COP21 Day 1 & 2: Justin Trudeau’s opening remarks and feeling among Canadians

We’re onto day three of COP21 and its been a whirlwind tour so far, as things haven’t quite fit the standard seen in iterations past, now spanning decades. The conference site is immense, with 40,000 accredited attendees from government, NGO’s, media and Observer parties, which includes our UW delegation. Hundreds of booths and thousands of workshops, panels, events and meetings will span this 2-week conference, with lots of small meals, spontaneous conversations and limited sleep along the way!
Much like the scale, expectations and coverage of this event so far, the conference has hardly been like years past. Typically, there would be a “slow and steady” start, which we see the meeting of lower level diplomats and negotiators working away on the text, with leaders coming the second week to push for an (often last-minute) agreement. This COP seems to be the reverse. A record number of heads of State have spoken on Day 1, with powerful words, but few announcements or targets to be heard. They were here to excite, set some expectations and energize the negotiations to be successful and, perhaps, timely.
For many, the rhetoric wasn’t enough, as expectations are higher than ever at this 21st Conference of the Parties. Some key challenges limiting what leaders could say include the fact that work has yet to begin on the give and take that is the negotiations of the COP and related bodies, and many significant announcements have already been made leading up to this COP, in the form of voluntary INDC’s (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions). Nevertheless, there was a great deal of energy and genuine hope in creating an agreement which addressed key “asks” for all stakeholders, with little animosity to be found. In the days ahead, the nitty-gritty for a number of these issues will get much harder, particularly on issues such as mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, climate justice/human rights, decarbonization, climate financing and the role/voice of non-government groups/bodies, among others.
As the days progress, there will be less “soft-talk” and more hard decisions, with a text gradually being unravelled and then finalized, with all the updates and announcements which come with such a transformation. Some great resources to follow alongside our blog include:
Thoughts on hearing from our PM:
Like other leaders, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was not speaking to announce anything particularly new, but boy, you couldn’t tell from the reception he received anywhere he went! In many respects, Trudeau is still on the “honeymoon” as many news outlets continue to attribute to his celebrity-like reception at the many major conferences and meetings he has already had to attend in the past month. That being said, the reception was well-deserved for the new position and reputation he has quickly developed for Canada. In a statement, “Canada is back” – as repeated by our PM, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna and virtually every news outlet on the planet!
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Seeing our political leaders, of all stripes and levels of government, coming together at such a conference is more than symbolic, it is a new chapter in how we negotiate, communicate and consult across traditional lines (government, NGO, scientists, observers, youth groups, for instance) on an issue we have largely neglected, if not outright obstructed, for most of the past decade – climate change. The statement that “we are back” ties nicely to recent developments in sub-national government action on climate change here in Canada, including the widely lauded climate change strategy presented by Rachel Motley and the Government of Alberta, as well as continued partnerships and developments among other Provinces and groups, including at the local and regional level. All in all, the announcement was optimistic, showing a strong front of leaders aligned on an issue, even if they may disagree on a number of finer details – there is much work to be done. The openness and willingness to engage us – you – was highlighted yesterday and will continue daily in the form of briefings for all Canadian groups at the conference by the Chief Environment Negotiator and staff, including, when available, Minister McKenna.

As with all announcements seen above, these are just the tip of what we hope will be an ambitious, binding and transformational climate agreement. There’s much work to be done – if the first two days have been any indication, Canada, and the world “is back”, to get serious on climate change. Stay tuned!

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This post was written by Rahul Mehta. Rahul is in his final year of Planning (Master of Environmental Studies), studying to become a Professional Planner. As part of the UW COP21 delegation, Rahul hopes to build connections across disciplines focusing on climate education, de-growth, the cryosphere and urban/regional planning.

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