Development & Peace: A Review of the Paris Climate Conference

June 13, 2016

From left, Kenton Lobe, Genevieve Talbot, Steven Guilbeault, Janelle Delorme of D&P and Abraham Niziblian of the Canadian Religious Conference.

By James Buchok

Climate change is real, there is no debate; the argument is over what it means for planet Earth, and for those who believe the crisis is here the challenge is how to save our world.

The good news, say people devoted to the cause, is there is a lot being done right now. The Paris Climate Conference last December brought together 15,000 people from 195 countries, including heads of state, to set greenhouse gas reduction targets.

“It was one of the biggest undertakings in history to address climate change,” said Steven Guilbeault co-founder and president of Montreal-based non-governmental organization Équiterre, and a Paris participant. The gathering included producers of 95 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions “and almost everybody put something on the table as to what they are going to do about it,” Guilbeault said, including small Southern Hemisphere countries that cause far less damage than the north but suffer most from the effects of climate change.

Guilbeault was part of a panel on the outcomes of Paris June 8 at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, brought together by the Manitoba office of Development and Peace, the international development organization of the Catholic Church in Canada. D&P is a membership led organization supported by parish collections, individual donations and government grants. Over 40 years, Development and Peace has supported 15,200 projects in agriculture, education, community action and advocacy for human rights in 70 countries.

Climate change is not about the temperature in a city today or tomorrow, Guilbeault said, “it is about tendencies.” The last time Canada was covered in ice average global temperatures were on average four degrees cooler than today. “Now,” said Guilbeault, “we are heading to an average global temperature that is three degrees higher. The scientific community agrees the planet is heading to a much warmer level than humans have ever seen.”

“It’s hard to talk about global warming in Canada where there is still a lot of snow and cold. We’re not going to stop having winters but it is getting less cold, and there will still be exceptions such as the extreme cold of January 2015.”

Guilbeault described the Arctic as “the canary in the mine,” saying since 1987 half of the Arctic’s ice thickness has been lost. “This is our planetary cooling system. The faster we lose ice, the faster the rest of the world warms.” He said the Alberta oil sands is “one of the dirtiest ways to produce oil,” with a half barrel required to produce one barrel.

Guilbeault said society is changing with increased investments in alternative energy such as solar and wind power and a growing proliferation of charging stations for electric vehicles. “For every $1 million invested in oil and gas two jobs are created. The same investment in clean energy produces 15 jobs,” he said.

Fossil fuel use can be cut by 60 per cent by making cities pedestrian-friendly, Guilbeault said. “The only thing we’re missing is political will.”

Genevieve Talbot, a research and advocacy officer with Development and Peace was in Paris as an observer. She said D&P is new to advocating over climate change. “But it is our partners in the Global South who are telling us climate change is having an impact. The value we bring is the focus on social justice and the mission of the church and our Pope. To fight for the cause of climate change is part of social justice; it is climate justice, it is human rights and food security.”

D&P has long been involved in issues of land use and in that, Talbot said, Paris was a disappointment and the final documents even avoided the word ‘land.’ “They say ‘sinks and reservoirs’ of greenhouse gas. We know land is way more than that to so many people and especially indigenous people and Paris did not address this. How can we make sure Paris is not making things worse for people living off the land? Paris is not considering the spiritual and cultural relationship to land.”

Kenton Lobe, an instructor at Canadian Mennonite University, displayed a sun-filled scene of a glowing field of canola and called it “the most degraded land on the earth. We have distanced ourselves from land,” said Lobe. “How far does my food travel? The standard answer is 1,500 to 2,000 miles which is incredibly inefficient. The food system is based on our energy system, energy moves through our food system. Think of everything required for agriculture and all the waste that happens, the energy required and the greenhouse gases produced.” He quoted American author and journalist  Chris Hedges saying, “Food, along with energy, will be the most pressing issue of our age.”

He then spoke glowingly about the Metanoia Farmers Cooperative operated by CMU students and staff, that produces 67 kinds of vegetables for 14-15 weeks each year, June to September, and sales shares to the public. Lobe said the cooperative uses “a couple of jerry cans” of gas each year and the rest of the energy is people power.

Guilbeault said environmental activists “don’t talk enough of the vision of the better world we’re trying to build. We need to do a better job of telling stories of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Read More News