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Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna. Photo courtesy of Catherine McKenna's website

2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) — Week Two

A cooperative Canada is 'breathtaking and disorienting'

By Mardi Tindal

Over the past decade, Canadians have become accustomed to our country receiving at least one Fossil Award during the UN climate talks. The prize is given daily at the conference to countries judged to have done their ‘best’ to block negotiations. And Canada has been one of the worst actors on this global stage.

In 2009 in Copenhagen, for example, Church of Sweden Archbishop Anders Wejryd asked me, “Why did Canada ratify the Kyoto Accord if it had no intention to live by its obligations?” He said that he thought Canadians were well educated, globally minded and compassionate. He wondered why we ever changed.

In 2015, however, our church partners from Africa, Asia, Europe and beyond have delivered messages that land quite differently: “You should be very proud of Canada.”

In fact, I am.

At yesterday’s briefing with Canada’s negotiators, a number of us were ready to thank them for committing us to support a goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C; for supporting a legally binding agreement and the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples’ rights; and for calling for renewed goal setting by 2018, ensuring that countries stay on a path to a “decarbonized” world by 2050 (Decarbonization means kicking our addiction to oil, gas and coal, and meeting our energy needs in other ways.). But before we had a chance, Catherine McKenna, Canada’s minister of Environment and Climate Change, thanked us for our leadership as engaged Canadians. “We’re doing our best to support you and the issues that are important to you,” she said. “And I want to give all of you a round of applause.”

Hours earlier, I had been at the airport to greet Barbara Wilson, arriving to join our United Church of Canada delegation for the second week, when McKenna emerged from the same flight. I introduced myself and thanked her for her leadership. She responded, saying that she’d like to chat further this week.

It’s all rather breathtaking and disorienting. Past disappointments have me checking constantly with national and international partners to confirm whether or not Canada is really behaving as it seems to be. But confirmation is abundant.

Others here tell me that at an international Climate Action Network meeting, an Assembly of First Nations delegate confirmed that Canada continues to push for the inclusion of language around indigenous rights — language that the United Church has been asking for, too, along side of others. Also, a Canadian who’s been active at earlier COP talks confessed to me: “It’s a bit de-stabilizing to be honest. We all got adapted to confrontation and now we need to shift that tone. It seems like they’re actually listening to Canadians here, and moving in their positions accordingly."

I don’t know whether McKenna will be able to carve out time to meet separately with our small but mighty circle of Canadian faith community delegates while we're here. For one thing, the COP president has invited her to co-chair one of the key groups — the one responsible for hammering out the cooperative mechanisms of the agreement. It’s an honour just to be asked, and it's the first time in a decade that Canada has received such an invitation, so it'll keep her busy.

If McKenna doesn’t have time to meet with us in Paris, we will, I’m sure, meet in Canada. After all, we'll need to work with the government to ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples, food security and a just transition of the work force (just to give a few examples) get plenty of traction at home.

She says that she sees us as partners in this work. From here, I see no reason not to take her at her word. In fact, I think we’d better get ready to report for duty.

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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