COLUMN: Making new Columbia Basin friends at the Paris climate summit

This is the second of local resident Montana Burgess' reports from the Paris climate summit

Montana Burgess in Paris at the United Nations climate summit.

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 withCanadian 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.

Sometimes you have to go to the other side of the world to meet your neighbours. Sandpoint, Idaho is Nelson’s sister city just south of the boarder. Gary Payton (pictured below) is a Sandpoint environmental activist and my new friend at the Paris UN climate summit. We’ve sat together perking up with conference coffees and sharing what the communities of Sandpoint and Nelson have been doing to take climate action.

Sandpoint has a railway that runs through the city. It carries coal to the terminal near Vancouver and tar sands bitumen to Washington’s coast to be exported to Asian markets. Gary is really worried about the impacts the trains could have on his community if there was a derailment. Remember Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in Quebec in 2013? That too could happen in Sandpoint. He’s also concerned about climate change impacting our lives and livelihoods across the Columbia River Basin and threatening the environment we love and hope to pass on to our children and grandchildren.

Our countries are finally being relatively constructive at the climate summit in some areas. The latest news is that Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister said we need to limit global warming to no more than 1.5C by the end of this century. This is necessary to ensure the survival of the most vulnerable countries and people in the world, like small island countries and indigenous peoples living in the arctic. While this acknowledgement of the importance of not going past 1.5C warming is important, Canada has not put forward new carbon pollution reduction goals since Trudeau became PM. In Paris,Canada needs to get ambitious and commit to reviewing and increasing their commitment to reduce carbon pollution significantly before 2020 to show Canada is stepping up as a climate leader.

While Canada is working out how to get more ambitious at the summit, provinces have continued to take climate action.Quebec has promised millions to support carbon pollution reductions and support to the most vulnerable countries. Manitoba has joined Ontario and Quebec in a regional carbon pricing “cap and trade” system, which aims to harmonize programs in all three provinces under a larger program called the Western Climate initiative. Meanwhile, in BC, Christy Clark is refusing to commit to the recommendations from the cross-sector climate team that was appointed in the summer, she doesn’t seem to want to regulate industry. We’ll need to consider how we as British Columbians show our support for making polluters pay in the coming year.

Local governments around the world aren’t waiting for national governments to show climate leadership. I attended a presentation from mayors in Africa, Europe, Asia and Canada who are all transitioning to 100% renewable energy.Vancouver’s mayor, Gregor Robertson said they had various goals of going partially renewable. When they reviewed the needs and climate impacts, they had to set a goal to achieve 100% renewable energy and then get innovative with plans to reach that target, as anything less was not going to solve the problem. Vancouver is aiming to have 100% renewable energy by 2050.

Speaking of Canadian cities, I found Rossland city councillor, Aaron Cosbey, another neighbour who I’d not previously met, at the climate summit. We laughed about how we had to travel so far to finally meet up and talked about Rossland’s renewable energy plans and current projects, like the Washington St. upgrade plans including mini-power generators inside the pipes.

It’s comforting to know my neighbours in Rossland and Sandpoint participated in the November 29 global climate march and are here in Paris. We can work together to take the momentum of the climate movement from this special global moment centred around Paris to get our region on track to be a renewable energy leader and an example for the world.