Good Sunday Morning – January 1

Good Sunday Morning and a very Happy New Year!

Are you in a family where there is the custom of saying “Rabbits” as the first words on the first of the month? My husband really doubted anyone did that other than my family.  I was certain it was a common superstition for good luck. I was thrilled to find it in the first lines of Louise Penny’s latest, A World of Curiosities.

I had a wonderful break traveling across Canada on VIA Rail. I love reading novels on a vacation.  Nearly all my normal reading is dense science, policy or legislation. So, it was a huge treat to have a new Armand Gamache mystery from one of my favourite authors in time for our Christmas train trip.  Despite much of North America being in dreadful and dangerous winter weather, our train ran without incident – arriving early into Toronto’s Union Station – several novels after departure from Vancouver.

It feels like more than two weeks since the last letter. When I last wrote, the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Biodiversity Convention was still underway in Montreal.   Thank you to everyone who joined our Green Party on-line fundraising event that Sunday evening, December 18.  It was a great success. When it ended, Jonathan Pedneault and I headed back to Palais des Congrès for a plenary slated to begin at 9 pm.  Sunday morning had dawned with a set of new texts from the Chinese presidency, presented to the representatives of 196 countries as a “take it or leave it” package. The Sunday night plenary was to be the first opportunity for governments to do just that – take it or leave it.

I wrote a fuller debrief for the great folks at Policy magazine, with whom I am a “contributing writer.” (Being a contributing writer means having a brilliant editor in Lisa Van Dusen do remarkably quick tweaks and fixes and access to a reading audience usually the same day I write. It is one of my many volunteer hats.)

The drama that unfolded in the closing minutes and hours of COP is hard to convey.  My experience of COPs is that the final negotiations are either motivated or undermined by sleep deprivation and brinksmanship.   The last time there had been a United Nations COP at Palais des Congrès in Montreal was one of the best climate negotiations ever – COP11 in 2005.  The over-night delays, the tense shuttle diplomacy by phone calls between capitals and texts resolved a blockage from the Russian delegation, sorting itself to a successful conclusion around 5 AM.

One of my old friends from those negotiations, Steven Guilbeault, is now Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change.  The deal on the table was one he had helped craft. A new friend, Vanuatu’s Minister for Environment and Climate the Hon. Ralph Regenvanu, had told me he was very pleased with the text – and surprised.  He said other representatives from the Global South were also positive. Around 2:30 in the morning, with the plenary once again delayed, Vanuatu’s minister gave me useful information: the interpreters could not work past 4 AM.  So I knew that we were being kept waiting because the presidency was relatively sure the last minute objections could be sorted when and if we reconvened and do it all before 4 AM.  We did get agreement, but ran a bit after 4 AM.  And resumed Monday afternoon to complete other elements of COP15’s work.

The 3 AM session was not without drama.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo objected to the inadequacy of support for that country’s predicament as a holder of vast biodiversity, pressed for economic development.  Standing alone, the DRC was ignored for the moment and the deal was gaveled through. Details of those last minutes are in my Policy magazine debrief (above), but I want to mention the strength of one statement from Namibia. Speaking without notes, the representative for Namibia, past the point of exhaustion, was extraordinary (and many thanks to Jonathan Pedneault for transcribing these remarks). He started by expressing his sympathy for the position of the DRC, describing is as “one of the most brutalized countries in the world.”

He went on: “Those of you who read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness would recall that the Belgium colonizers chopped off the hands of people for not tapping enough rubber to meet their quotas.

“And Mr. President, that colonial injustice that is exemplified by what happened in the Congo is the origin of all the problems that we have encountered in this convention and in the relationship between humanity and biodiversity. We have suffered a systemic trauma that has disrupted the bond between humans and nature…

“If we are to have any hope at all of living in harmony with nature by 2050, we need to acknowledge that the global economic and financial architecture that came out of the violence of colonization, of resource extraction, of plantation agriculture, of colonialism to drive markets for the manufactures of the countries that are today rich and control the resources of the world. The whole developed versus developing narrative which has bedeviled our consultation forums for so many years needs a much more comprehensive and holistic solution than what we have managed to craft in this biodiversity framework.

“(This agreement) is not the final step, it is not enough to live in harmony with nature by 2050. (…) Because we are very damaged, we are very sick. Our relationship with the natural world is in real, serious danger and that endangers all of life on this planet.”

His pulling together of so many threads is worth sharing, reading and re-reading.  Those threads run through Fairy Creek and the Trans Mountain pipeline. They run through the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.  Exploitation and trauma inform our society and feed our ongoing dysfunction.

Healing is challenging. Healing human relationships and, more fundamentally, healing our broken relationship with Mother Earth must be our urgent mission.

These thoughts lead to New Year’s resolutions. The only way forward to global survival lies in healing trauma. Let us each think of ways to advance where we can. For Canadians, the imperative for reconciliation must be central to our work on protecting nature and advancing climate stability.

What can each of us do? Find every opportunity to reach others with the key message that every one of us matters. That our whole society needs to be kinder, more supportive and look for moments for solidarity.  It is hard to put into words, but taking on a personal responsibility to each do what we can, is worth a try.

If you live in Saanich-Gulf Islands, I hope you can join one of the upcoming community meetings, listed below.  By later January, I hope to be traveling with my Green leadership partner, Jonathan Pedneault, in the Maritimes.

Happy News Years Day!


Community Meetings: