SASKATOON — A coalition of environmental, justice and faith groups in Saskatoon were among those advocating for climate justice in the days leading up to the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change being held in Paris Nov. 30 — Dec. 11.
At a media event Nov. 25 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family, Tracy Mitchell of the Council of Canadians said that Saskatchewan people and the Saskatchewan government can and must play a role in achieving climate justice and averting catastrophe.
A march planned for Saskatoon Nov. 29 will coincide with other such demonstrations of grassroots support around the world, said Mitchell. “Saskatoon that day will join with the rest of the world in marching for climate justice, in the lead up to the climate negotiations in Paris.”
Bishop Donald Bolen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, who also serves as chair of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed support for the local march and for efforts around the world to encourage political leaders and all those participating in COP21.
“I hope this march in Saskatoon is a way of standing in solidarity with a broad and bold request across the world for significant and courageous steps at the Paris conference,” Bolen said.
The bishop added that he would encourage provincial and national representatives at COP21 to look beyond their own economic concerns to the larger, long-term global picture.
In his recent encyclical on the environment Pope Francis discussed the ways in which wealthier nations like Canada often draw on the resources of poorer nations to better our own lives, Bolen noted. “We have a responsibility in this country to be concerned about the whole world, and we have the resources and the wealth to be a real leader in this area,” he said.
Erica Lee, a University of Saskatchewan student and indigenous rights advocate, was preparing to head to Paris as a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation to COP21. “First of all I am a representative of my community in Saskatoon: inner-city folks, indigenous folks, and people often left out of climate negotiations,” she said.
“Climate justice and social justice are related, especially for indigenous people,” Lee said. “The way we are disappeared from the land, the missing and murdered indigenous women — these issues are completely related to climate injustice and the ways that our land is exploited.”
Lee said she hopes to encourage resistance to the idea that what is most important is development and exploitation of the land. “We cannot sacrifice the planet for money.”
Mark Bigland-Pritchard of Climate Action Saskatoon called for political leaders to act now to avoid the worst effects of climate change. “Facing the challenge of addressing the climate crisis demands a quality of political leadership which we have not yet seen. There is no place for hesitation, delay or fear of change.”
He also noted this is not just an environmental issue, but one of justice and compassion, and “an issue of human survival, and survival of everybody together, not just the survival of the people who have the resources to get through.”
Bigland-Pritchard stressed the reality of massive droughts and floods, heat waves, forest fires, and rising sea levels, as the global temperature rises as a result of human activity. “We have to find a way to live within the limits set by the laws of physics,” he said. “That includes phasing out carbon-based fuel or fossil fuel.”
He pointed to the case of Bangladesh, with 160 million people, who have emissions lower than Saskatchewan, with its population of only 1.1 million. Saskatchewan has the highest per-capita rate of greenhouse gases emissions among Canadian provinces.
“Bangladesh is not contributing in any serious way to this crisis, and yet they are a low-lying country, many of their communities are set to suffer as a result of increasing global temperatures, and resulting increasing sea levels and increasing floods,” he said. “We have a particular responsibility in Saskatchewan because we have a particularly high per-capita emissions rate.”
Bigland-Pritchard also noted that the damage caused by environmental devastation and drought has far-reaching implications — for instance, the current Syrian refugee crisis has partly come about because of long-term drought that led to political instability.