Climate change
Flood Wall St West, San Francisco Financial District, September 28, 2015. The mural reads: “Stop Climate Chaos Profiteers #FloodTheSystem”. Photo by Peg Hunter

On Monday, the Global Greens hosted a webinar for Green Party leaders to discuss the upcoming COP21 Paris climate conference. Speaking were Greens from around the world: Australia, Canada, Rwanda, Chile, Korea, New Zealand, Europe and Flanders; who were unanimous in saying that the climate must not heat up by more than two degrees Celsius.

Good news from Canada

The most positive speaker was Elizabeth May, the leader of Canada’s Green Party and its only MP. On 20 October, voters kicked out the country’s Conservative climate-sceptic prime minister Stephen Harper and replaced him with Liberal Justin Trudeau. May said that she didn’t want to overstate the strength of the Liberal Party on climate issues but admitted that the Canadian approach to the conference will be very different with Trudeau as prime minister. Since the election, she has met Trudeau to discuss Paris and said they had a good conversation.

Other positive developments include Stephane Dion, who was the president of 2005’s COP11 conference in Montreal, being made foreign affairs minister of Canada and chairing a senior committee on energy and climate change. Symbolically, the Environment Department has had its name changed to the Environment and Climate Change Department. It is now led by Catherine Mckenna who, May said, has a good background in human rights law and is currently negotiating in Paris.

Despite this, Canada’s INDCs, its climate-change targets, are currently the weakest of the G7 industrialised countries and it is unclear whether Trudeau will change them. May said she sympathises with Trudeau’s hesitance to change the targets only weeks after his election, as they are usually negotiated between national and provincial governments.

May will be amongst many global Greens at the conference, having been included on the Canadian Government delegation for the first time, and will be pressuring Trudeau to turn his rhetoric into actions.

No change in Australia

Australia also has a new prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who ousted the climate-sceptic Stephen Harper in September 2015. However, both men are from the same right-wing party and are cut from the same cloth. Christine Milne, who until recently was an Australian Green senator and leader of its parliamentary caucus, said she feared that Turnbull would be treated as a prodigal son in Paris, as if Australia has come in from the cold on climate change. “Do not be lulled by the false sense of change,” she said, “he talks the talk but, to be elected, he has promised his party he will not change his climate targets.”

One of the key issues in Paris, she said, will be climate finance. Industrialised countries need to recognise their contribution to climate change and contribute towards countries which have not yet industrialised. Australia’s role in green finance will be important, as it will be one of the countries trying not to give money to less-industrialised ones.

All pain, no gain in Africa

The chairman of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, Frank Habineza, echoed Milne’s point. “People are suffering day and night from climate change yet we [in Africa] barely contribute to it,” he said, “the African people expect their governments to go to Paris with one voice and demand climate justice for the continent”. He added that the focus should be on adaptation, adapting to deal with the effects of climate change, and mitigation, reducing emissions.

Matter of survival in the Pacific

Climate change is also hurting the Pacific Islands, as New Zealand Green MP Kennedy Graham, pointed out. “Pacific leaders are very vocal that their nations may not survive and we should support them” he said, adding that the Pacific Islanders want a target of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Global Greens want 2 degrees and the conference’s target will probably be 2.7 degrees. “Governments will say the glass is half full and critics like the Greens are too pessimistic. We should say that this is progress but it is too slow, it should have been achieved five years ago. We have to play up the positive but not whittle away the magnitude of climate change.” He also criticised New Zealand’s emissions record but said that three New Zealand Green MPs will be at the conference.

Nuclear power not the solution for Asia

The Korean Green Party’s Yujin Lee criticised the fact that her country will be officially considered a developing country until at least 2020, despite the size of its economy and its average wealth. She has met the South Korean Government who told her that the only way to reduce greenhouse gases is with nuclear power, which she opposes. China is also building nuclear power plants and so too now is Japan, which stopped nuclear power plants operating after the 2011 Fukishima disaster but reopened them in 2014. Korea, China and Japan should all do more than they are likely to in Paris, she added.

Deforestation in Latin America

In the fight against climate change, Latin America’s importance comes from its forests, Chile’s Alejandro San Martin said. “Latin America has just 4% of emissions but we have a major responsibility for absorption of greenhouse gases as we have major part of the world’s oceans and forests. We need financial and technological transfer to protect these. He also attacked Latin America’s governments, almost all of which are not meeting their commitments. In particular, there are big problems in Brazil and Bolivia with deforestation because of land deals.

The view from Europe

The German Member of the European Parliament Reinhard Butikofer said it was important to pluay up the positives even though the results will be insufficient for the world’s goals. A priority should be the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies. On the plus side though, he said that civil society is becoming more active against climate change, citing the climate divestment movement and the climate bubble conversation, which has come over to Europe from the USA.

The leader of the Flemish Greens, Meyrem Almaci, agreed that civil society and non-governmental organisations are stepping up to the fight against climate change. As a campaigning tool, she proposed that all Green Party leaders take a selfie with the statement “keep it below two degrees Celsius” and a country-specific concrete climate solution.