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Comment: For Canadian youth, Paris deal isn’t enough

Some of us have been waiting for the Paris climate summit for years. Others, for their whole lives.

Some of us have been waiting for the Paris climate summit for years. Others, for their whole lives.

The 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (or COP21) was supposed to bring world leaders together to forge a concrete plan to reduce carbon emissions in an effort to avoid the worst of the climate change catastrophe.

In terms of that goal, COP21 didn’t deliver.

Instead, the conference produced a weak agreement that acknowledges the need to reduce emissions and sets vague goals on the limit of acceptable global warming. This isn’t enough.

The Paris Agreement includes some financial support for the most vulnerable nations in the world, but not at the level that was hoped for to lessen the impact of future climate catastrophes. The burden of paying for climate change cannot fall to the nations that have done the least to cause it, and that isn’t reflected in the Paris deal.

At COP21, “Zero By 2050” (transition to zero emissions) emerged as rallying cry for vulnerable nations and civil society as the timeline to transition from dirty energy. The Paris Agreement includes the call to end fossil fuel use “by the second half of the century,” which is too vague. Furthermore, the deal doesn’t include penalties for nations that miss these weak targets. If trade agreements can have sanctions for non-compliance, why can’t a deal to protect the future of our planet have these binding measures?

The agreement includes a pledge by all countries to limit climate change to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, with an aim of 1.5 degrees. This has never happened before, and that’s exciting. The problem is, current reductions targets have us on pace for more than three degrees of warming. This separation between commitments and actual targets — referred to as the ambition gap — needs to close fast, and fast isn’t a speed that UN processes are known for.

The crucial language around human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples was moved into the preamble, the least legally binding section of the document. True climate action can’t exist without climate justice, and COP21 didn’t come close to delivering that.

Yeb Sano, a former Philippines COP negotiator turned activist, summed up the Paris Agreement with his customary simple eloquence: “It’s not bad, but not bad is not what we were rooting for.”

Now let’s talk about what we can use, and how we can get to true climate justice.

Limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees means overhauling domestic policy around fossil fuel development. This goal has been set, and it now falls to us to force governments around the world to make these changes.

Our job is to show up, every day, and let our leaders know that more than 1.5 degrees of warming is not an option. The UN didn’t force nations to include specifics to achieve this goal, so doing that becomes our job, too.

In Canada, this means that oilsands oil must stay in the ground, and that new pipelines such as Enbridge Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain and Energy East are incompatible with the low-carbon economy that we have to start building today.

In B.C., that means leaving the LNG pipe dream behind for good.

At COP21, the B.C. government delegation was the only one that was promoting itself as a climate leader while simultaneously placing fossil-fuel exports as an economic priority back at home.

At the Wilderness Committee, we support a healthy and stable climate. That’s why we’ve advocated against the exploitation of fracked gas for years, and the 1.5-degree goal will only give us further motivation.

We’ll continue to work with First Nations and communities across B.C. to pressure the provincial government to leave dirty LNG underground, where it belongs.

As the Paris Agreement was being finalized, I joined 15,000 people in the streets of Paris to call for climate justice. It was the first sanctioned mass public gathering since the tragic attacks last month, and it was a powerful experience.

On the iconic Champs-Élysées in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, I felt the energy and power of the people who are going to return to their communities and fight for the changes we need.

At COP21, I learned a lot from dozens of youths, activists and other leaders, and I can’t wait to apply these lessons in the work I do here on the West Coast.

Torrance Coste is the Vancouver Island campaigner for the Wilderness Committee and attended COP21 as part of the Canadian Youth Delegation.