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A weary delegate rests his head at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Courtesy of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark

Copenhagen Day Ten

A question of power

By David MacDonald

Sometimes you can be so close to something that you miss the point. So it is with this conference. Attention has focused on the crowds and the protests, and on the endless debates. But the most important question here is: who finally gets to make the decision about dealing with climate change?

People assume that the decision rests with the 192 governments represented in Copenhagen. The major issues are dramatic reductions in the use of fossil fuels and finding the money to make it happen. But, where’s the money?

Government don’t have it. Most of the big money is controlled by powerful corporations. Their interest is in making more money and protecting and enhancing their power.

What about power? Consider this. A couple of days ago President Barack Obama asked U.S. bankers to attend a meeting in the Oval Office. Three big bankers said they could not be there but would be available for a conference call. They can’t come to a meeting with the President?

The negotiations here make it clear that governments are shackled by the interests and the power of the corporations. In the U.S., it’s the banks and big, wealthy corporations; and in Canada, big oil and the Tar Sands.

Yet virtually everywhere you look in Copenhagen you see corporations promoting “green solutions.” And in fact, some corporations do realize that they need to be a part of the solution, not the problem. They’re the ones promoting “living lightly on the planet.”

Sadly, there is not a lot of evidence that Canadian corporations get the message. They say we can’t afford to change or we really don’t need to. It is now clear that if Canada is to become part of the solution, we will need to find ways to encourage our business friends to get on board.

We already have some significant allies. Premiers from Quebec, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and British Columbia, along with Territorial leaders, mayors and Aboriginal leaders, are here in Copenhagen and way ahead of the federal government. This is a reason to be hopeful, because provincial and municipal leaders are often closest to the general population.

In the next few months, local and provincial governments in collaboration with businesses in their communities could work together on the issue of climate change. These would be alliances that backward-looking corporations and the federal government would be hard-pressed to ignore.

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