Good Sunday Morning!
And thanks so much to John for filling in for me last Sunday. The all-day Saturday November 13 (until late evening) negotiations kept me quite tied up. The last-minute change to the text was so disappointing. As you all likely know, it changed from “phase-out” coal to “phase down” coal. Changing a massive COP decision through a verbal amendment from the floor – clearly cooked up in the to-ing and fro-ing of deal-making around the room in informal milling about – is simply unheard of in a United Nations setting. It violated the normal negotiations of the multilateral process. I have been to 12 COPs and never seen anything like it.
No surprise so many countries expressed unhappiness and even anger. Delegations had apparently been told there could be no changes to the text put forward at 8 am Saturday morning by the president of COP26, Alok Sharma. It was a “balanced package” they were told. It would go to a “take it or leave it” final conclusion. If you read the articles I wrote for Policy magazine, you know my view of the way Boris Johnson’s government handled the COP. https://www.policymagazine.ca/author/elizabeth-may/
Too much showmanship; not enough work to gain commitments well in advance to improve the totality of national commitments. We went in to COP26 knowing the commitments, even if fully met, would shoot us well past 1.5 degrees C. The only way that outcome was going to change would have been if in the first few days leaders had significantly improved their targets (or NDCs under Paris, “Nationally Determined Contributions.”) When the high-flying speeches were over, and the leaders headed home leaving ministers and negotiators behind, it was clear that we were still nowhere near 1.5 degrees. The updated synthesis report from the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) confirmed mid-week, that new promises, if met, would lead to 13.7% higher global emissions in 2030 than in 2010. To hold to 1.5 degrees, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made it screamingly clear that carbon dioxide levels globally must be 45% reduced below 2010 levels by 2030. Before COP26 opened, the projections showed a 16% increase. We have shaved a small amount from the deeply dangerous overshoot.
Still, I think COP26 may represent a turning point. The final plenary was nearly free of false celebrations and self-congratulatory adulation. If anything, I heard a resolve from many nations that the work must continue non-stop to get the necessary commitments to be able to hold to 1.5 degrees. That sense that hope is still alive must be nurtured. I totally agree with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that “1.5 degrees is on life-support.” But that means it still lives. We must redouble efforts. I will report on COP26 and my reasons for thinking it could be a turning point on Tuesday night at a webinar open to anyone who registers. (details in the P.S. below)
This Sunday morning finds us back in Ottawa for the first time since October 2020. John and I stayed on the other side of the Atlantic long enough to visit his son and family in Norway. While so far from home, we have been agonizing over the devastation of our home province. John got a call in the wee hours of Saturday morning, awakening us in our London hotel, asking if his farm in Ashcroft could house a family that had just lost everything to the flood waters of the Nicola River. Rescued by helicopter, there was no way to take their livestock. Heartbroken, they shot each animal to spare it drowning in panic. The call was from a mutual friend who had used our Ashcroft home in July when evacuated due to the wildfires. Later, John has learned that another friend from the area is unaccounted for, and her house by the river is, simply, gone. The climate emergency is ravaging the same communities, the same First Nations, the same farms and people who lived through the heat dome and the wildfires of summer.
Our lack of preparedness should make every government ashamed. We signed and ratified the UNFCCC in 1992. It committed Canada to both avoid “dangerous” levels of climate change and put in place measures to adapt to those levels we could no longer avoid. The failure to invest in plans for adaptation is just as significant a failure as the abject failure to confront the fossil fuel lobby and our galloping emissions. British Columbians know what dangerous climate change looks like. What was a future threat to be avoided in 1992 is a real life (and death) reality in 2021. And we are now at 1.1 degrees global average temperature increase. Holding to 1.5 degrees, as hard as it will be to accomplish, commits us to increased dangers.
Parliament sits tomorrow and I will let my name stand for Speaker. I am going to make it clear that I am not running for Speaker – as I promised voters in Saanich-Gulf Islands that if I intended to become Speaker I would consult widely in advance. Instead, I want to make a number of key points about the job of Speaker and about how, over about 50 years in Canada, we have allowed that job to be eroded in the interest of increased powers for large political parties and their back-room spin-doctors.
Canada is the only country using the Westminster Parliamentary system where the Speaker has voluntarily ceded his/her/their sole authority to decide who gets the floor in Question Period and debate. I am relatively confident that Anthony Rota will be re-elected Speaker, although there are five other challengers. So why speak tomorrow at all?
In my view, the increased partisanship in the House has been one of the contributing factors to Canada’s failure to achieve the necessary reductions in greenhouse gases (GHG). It is often repeated that no Canadian government has ever hit its targets in GHG cuts. But it tends to be obscured how many other countries, particularly European nations, have exceeded their targets. One factor is our inability as Canadians to sort out the provincial and territorial roles in pulling for a national target.
Incredibly, the European Union representing over twenty separate, sovereign nation-states has always done a better job than one federal government with ten provinces and three territories in sharing the challenge of meeting global promises.
Back in 1997, at Kyoto, the EU made a commitment of a group EU goal. The shared goal was split, with progressive nations doing more, to allow laggards to stay within the shared goal. Coal-dependent Poland, as an example, was allowed its continued emissions, while the UK, Germany, France and others did the heavy lifting in slashing emissions. The EU is now 45% below 1990 levels while Canada (at last report) was 21% above 1990 levels.
It always boggled my mind that Canada’s first ministers squabbled and allowed emissions for all of Canada to continue to climb. In fact, it is not just that Canada has not achieved any target we set. We have not once in thirty years gotten the direction right. We pledge to reduce and continue to increase.
There are of course many factors, but the increased partisanship of parliament does not help. And the increased control of parliamentary process by party whips is not in the interests of the common good or a healthy democracy. The Speaker plays a key role in all of this. Other democratic reforms would also advance climate goals. Getting rid of First Past the Post would have a salutary effect.
As I worked through COP26, I was inspired by the growing role of Green parties around the world. One EU colleague mentioned, almost casually, that across Europe, including some non-EU countries, a total of 15,000 Greens hold office – municipally, at state/provincial, national levels and in the European Parliament. And in the negotiations at COP26 it mattered that nine climate ministers are Greens. Had Germany completed its negotiations for a new coalition government in time, it would likely have been ten ministers (nine from Scandinavia and Europe and one from New Zealand.)
Our last night in London, we had dinner with the brilliant Sian Berry, member of the Greater London assembly and a runner up as Mayor of London. She is also former co-leader of the Greens of England and Wales. She stepped down as leader earlier this year in solidarity with the Trans-community. Sian knew that Green leaders have no power, but she expressed to The Guardian a responsibility to have persuaded the chief spokespersons of the party to support the trans community. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/jul/14/sian-berry-quits-as-green-party-leader-in-dispute-over-trans-rights
These are choppy waters in which I also am in conflict with some Green friends. What Sian and I share – with Greens around the world – is the certain knowledge that even when our personal and individual experience can be painful, the Global Green movement is indispensable. The fight to keep 1.5 alive – the fight to underscore “1.5 to stay alive” – is our shared work as Greens. And in that we remain confident that the Green Party is our most strategic agent for the change we need.
I hope you can join our webinar on Tuesday. Stay well and safe,
PS to join the webinar:
Post-COP26 Debrief – MP May reports back from Glasgow!
Nov 23, 2021 06:00 PM in Pacific Time (US and Canada)
Meeting ID: 813 2466 6211
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