12/14/2016 11:40 EST | Updated 12/14/2016 11:40 EST

Canada's Youth Inclusion At COP22 Was A Mere Photo Op


Photo Credit: Canadian Youth Delegation

I recently returned home from COP 22, an international conference in Marrakesh to address the threat of the climate crisis. Heading into this conference I must admit I was a bit giddy with excitement. I was excited to witness the shift in conversation from trying to reach a global climate agreement to implementing global climate action.

Justin Trudeau, who champions himself as the Minister of Youth, combined with Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna's commitment to climate leadership and youth voices was a welcome change after a decade of Harper. Canada finally had leadership in place that recognized the urgency of a warming planet and the role we must play as a developed nation to do our fair share.

More than anyone, I wanted to return from COP and affirm that Canada committed to ambitious action. This was after all the "action COP. "

But I would be kidding myself and you if I told you Canada finally showed up the way the world needed us to.

Leading up to and throughout the climate conference, it became clear Canada is doing a climate action tango. Canada took steps forward when they pushed for the inclusion of 1.5 degrees celsius in the historic Paris agreement and ratified the agreement before Marrakesh. Further, Canada committed to a national carbon price and climate action plan for the first time in history.

However, Canada took steps back when it submitted an international target, 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, that's widely considered inadequate. Further, Canada continues to subsidize the fossil fuel industry every year to the tune of $3.3 billion dollars, approve major greenhouse gas emitting projects, and failed to commit to complete decarbonization by mid-century.

catherine mckenna

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is shown at the COP22 conference in Marrakech, Morocco on Nov. 16, 2016. (Photo: Mosa'ab Elshamy/AP via CP)

I hoped my party badge would give me and fellow youth delegates some clout and face time with the government to push them to walk their talk. Instead, all my badge did was give the Liberal PR machine the photo ops and tick marks they needed to meet their mandate of youth inclusion.

Our elected officials invited us to a Youth Circle, a half hour event dedicated to listening to youth. Minister McKenna posed for photos, gave her address then jetted off before youth had the opportunity to speak. She had time to sit on panels with Big Oil but couldn't stay more than ten minutes to listen to us.

Wanting to give our minister the benefit of the doubt, I followed her around like a wounded puppy at the Canadian reception later that week. I patiently waited my turn in line, recognizing that as someone with a government issued badge, I would be among the queue of people who got to speak with her.

Anytime I got to the front of the line, her staff redirected her to deep-pocketed influencers and oil lobbyists. One lobbyist barreled right between me and McKenna, stepping on my foot, and snatched at her hand to introduce himself. I stood in silence, stunned and humiliated as they chatted just centimeters away.

The climate crisis is too real for people who are already suffering from a warming planet.

It's fitting that in an attempt for youth to meet with our elected officials, Big Oil and deep pockets would trample over us to secure their seat alongside our representatives.

During her address at the reception, she droned on about collaborating with diverse voices on ambitious climate action and patted her government on the back for including five youth, myself included, in her delegation.

I'll give you a moment to let that sink in. Now take a deep breath. But don't let it go.

As I unpack the violence and heartache I witnessed at COP I turn to Harry Potter, the beloved children's story, for comfort. As Harry and his friends painfully encountered the flaws of the people and powers in place to protect them, we face similar challenges. Our elected officials didn't see us and they certainly didn't hear us. Their actions to address the challenge of our generation is inadequate yet they tell the world and themselves otherwise.

I live on unceded Coast Salish territory where the Liberal government recently approved the Kinder Morgan pipeline, bulldozing over local community opposition and Indigenous land rights. Back in my family's homeland of Punjab, India the heat waves are so intense that crops are drying up. Farmers are taking their lives in the hundreds every year because they cannot provide for their people.

Talking about action is no longer good enough. The climate crisis is too real for people who are already suffering from a warming planet. It is too real for those whose soil is being degraded, whose water is being poisoned, whose air is being polluted and those people who are dying because of it.

There is no path forward where Canada can continue to approve fossil fuel projects and remain committed to its legal and moral international obligations. We live in a time where the U.S. president-elect is a climate change denier, and Canada copped out of leadership when the world needed us to do better. If Canada continues down this dangerous road, they demonstrate to the global community and the people they represent that they not only have no concept of global equity, but that they never cared to be a part of the solution in the first place.

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