Governor Jerry Brown Demands Canadian PM Harper Reexamine His Climate Policy
Tings Chak and Merran Smith examine the Economic and Climate Summit proposals being discussed inside and outside the Summit
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
On Wednesday, activists blocked the entrance to the Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto where the Pan-American Economic and Climate summit is taking place. Protesters were calling out those who were invited to lead these talks, namely Felipe Calderon, former president of Mexico who has been accused of human rights violations, as well as former Israeli president Shimon Peres and John Negroponte, former United States deputy secretary of state. Protesters claim that these leaders have no place determining their future.
In the meantime, inside the summit, Governor Jerry Brown of California at the climate summit said that Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs to rethink his direction on climate change. Further, in response to a question about oil sands, Brown said Prime Minister Harper ought to be reexamining what he is doing.
Such criticism from a visiting foreign dignitary is unusual, but perhaps justified, given the damage Harper’s oil and energy policies are doing to the environment. Here to discuss what is on the agenda at the summit and the merits of it all, we’re joined by two guests. Ting Chak is an organizer with No One Is Illegal in Toronto. And we have Merran Smith. She is the executive director of Clean Energy Canada, which works to accelerate Canada’s transition to clean and renewable energy economy.
TING CHAK, NO ONE IS ILLEGAL: Thanks for having me.
PERIES: So Ting, let me start with you first. There was a huge protest last Sunday against climate change in Toronto, and [ahead] of the summit. But these leaders are now here to really address climate change. So why are you still protesting?
CHAK: So yesterday we had about 300 people gather outside of the Royal York Hotel where both of these summits, the Economic and Climate summits were simultaneously happening. And we were there to show our presence not only to disrupt and question some of the people who are participating, who have been invited in to lead these talks, but also urged the people participating to really reconsider whether or not they want to be associated with internationally recognized war criminals and human rights violators.
Instead of addressing the climate crisis in terms of who is most disproportionately affected, we’re talking about millions of migrants displaced every year, we have Kathleen Wynne, the premier of Ontario, inviting people like Felipe Calderon, as you mentioned, the former president of Mexico, under whose leadership let’s say 70,000 people were murdered, and 5,000 people were disappeared because of the war on drugs. Why should a person like that be leading such talks? They should be held accountable for the crimes, not celebrated as keynotes.
PERIES: Ting, do you have some specific demands that you’re making of the summit?
CHAK: Our protest was a show of a variety of of communities that are most deeply impacted. We’re talking about indigenous communities, black communities, and other communities of color that have been on the front lines of the climate and economic crisis in Canada as well as throughout the global south. We weren’t there to ask for a policy change or to reform, say, a cap and trade system. We were there to demand total transformation of how these crises are going to be dealt with, and whose voices will be prioritized without sacrificing the livelihoods and dignities of people in our communities.
PERIES: Merran Smith, I understand you spoke at the conference, so you were on the inside. You also just attended a session that Al Gore had, a training session. So give us a sense of first of all what you said to the conference, and what Al Gore is currently advocating.
MERRAN SMITH, CLEAN ENERGY CANADA: Well, we’ve been looking at what are the trends in clean energy and the transition to clean, renewable energy as a means of fighting climate change. And we talked about how actually renewable energy is working. Last year carbon emissions plateaued, and that’s been directly attributed to renewable energy and energy efficiency.
And I think how that links in to the conference is we had leaders, government leaders getting together. Kathleen Wynne, we had the premier from Quebec as well, Couillard, as well as Governor Jay Inslee from Washington. There was the governor of Vermont and a number of other states, as well as from some countries, Brazil, Peru, et cetera.
And they were coming together to say what are we going to do collectively, and how can we tackle this problem? They made commitments around greenhouse gas emission targets. Some of them signed the Under 2 MOU agreement, which is states and provinces standing up. California and British Columbia are already part of that. Ontario’s joined, and during this event Quebec joined as well. And then they talked about policy issues like carbon pricing and how they’re going to actually get to reducing their carbon emissions.
