I received a few questions in regards to my participation at the United Nations and why I chose to attend for the second time after repeatedly criticizing the productivity of its space. I have been thinking about this question for quite some time and thought it would serve well as the last of three pieces on my experiences at COP 23.
I did not attend COP 23 under the notion that I believe in the United Nations as a purveyor for change. It is a Eurocentric organization that has been built on mutual cooperation by the wealthiest nations in times of war. Wherever there is a base of United Nations’ peacekeepers in the Global South, there is a stark increase in sexual assault and violence. At COP 23, I watched delegates from the United States promote coal and nuclear energy. I saw wealthy nations use tactics like filibustering in attempts to take up as much space as they could in the timed sessions. These tactics disrupted timed sessions and forced the forfeiture of submissions that were products of years of work. The United Nations is a broken system, but that doesn’t mean it’s not relevant.
There are a number of justice-oriented organizations that attend COP. Their mandate, much like ours with the Canadian Youth Delegation (CYD), is to hold our governments accountable to their international commitments. We also do work that crosses borders, because climate change knows no borders. This year, young people across Turtle Island, including myself, organized an action on the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) being trumped by the United States. While certain NAFTA deals are up in the air, the only thing that isn’t is the expansion of fossil fuels. We called out the hypocrisy of how violations against human rights and climate laws are unenforceable, yet trade deals are. There were approximately a dozen direct actions that were organized every day during the conference. Not a lot of people know this because it’s rarely captured by the media.
Last year the CYD disrupted a Canadian reception at an $800+ per night hotel. We called upon Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna and her government to reject the Kinder Morgan pipeline and delivered to her over 250,000 signatures from First Nations, municipalities and civil society. We took away a space for self-congratulations from the minister and her government that boasted about their “climate leadership.” We gave the Liberals one last reminder to make the right decision in the lead-up to the government’s crucial pipeline announcement. In the action, I was physically assaulted by a RCMP officer who seized me by the back of my neck. I still feel chills when I think about his hot breath in my ear as he said, “That’s fucking enough, don’t you think?”
No, it’s not enough. We are composed of civil society that is demanding for justice to be included in policy and action. We cannot let our governments escape the pressure from those who are most affected by their poor policies, and we cannot let those who have never been systemically affected by these policies write them. As always, it is important for there to be resistance within these spheres of injustice, no matter how ineffective the spaces might be.