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Delegates observe opening day ceremonies at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Courtesy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark

Copenhagen Day One

Now that it has started, where is it going to go?

By David MacDonald

Why did I come to Copenhagen? Likely, there are many thousands of people here in Copenhagen today who are asking that question.

For me, it began a little more than a year ago, in the back row of Bellefair United Church in Toronto on a Saturday morning. I was listening to environmental reporter Alanna Mitchell talk about her forthcoming book on the crisis of the oceans, Sea Sick (McClelland and Stewart).

Years earlier, as a member of Parliament, I had chaired numerous hearings on climate change and learned much about the damage that carbon dioxide and other gases were doing to our atmosphere. But I had never heard anyone describe in such lively detail the destruction we were doing to the oceans — and, ultimately, our own survival. After her book was published last spring and I was able to read it,  I knew that I could not remain silent.

From 1990 to 1993, the House of Commons Environment Committee called for deep cuts to greenhouse gases based on Canada’s emissions in 1990. But, shockingly, for the last 16 years we have marched steadily in the opposite direction. Even with our delayed signing of the Kyoto Protocol, there has been no real recognition or actions to indicate that our government leaders are taking this challenge seriously.

Others groups are. Today, 56 newspapers in 45 countries, including the Toronto Star took the highly unusual step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. As the headline in The Guardian states, “Fourteen days to seal history’s judgement on this generation.” In their front page editorials, these newspapers urge governments to “take decisive action (or else) climate change will ravage our planet.”

It now appears that most world leaders will be in Copenhagen for the final days of negotiation. But negotiation will not be enough. Intention to reach a meaningful agreement combined with more actual leadership at home will be essential.

Many young people I talked to before I left for Copenhagen yesterday afternoon expressed tentative hope mixed with anxiety. Like me, they are not sure what moving forward might look like, or how it might be done. But they see action here as fundamental to their own future and to those who will follow.

The next two weeks could be two weeks that changed the world, or just more talk at another big UN event. What is true is that both the United States or China have the power to make something happen. Those two countries alone produce almost half of the world’s emissions. Any significant move by either alone or both together will fundamentally affect the future of us all.

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