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Sending a message about climate change

Sunday September 21, 2014

By Roberta Bell
Orillia Packet & Times

RAMARA TWP. - While hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of New York City Sunday asking world leaders to combat climate change, a slightly smaller – but no less enthusiastic group – gathered in Ramara Township to do the same.

"It’s all about sending a message," said Washago-based environmentalist Ron Reid, who attended a spin-off People’s Climate March at Geneva Park.

A similar walk was held in Barrie.

"In our case, it’s about sending a message to Mr. Harper and his cronies that the absolute lack of progress in Canada just isn’t good enough," said Reid.

More than 100 leaders in government, finance, and civil society from around the world are expected to gather at the United Nations headquarters in New York City Tuesday for the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit.

The goal, according to the Climate Summit's website, is to lay the groundwork to establish legally-binding, international treaty to reduce global emissions at the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change, scheduled to be held in Paris, France in 2015.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he will not be attending Tuesday's event.

"The federal government has been doing all the wrong things," Reid said, and has "constantly undercut any efforts to deal with climate change."

Since the industrial revolution, the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere has made holes in the ozone layer. More and more sunlight is getting through and the earth’s is getting warmer, which scientists say is causing an array of international environmental problem.

The relationship between environmental degradation and economic development first made it onto the United Nations radar in 1972.

The hesitation of the developing countries projected to be the next large emitters to formally commit to emissions-reduction targets has consistently been used as an excuse for some of today’s large emitters, such as Canada, not to do anything, Reid said.

In 1997, Canada committed to reducing emissions 6% below 1990 levels by 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol, from which it withdrew in 2011.

Canada is the only country that signed onto the agreement to repudiate it.

"We wasted the last decade. The clock is ticking," Reid said.

Reid said Canada, from what he can tell, lags behind it's southern neighbour, which didn't even sign onto the Kyoto Protocol.

This past June, the United States government proposed an Environmental Protection Agency regulation to reduce national power plant emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

While there are multi-jurisdictional boundary issues in Canada when it comes to managing natural resources, Reid said the Harper government appears to be approaching the situation from a big-business standpoint, particularly the still-developing Alberta oil sands.

The Center for Global Development, a Washington D.C.-based think-tank, ranks annually 27 of the world's wealthy nations in its commitment to development index. While Canada was 13th overall in 2013, it was last in environmental protection.

"It’s a disgrace," said 19-year-old Bridget Allen-O’Neil of the Canadian government’s environmental track record.

Allen-O'Neil, of Guelph, was one of nearly 100 youth attending Ontario Nature’s biodiversity and community action summit at Geneva Park over the weekend.

Sarah Hedges, conservation and education co-ordinator for Ontario Nature, said the spin-off People’s Climate March was organized in conjunction with community members as a show of support of demonstrators in New York City.

Climate change is the largest environmental problem the world has ever faced, she said, adding it needs to be addressed by world leaders.

"We are seeing it. We understand that climate change is actually having an impact right now," Allen-O’Neil said. "Of course we want to get involved."

Some people seem to think that the problem is so big that there’s nothing they do can fix it, said 21-year-old Pirim Jaeger, but that’s not true.

"We’re the generation taking over," Jaeger said, and making changes at the local level – like taking public transit, turning off the lights and composting – can have a global impact.

The way citizens and various levels of government interact when it comes to climate-change issues needs to change.

While Reid said action to combat climate change made today likely won’t have a noticeable effect, "that doesn’t mean it’s not important," he said.

There’s talking going on, Jaeger said, but not enough listening.

People are becoming more and more aware of the ramifications of climate change, he said.

"Hopefully, the federal government will get its act together," Allen-O’Neil said.

"I guess time will tell," Jaeger added.

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