By Stephen Leahy
(WARSAW, Poland) ” “I’m ashamed to tell anyone here I’m a Canadian. When they find out they say ‘ohh we pity you’,” said Leehi Yona, a 20-year old Montrealer who attended the UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland.
“All Canadians would be outraged if they knew how Canada behaves on the world stage,” Yona, a student at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, told DeSmog on the last day of the two-week negotiations. She’s in Warsaw with the US Climate Action Network, a coalition of environmental groups.
“I’m determined to tell as many Canadians as I can what’s happening in Warsaw.”
About 12,000 people are involved in the climate treaty negotiations known as COP 19. At least 1,500 are members of environmental and civil society organizations. In a nutshell, COP 19 is step towards creating a new climate treaty by 2015 to keep global warming to less than 2Ëš C and to help poor countries survive the mounting impacts.
There’s little love for Canada in Warsaw. For two long weeks nations of the world have tried to come to grips with the climate crisis. Canada’s representatives blocked and delayed progress, generating no small amount of anger from the Philippines, Bangladesh, African countries and small island states facing threats to their very existence.
“The international community has given up Canada. We’re seen as a tragic story now,” Yona said.
Even international environmental organizations can’t be bothered to criticize Canada any more. After being judged the worst country at the last five UN climate meetings, Canada didn’t even make the list.
There were dozens of young Canadians in Warsaw. Most weren’t even born when Canada was the leading international force in the 1980s and early 1990s, launching many environmental initiatives like the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
“Canada has rarely spoken for itself in Warsaw,” said Anjali Appadurai of Vancouver who is a youth representative working as a notetaker for the Third World Network. “When they do speak, it’s to pay lip service to the COP process. There is a selfish arrogance and lack of respect,” Appadurai told DeSmog. As an observer she has far more access since media are barred from witnessing most of the negotiations.
Appadurai is a COP veteran. As a college student in 2011 she delivered the “Get it Done!” speech at the close of COP 17 in Durban, garnering media attention around the world. It was an echo of nine-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki’s moving speech at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.
Cullis-Suzuki received a standing ovation. Appaduari was banned from the COP 17 and future COPs for participating in an “unsanctioned protest” afterward.
National governments acting through the UN have increasingly restricted the role and activities of youth and participants from civil society at these meetings, she said. No posters. No flyers. No demonstrations except at pre-approved times in designated locations well away from the negotiations. When allowed to speak at official sessions, civil society organizations’ speaking time has been cut in half to a single minute.
At last year’s COP 18 in Doha, Appaduari was allowed in after a week of appeals and a “Twitter storm” by civil society organizations. She had to sign a declaration promising to behave. Her participation this year was under similar circumstances.
“I had to sign a contract saying I will behave and not participate in any unsanctioned actions,” she said.
In Warsaw three youth were banned for five years for holding up signs naming Filipino communities destroyed by super typhoon Haiyan. “It’s getting a little bit scary. Youth and civil society are being pushed to the margins,” Appaduari said.
That was one of the reasons why more than 800 members of environmental and civil society organizations walked out of the climate talks on the second last day of negotiations.
It takes a huge effort and expense for students to spend one or two weeks at a climate convention. “The UN tells us they want our voices here but no one listens,” Yona said. “I came because I refuse to accept inaction on climate. We will have to live with the consequences.”
Yona is making things happen. She’s President of Green Schools Coalition of Montreal, an environmental advocate and organizer. Civil society organizations are shifting from an international focus to the local and expect to see an increase in community engagement around the world in 2014.
“I want to tell my children I did absolutely everything I could,” she said.
A wide-ranging international coalition of youth is being created to help each other win battles in their local communities, Appaduari said.
“We want climate justice and to create a radically different future than the terrible one we’re facing today.”