[Written by Elizabeth May]
As you read this, I am likely to be lugging a suitcase off the carousel at the Madrid airport. COP25 is about to enter its second week – known as the high-level segment.
Every COP has the same rhythm, while some are more intense than others. The Conference of the Parties (hence COP) meets annually to advance – at an excruciatingly slow pace – progress under the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A “party” is any nation that has signed and ratified the 1992 climate treaty. All nations on earth have done so.
The first week is when the bureaucrats work to refine text and find as much agreement as possible. The high level segment is when heads of government (a few) and ministers (many) arrive to finalize text through political negotiation.
The Paris Agreement is the latest effort to bring precision to the more general UNFCCC goals. I would say that the pace of the negotiations is glacial, except as humanity procrastinates in eliminating fossil fuels, glaciers are now moving faster than politicians.
Speaking of procrastination…
On Thursday I was in parliament for the Speech from the Throne. The ancient ritual of monarch summoning loyal subjects feels increasingly anachronistic. With the Senate and House no longer under the same roof -- with Centre Block shut down for a decade of repairs and upgrades -- the “commoners” from the House of Commons were shuttle-bused to the Royal Chamber. For the first time ever, the Senate desks had been removed and rows of seating for non-Senators brought in. Indigenous leaders, representatives of various sectors, as well as the members of the Senate had seating, while in keeping with tradition, MPs stood in the back behind the bar.
There were really no surprises in the SFT. As expected, the government’s agenda includes pharmacare (but will it be universal?), action towards reconciliation (UNDRIP, TRC and MMIWG - how fast? And will it be real this time?), more effective gun control, help for the middle class, 25% cuts in cell phone rates, as well as welcome commitments to expand health care, ensure more family doctors, act for mental health and the opioid crisis.
Climate has never before received so much ink or been placed in the first section of any Speech from the Throne (SFT). Nevertheless, I found it telling that “climate change” was referenced frequently, but the words “climate emergency” never appeared.
The Liberals’ election commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 was the cornerstone of promises to improve energy efficiency of buildings, promote “clean, affordable power” (why not say “renewable”? worrying language as it might presage nuclear), and promote EVs. Financial help for victims of climate disasters was also referenced. What was missing was the required immediate action to revise our 2030 target. The reality is that holding to the 2030 target makes carbon neutrality by 2050 a physical impossibility. We need to make this point as clearly and as often as possible.
This parliament will likely develop the legislation to ensure real targets in five year increments, with an independent audit function to ensure we are on track. What agency will perform that function is a hot topic - should it be the Auditor General? The Environment Commissioner? Or PBO? Critical is that the five year increments start in 2020, not 2030. The commitment to a Just Transition Act is also key, but, although it was a Liberal election promise, it was not in the SFT.
The best part of the opening of Parliament was that I have Green colleagues! Paul Manly and Janica Atwin are simply fabulous – smart and hard-working. Together this week, working with GPC press secretary, the wonderful Rosie Emery, we hammered out the following press releases and held one joint press conference:
Having interim leader Jo Ann Roberts with me for the SFT meant that we both got to make points with different journalists. It feels as though we have achieved success in cloning – TWO Green leaders!
Happily, Paul and Jenica and I are seated with Jody Wilson-Raybould. Jenica sits between Jody and Paul and is pretty pleased about it! The odd part for me is the new vantage point. Given that the Liberals are now in minority, some of us from the Opposition now sit on the Government side of the House. It means when I get to Question Period, I will be asking questions to the back of the prime minister’s head.
I gave my first short speech of the session, to congratulate our new Speaker, Anthony Rota and Jenica gave her first speech the next day, marking the anniversary of the December 6th massacre of women engineering students at Ecole Polytechnique.
We are a small, but mighty team!
Have a great week – next report – dateline Madrid!