continue to blog about the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, which concludes on Dec. 11.

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