COLUMN: In Paris with … shoes, people power and, of course, Trudeau

West Kootenay resident Montana Burgess reports from the climate conference in Paris.

West Kootenay resident Montana Burgess' selfie with thousands of shoes that symbolically responded to the French police's ban on marches at the Paris climate summit.

by Montana Burgess

Montana Burgess lives in the Slocan Valley and works as the community organizer with the West Kootenay EcoSociety. She is in Paris at the international climate conference as the head of logistics for the Climate Action Network-International delegation, the largest non-government network working on the climate crisis. Additionally, she will be coordinating with Canadian organizations attending the summit and following developments and Canada’s contributions to the Paris climate deal.

Burgess has done similar work at eight previous international climate change conferences. In three columns from Paris for the Star, she will cover the mood and the activities in Paris, and provide insights into what the developments could mean for the West Kootenay and its citizens.

Thousands of pairs of shoes covered the Paris plaza, Place de la Republique, on Sunday morning. These represented the 400,000 people planning to march in Paris on the global day of climate action before the start of the UN climate talks. As I walked around the shoes and to the monument covered with flowers, cards and art, dedicated to mourning the victims of the recent attacks in Paris, I felt an overwhelming sense of humanity and humility.

The nightclub shootings, which were the majority of the killed victims of the attacks, held a concert by one of my favourite American rock bands, Eagles of Death Metal. I’ve snuck out at night on several occasions on my trips to the climate talks in European cities to see other bands in this genre play concerts, because they rarely tour in Canada. If that concert had been this week, that would have been me. I would have made sure to be there. These are my people, who like the same things as me, who are my age, who share some of my values. I am mourning those who could have been me.

When I walked back over to the 22,000 pairs of shoes, including Pope Francis’ and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s, it hit me harder than ever: these shoes are also from my people, people in Paris wanting to be part the solution. People standing up for those on the front lines, those most affected by climate change in small island states, in Canada’s Arctic, low-income people, women, and children donated their shoes when they couldn’t march in their own streets. There’s a lot of bad news every day, but there are also a lot of beautiful people willing to risk personal comfort for the belief that a better and more fair world is possible, like the 10,000 Parisians who formed a human chain on Sunday across Paris, despite the French government banning public demonstrations.

This weekend over 600,000 people gathered in 175 countries to call for real climate action and a transition to 100 per cent renewable energy economies. From the faith community, 1.8 million people signed a petition for compassionate climate action, which was delivered to the UN, all the way to the West Kootenay where over 900 people came out in Nelson, Castlegar, and Rossland to say the time to act on climate, for real, is now. This is not simply a moment; this is truly a people powered movement.

I’m filled with hope as over 150 heads of state join the UN climate summit to reaffirm their vision and commitments for climate action, not because of their words, but because they are all here with plans on the table and with citizens back home ready to hold them accountable and demand more.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made symbolic leaps forward already. He’s changed the title of the ministry that covers all things environmental to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. This official title makes climate change in Canada an accessible term, one we can openly talk about around the dinner table, and one we will take seriously. He’s also said that there will be a new tanker ban on BC’s north coast. This effectively ends Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which is unwanted by most British Columbians, as increased tar sands outputs via BC’s north coast cannot be exported to foreign markets for processing without increased tanker traffic.

In his opening speech on Monday in Paris, Trudeau said “Canada is back.” It’s a great first step that he’s committed to work with provinces and territories to develop a pan-Canadian climate change framework following the Paris agreement, but what about during the Paris negotiations? Trudeau has committed a substantial financial package to help developing countries transition to renewable energy and adapt to the impacts of climate change. However, Canada’s fair share is $4 billion per year by 2020 from public sources. A great way to find this money would be to get rid of Canada’s federal fossil fuel subsidies. There would be more than enough money to support developing countries and invest in renewable energy solutions at home in Canada.

Canadians want a global climate agreement. Eighty-four per cent want the Government to create jobs in renewable energy in Canada according to a recent survey from Climate Action Network Canada. We need to transition to 100 per cent renewable energy in Canada by 2050 to avoid the climate crisis. Cities like Vancouver have already made this commitment and are developing plans to ensure they meet this target. We need the federal government, provincial and territorial governments, as well as local governments, even here in the West Kootenay, to be leaders, to be more creative and innovative and to do their fair share to ensure we can stay below 1.5 degree C by the end of the century. Otherwise, our dry winter and summer droughts that we experienced this year are going to be normal for our children and grandchildren. That is not fair and I would not want to be in that generation’s shoes.