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Five ways to sound smarter about the Paris climate conference

By Pieta Woolley

Even the title is overwhelming: The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21, or CMP11. The goal of this vast meeting, held in Paris between Nov. 30 and Dec. 11, is to reach a binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so that the planet won’t get more than two degrees warmer. 

Given the lengthy history of such talks, the complicated issues at hand and the gaggle of talking heads on the TV news each night, it’s nearly impossible to grasp the big picture. 

So, here’s a five-part primer on how to ‘up your game’ whenever you’re hanging out with your peeps and the talk turns to the Paris climate conference.

1. Talk like an academic

Who: Mark Jaccard, Simon Fraser University professor of sustainable energy

What he says: Climate talks such as these are doomed because there’s no impetus to work collectively. 

Quote: “The main reason they cannot agree is that countries, like individuals, have a self-interest bias when viewing evidence related to fairness. Richer countries say they are willing to give a “fair” level of assistance to poorer countries, such as India, to avoid China’s CO2-intensive development path, thereby foregoing unrestrained fossil fuel combustion in favour of hydro, solar, wind, biofuels, nuclear and fossil fuels (if capturing the CO2). But their idea of a fair level of assistance is dramatically lower than what poor countries think it should be. So poor countries are unwilling to accept binding reductions.” — From Desmog Canada

2. Talk like an aboriginal person

Who: Perry Bellegarde, Assembly of First Nations National Chief and delegate to the Paris climate conference. 

What he says: Self-determination for Canada’s First Nations is linked to their ability to protect the planet (note, too: “settlers,” immigrants, and “old-stock Canadians” to use Stephen Harper’s words, are also indigenous to the planet, if not to Canada. How are those of us without a Canadian aboriginal identity impacted by his words?)

Quote: “Our people still are of the land and of the water . . . we still hunt, we still fish, we still trap, we still gather medicines ... the indigenous peoples, we say we have rights . . . but we also have responsibilities as protectors and stewards of the land and water.” — From the Toronto Star

3. Talk like a youth

Who: Atiya Jaffar, 23, a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation to the Paris climate conference

What she says: Having spent her first years in Pakistan, and growing up in Canada, Jaffar’s desire to halt climate change is rooted in her personal connections to the people and land across the globe.

Quote: “The many worlds that compelled a sense of wonder in me as a child are unravelling. Climate change has made the regions I've called home for many years almost unrecognizable. The landscapes that I valued so much as a child are the same ones that I'm watching disappear as an adult.” — From Rabble.ca

4. Talk like a senior activist

Who: David Suzuki, Canada’s grandfather-scientist and environmental education pioneer

What he says: These talks are more hopeful than anything we’ve seen in the past two decades. The future is about hope, not despair.

Quote: “With clean energy production and grid technology improving and costs coming down, there’s no excuse to continue rapidly burning diminishing supplies of fossil fuels. As leaders meet in Paris, citizens march in the streets and innovators develop solutions, we have more reason than ever to be hopeful for the future of our place on this small, blue planet.” — From the Georgia Straight

5. Talk like a critic

Who: Michael Smyth, PostMedia columnist

What he says: Canada’s 383-person delegation to the UN climate talks in Paris is wasteful, economically and environmentally.

Quote: “Canada has sent more people to Paris than Australia (46), the U.K. (96), the U.S. (148), Russia (313) and almost as many as host-country France (396). Not a bad turnout for a country that emits just 1.6 per cent of the planet’s greenhouse gases, eh?

“Or maybe it’s not something to admire when you consider how much polluting fossil fuel was burned to fly so many hundreds of people across the ocean to talk about burning less. Looking down the list of Canada’s participants in Paris, it’s hard not to conclude we’re vastly over-represented. Did we really need to send the deputy environment minister for the Northwest Territories? The climate-change youth ambassador for the Yukon? The leader of the New Brunswick Green Party? The interim leader of the Bloc Quebecois and his press secretary? The “security co-ordinator” for Hydro-Quebec?” — From the National Post

Author's photo
Pieta Woolley is a writer in Powell River, B.C.
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