Gruelling climate talks must succeed, Elizabeth May says

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says climate negotiations in Paris are mind-numbingly tough but she has stocked up on Thrifty Foods almonds and is prepared for the long haul — because the talks must succeed.

The two-week United Nations climate-change summit, COP21, involves nearly 200 countries and about 140 world leaders. Taking place in Le Bourget Exhibition Centre, it aims to strike an international deal to cut greenhouse- gas emissions to prevent global warming from exceeding pre-industrial levels by more than two degrees Celsius this century.

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“If this does not succeed, we will simply be unable to get back to this place again,” May said from Paris on Tuesday. “It’s high stakes and must succeed. This is it.”

The host city for the conference is glamorous but the negotiations are anything but, said May, the MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands.

Knowing the pace of the conferences from past years, May stocked up on organic Tamari almonds from the bulk-food section of Thrifty Foods supermarket.

“I haven’t had a break for a single sit-down meal since I got here,” she said. “But I’m in good shape to get through two weeks.”

Added to her list of self-imposed duties is working with Facebook Canada to broadcast live video updates through to Dec. 11.

May will offer observations and report on developments via Live for Facebook Mentions, a feature launched in August, sharing video on her Facebook page.

May’s not complaining about the workload; she wants to be there. In past years — snubbed by the former Conservative government — she participated in such conferences through delegations from other countries.

Global efforts to tackle climate change have been going on since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was established.

This year, as part of the Canadian delegation under Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, May’s glad to wear her Canadian badge.

“I’m with my own government this time as a proud Canadian,” May said. “After 10 years of being the worst country in the room [during climate negotiations], I’d love to see us be the best country in the room,” May said.

May attended the summit in Rio and the Montreal Protocol in the late 1980s to protect the ozone layer before that.

After Trudeau’s “Canada is back” speech, happy delegates from other countries had tears in their eyes, May said.

May hopes momentum from speeches Monday by world leaders, as the conference opened, will buoy tens of thousands of negotiators as they try to reach agreements throughout the 54-page draft text negotiated over the last three years.

“But almost none of it is agreed upon,” she said.

“I don’t know if there is a single sentence that doesn’t have a square bracket around a word, or phrase, or whole paragraph, or option No. 1, 2 or 3.”

It’s mind-numbing to anyone new to it, May said. In these first days of negotiation,“governments and negotiators are loath to agree on anything without getting something in return,” May said.

May hopes Canada will regain its role as a bridge between countries. She said that as a longtime climate activist, she is able to gather vital information and deliver it to her delegation.

“When we leave this quite strange conference centre outside of Paris, we will have a treaty that will stand the test of time, that will create pressure on all countries to continually improve their targets, continually increase what they are prepared to do — whether they are industrialized countries, large polluting developing countries, small and impoverished countries … I am feeling optimistic right now,” May said.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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