COP15 Day 9: Sub-nationals* stepping up

Thought I’d blog before midnight for a change. There’s lots happening outside of the main place of negotiations (the Bella Center) these days, so one can still be involved in important things without being on site. For the first time, I’m back to my room midday before more later afternoon/evening sessions. It’s difficult to even get into the Bella Center now, but more about that later.

This morning Chris and I decided to attend a news conference with Canadian premiers (I had met Rick Smith of Environmental Defence a couple of days ago, one of the organizers who told me about it.)

Representatives of five provincial governments spoke, and I had an opportunity for follow-up conversation with British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, Quebec Premier Jean Charest, and United Church minister and Manitoba Minister of Conservation Bill Blaikie. Each commended church involvement here in Copenhagen and sees a key role for the churches on this issue. Their first advice on how to be influential is “Be here!”—be at meetings such as these, as we are. Premier Campbell spoke about how important the church has been to the educational process in B.C., and that the churches take a longer view that is helpful on matters such as climate change. As he said to me, this is a tough political issue because it requires longer-term thinking that voters don’t always appreciate. Premier Charest told me Al Gore’s efforts have been greatly enhanced by the involvement of churches and encouraged us to make contact with the Montreal office of Gore’s organization to learn more about how we could work with them. He also clearly appreciates the particular role The United Church of Canada can play on this issue in Quebec. Bill Blaikie and I began dreaming about what kind of collaborative effort might make sense in Manitoba and committed to talking more about that.

Each of these men represents what was, until yesterday, a new word to me: a sub-national.* They all feel they cannot wait for the federal government to catch up to the challenge of climate change, so they must act now—for the sake of their own people, their economy, and—I would add—their own morality. They’re very concerned about how Canada’s leadership and reputation on this issue has slipped, and about the dire economic consequences for Canada if we don’t embrace the challenges of climate justice now. It seems that they share an understanding of leadership with President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives and Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia of Tuvalu. The leaders of these small island nations are making a big splash here at the climate change talks. They know they’re small (much smaller than the provinces just named), and they also know you don’t need to have a big land mass or huge population to give big leadership (Tuvalu is an island nation of 26 sq km and a population of 12,000 people). Their statements have garnered respect like few others here in Copenhagen.

Mayors from around the world are here too: more sub-national* leaders who won’t wait for others to act. I’m glad they’re meeting here, experiencing a city that has taken inspiring measures to address the climate crisis.

On our way to the news conference this morning, our train was delayed and then stopped underground. I understood only two words in the announcement that followed: “activists” and “police.” A little later they reported that activists were jumping onto the track. Most Danes seem to be coping with all of these inconveniences with great grace. One woman about my age was explaining to some young protestors in our train car that foreigners will be blamed for all of this, even though each of us is the same. Then she added, “Keep protesting, but please don’t do it on the tracks.”

Helicopters have been circling the city today, and siren sounds are more frequent. Access to the Bella Center becomes even more severely limited tomorrow. We’re told that 43,000 people have been issued passes; the Center holds only 15,000; 1,000 will be allowed in across all NGOs tomorrow and only 90 people across all NGOs on Friday. The head of the Canadian team, Michael Martin, said yesterday that he’ll still be inside every morning, available to meet with Canadians who show up for the 8:00 a.m. briefings. The question is, will anyone be able to be there to meet with him? And the question that many are asking is, “If we can’t get in, why can’t he come out to update us elsewhere?”

Keep praying for peace and for climate justice. And please let me know if you have a question about what’s happening here that I might be able to answer.

*Since posting this blog I’ve been wondering about the wisdom of using the term “sub-national” in Canada. We are a country that recognizes nations within, including First Nations. Perhaps it would be better to speak of municipal, provincial, and other regionally or culturally defined governments. What terminology would you suggest?

Mardi Tindal, Moderator of The United Church of Canada, is blogging from COP15, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, Dec. 7–18, 2009.