So I think it was predominantly leaders rolling up their shirts and getting to work. And people like Felipe Calderon were invited as speaker, they certainly were not a leader of the conference. They were, the leader of the conference was the premier of Ontario, Premier Kathleen Wynne. And I think what these kinds of conferences do is help create momentum around tackling climate change. And those who are willing to tackle climate change were here and stood up and their voices were heard. It helps create momentum to send to people like the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, who to date has really been a [likert] on climate change.
PERIES: Now, carbon credits, carbon tax, all of this is very much geared towards a business community. Do you think this is a reasonable way to go about addressing climate change?
SMITH: Well, I think it’s going to take a lot of different initiatives to tackle climate change. I’d say carbon pricing is definitely a piece of it. You put a price on something and it helps drive change. In a place like British Columbia the carbon tax is revenue neutral. That means that they reduced income tax and they reduced corporate taxes and put the carbon tax in, and so they’re equal. Low-income families were actually given an extra tax credit.
So there’s been a lot of work to ensure that there is justice and equity in some of these carbon pricing mechanisms. In California they’ve just put forward some really great initiatives where some of the moneys that are captured are going to low-income neighborhoods to put solar, electric vehicles, et cetera. Things that people couldn’t afford there because yeah, at this point they’re too expensive. But they’re using the revenues from the pricing mechanism to help support low income communities.
PERIES: Now Merran, the former U.S. vice president, Al Gore, he spoke. And when he spoke he said, we are pumping 110 million tonnes of pollution into the sky each day as if the sky is an open sewer. And he said that of course the trapping of all of this heat forces sea levels to rise, ice to melt more quickly, storms to grow faster, floods to get bigger, and mudslides to become more lethal. It sounds devastating.
Now however, he also said that he is relying on the business communities for the solutions. Is this the right place to put his emphasis? Because they were the cause of a lot of these greenhouse gas emissions we’re trying to tackle now.
SMITH: Yeah, so I just sat through two hours of Al Gore’s presentation. It was phenomenal. I was in tears numerous times just at the slides of the devastation of floods and burning and drought, and the impact to people. And really the poorest of the poor are those who are being impacted, whose houses were washed away from floods and other stories. Incredibly moving.
We believe that the business community has a lot of the answers because a lot of the emissions are from energy production. And so how are we going to transform the energy that we produce and that we use? And it’s the business community who’s in the business of making energy.
One thing that we’re really seeing right now is innovation, and how some of the business sector that’s involved in innovation is really succeeding. So for instance, over the last five years the cost of solar panels has dropped over 80 percent. In the last five years lithium-ion batteries, which are a key component of electric vehicles, have dropped 40 percent. And the quality of these things has gotten better as well. It’s business investment and innovation that’s going to make these technologies so that they can be applied at a broad scale, which is what we need. In order to get off of fossil fuels and to transition off of fossil fuels, we’re going to need new technologies.
PERIES: Ting Chak, what do you think of what Merran Smith is saying?
CHAK: I mean, I think that the fact that the Climate summit and the Economic summits are taking place in the same place, and as Wynne has called it, as an opportunity to create more synergy between the climate and economic summits shows us clearly that the summit is a way to continue corporate profit.
Living in a capitalist system is is fundamentally founded on the exploitation of your natural resources, on the exploitation of workers, particularly migrant workers as we’ve been seeing in Canada for some time. When we have the heads of Shell, Royal Dutch Shell, which has been responsible for over decades numerous spills, oil spills, and up until recently, 2013, here in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley Aamjiwnaang First Nations has launched a lawsuit against Shell. We have Shell, we have the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, we have fracking companies.
As long as–as well as with major heads of banks. It’s clear that the agenda isn’t about the people who are most disproportionately affected by climate crisis but furthering the corporate agenda, which is to exploit natural resources at the expense of human lives and the displacement of of millions every year.
PERIES: Ting Chak, Merran Smith, I want to thank you both for joining us today.
CHAK: Thanks for having us.
SMITH: Thank you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.