From Scarborough to Copenhagen

There was an overwhelming feeling that we just weren’t ready yet.

I’m not writing about a surprise party gone wrong, ill preparations for a business meeting or an unexpected pregnancy. But instead, none other than the Copenhagen climate conference I attended one month ago in Denmark. A United Nations summit, that was to establish a new international climate treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

Being a Scarborough resident for over fifteen years and a University of Toronto at Scarborough student, it may seem odd to some that it was important for me to attend an international climate summit. To have flown across the Atlantic Ocean, contributing to my carbon footprint, just so I could participate and have my young Scarborough voice heard.

But climate change is, after all, an issue that affects everyone and within every locality, from the streets of Bangladesh, the Upper East Side of New York, and to the residential neighborhoods in Scarborough. It affects all of us and challenges our entire way of living as a globalized society built on cheap energy. That’s why this climate summit was so important. It was our chance to switch gears from autopilot and heading off a cliff to a new and audacious path that would be bumpy and unknown.

It comes down to suicide or survival, said President Mohammed Nasheed, of the Republic of Maldives, in a press conference in Copenhagen. Knowing first-hand what climate change is like with losing his island-state to rising sea levels.

Yet in the two week long UN conference, one that had been in the works for years and included nearly 200 world leaders all pledging commitments in the battle against climate change, when all eyes were on Copenhagen it crumbled like a Jenga puzzle.

One piece at a time, from political insurrections inside the summit grounds to the protester squabbling on the outside. All of the pieces were in a million different directions and nothing was coming together.

Why you ask? Because it was a “cop-out,” Antonio Hill, of Oxfam International, said in a press conference on the final day.  Hill says that the back-roomed meeting of the rich and powerful nations made the UN summit a corrupt process. None of the mandates for an “ambitious, binding and fair” deal were made, as the agreement to come out of the conference (the Copenhagen Accord) was in the interests of only a few.

The burning of bridges for our climate future may have been a theoretical practice by politicians, but outside of the summit it was quite literal.

In the middle of the two-week conference, a small group of radicals threw explosives and firebombs at police on a bridge in the middle of the largest climate march in history. What was supposed to be a peaceful rally by a hundred thousand protesters across the city was taken hostage by the “black block,” an all black attired radical defensive, who enacted an air strike on the politi (Danish for cops). It resulted in hundreds of arrests and was all the media rage.

So I’ll say it again: we just weren’t ready yet.

It is unfortunate as scientists predict an ever-accelerating pace of global warming, with the Arctic potentially gone as early as 2013. But it was the ever-present feeling nonetheless in Copenhagen, amongst politicians and protests alike, whether they liked to admit or not.

Does this mean that Copenhagen was a setback instead of a step forward? It’s hard to say just yet. The coming months will tell us.

But there is one thing that did come out of Copenhagen. There is a renewed and even greater interest of the issue of climate change by the public. That should not be forgotten. Because change, after all, doesn’t happen because of politicians or some Band-Aid solution like a climate treaty, but instead change happens because of people, ordinary and extraordinary citizen of the world.

I believe change is coming. We can hear it thundering in our minds and howling in our hearts. It’s on its way; it’s just not here yet.