Connecting Local to Global: Why Municipal Action on Climate Change Matters
December 24, 2013 | Melissa Gerrard
It was sometime in the middle of the week while I was sitting in the National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland this past November, that I was hit with an overwhelming sense of unease and disappointment. Though I had heard it from many other NGO observers and colleagues previously, it was at that moment that the abysmal lack of urgency and slow action on climate change at the international level truly hit me. Earlier that week, the deadly impacts of Typhoon Haiyan overshadowed the opening of the UN climate change negotiations, bringing a somber tone to the conference center. This was underscored by an impassioned opening speech given by Yeb Sano, negotiator for the Philippines. In the face of this extreme natural disaster, my colleagues and I hoped that international leaders would be spurred into action in a way that would move us towards setting a new global agreement in 2015. Unfortunately, the negotiations were not following that path.
As an undergraduate student in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo, I had the opportunity to attend the United Nations international climate change negotiations conference, known as “COP19”. I attended with a group of my peers and a faculty advisor as part of the University of Waterloo Coalition for Sustainable Development (UWCSD), alongside 9,000 government, media and NGO delegates from around the world.
My experience at COP19 was simultaneously educational, frustrating, eye opening and inspirational. I watched my own country, Canada, and many other nations such as Japan and Australia, take unacceptable steps backwards – weakening emission targets, repealing a carbon tax, dismantling national environmental legislation, consistently blocking negotiations, and on top of all applauding each other for these un-progressive actions. I listened to international delegates heatedly debate the semantics of wording within draft proposals seemingly without regard for the overall challenge at stake. I engaged with delegates from around the world, becoming increasingly frustrated and confused by the lack of ability to agree on common goals. Overall, the outcomes from COP19 were disappointing to say the least, being labeled as a “missed opportunity” by many.
Let me contrast this with my experience working on climate change issues at the local level. As Sarah mentioned in her previous blog post, the community Climate Action Plan, 3 years in the making, recently went to Councils across Waterloo Region for endorsement and was passed unanimously – an exciting step forwards for our community.
Here in Waterloo Region we pride ourselves on being leaders, visionaries, and problem solvers. Our work to-date through the ClimateActionWR collaboration has proven this to be true and will result in many positive benefits for our community (as Mike and Mary Jane elaborate on in a recent op-ed in The Record). The Climate Action Plan presents an opportunity for Waterloo Region to recognize and support the variety of climate change-focused programs that currently exist within our community, and unite around a common goal to leverage our collective action and impact.
Climate change remains at the core of the push for both local and global action; a crosscutting problem that transcends boundaries and affects us all. As we face this issue head-on, and in the midst of global inaction, it is becoming increasingly clear that municipalities must act on climate change. By committing to our work with the Partners for Climate Protection framework, we have joined over 250 Canadian municipalities who are taking action on climate change and have connected with a global movement of bottom up action that is having significant positive impacts.
Though I was disheartened by the lack of progress or urgency displayed at the UN negotiations, my experiences there reinforced a critical point: municipalities can play a powerful role when it comes to acting on climate change, and here in Waterloo Region we are doing it right! I returned home from the negotiations with a renewed determination and passion to progress local climate action. As a 21-year-old Canadian youth, I refuse to accept a future where the apathy, frustration, and inaction on climate change that I experienced first-hand at the international level is reflected in the community where I live. I know we can, and will, do better. Climate change is the global issue that my generation will deal with for the decades ahead, and it is our responsibility to protect the world that we live in – today and for generations to come. The 6% reduction target that the Climate Action Plan commits to is an essential first step in the right direction; however, the science has made it clear that deeper reductions are necessary through collaboration between governments, industry and civil society to avoid significant climate impacts on human and natural systems.
I look forward to participating as this community continues to demonstrate strong leadership in responding to the global climate change challenge, and moves forward to the next steps of implementing the Climate Action Plan. I personally can’t wait to see what comes next, and hope you will join me in creating a vibrant, sustainable, and resilient community here in Waterloo Region.
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