Thursday 17 November 2016

Blog Post 6 - COP Day 0

On Sunday afternoon, I landed in Marrakesh and was greeted by a lazy haze hanging over a sprawling, earth-coloured city in the middle of more sandy vastness. This is Marrakesh – a place where pedestrians definitely don’t have the right of way at crosswalks and where it’s perfectly normal for a family of four to crowd onto a tiny scooter and race around in the insanity that is the traffic.

Traffic in Marrakesh (Photo: The Traveling Richters)

I was met at the airport by Rebecca World, the director of the Climate Change Secretariat in the Yukon. After our bus dropped us off at the hotel, we had a long meeting about what the next few days would look like. We had a bite to eat, and then headed to a reception celebrating recent triumphs of Canadian and American sub-national governments (meaning everyone other than the federal government – municipalities, states, territories, provinces, etc.). Eventually, the conversation turned to the recent news south of the Canadian border, and the attitudes of the American government officials was not what I expected.

Last Tuesday, I watched the US elections live on TV in one of the common rooms at my university. As the results rolled in, you could have heard a pin drop. Based on extensive reportage from numerous major news outlets, I realized that the 45th President of the United States might not be supportive of climate change policy and international agreements. The potential impacts of this weighed heavily on myself and many other people at home. 

This was the perspective I had coming into COP, and I didn’t really know what to do about it. However, the speakers at the reception tonight opened my eyes to the power and possibilities of sub-national governments. While federal governments are capable of signing treaties at the international level and setting the stage for great progress, much of the legwork is done by sub-national governments, who are in a position to identify keys areas for improvement in and meaningful action.

Ministers and Secretaries of environmental departments from Quebec, Ontario, and California, as well as industry leaders and a US Senator.

Here are a few examples of the tremendous progress sub-nationals have made in the past few years. California, a leader on the climate change front, has state laws that require it obtain 33% of all its energy from renewable sources by 2020, and 50% by 2030. California also has one of the biggest cap-and-trade systems (a system where pollution is controlled by providing economic incentives to reduce emissions) in the world, which Ontario and Qu├ębec have now joined (Ontario is just starting the process). Furthermore, Ontario recently banned coal-fired plants, which were a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in North America. These are just some of the examples brought up at the event. If you would like to learn more about how sub-nationals are taking climate action, check out this report! While none of these initiatives are perfect, they are all contributing to the climate action movement.

Coal plants in Ontario (Photo: David Suzuki Foundation)

It's important to remember that every government goes through cycles, both at the federal and sub-national levels. However, because we have these different levels we also have redundancy to make sure the ball keeps rolling. Some see the upcoming four years in America as an opportunity for the sub-nationals governments to really shine and pull out all the stops. It was summed up in the words of one U.S. official I heard say, “It’s not game over – it’s game on!”

Flags outside COP venue

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