RCEN Cuts: Not Just About Jobs

Canada World Youth intern, Justin Chisholm (writing for the Sierra Youth Coalition), analyzes the recent cuts to the Canadian Environmental Network. 

Minister of Environment Hon. Peter Kent and the federal government have severed a thirty-four year relationship with the Canadian Environmental Network (RCEN), an institution structured around strong democracy, advocating for the interests of


Canadians and 640 environmental groups. Environment Canada gave no indication that they would cut funding and refuse to renew RCEN’s $547,000 budget for 2011-2012 until the network received a letter last Thursday.

The announced termination of all federal funding comes as the government stated that it wants to “review its spending to make sure it’s getting value for money.” The Minister is making a losing trade-off, saving $547 000 annually in exchange for an instituti

on that helped give us the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

The RCEN is being replaced by an online consultation service run through the simplicity that is the federal government’s website. The service will aim to represent the environmental concerns of all Canadians and 640 environmental groups through online discussion and comments. Responding to the plan, Maggie Paquet, Member of the Board for RCEN, posed legitimate concerns: W

ho is going to collate all of the comments? Who will sift through the submissions to determine which are viable? Hopefully Environment Canada, using its newly found savings, plans to hire Mark Zuckerberg to reinforce the servers because in the times that we’re facing, with the Harper dubbed “no brainer” that’s more of an environmental dagger XL Keystone Pipeline and various other environmental movements, a web based consultation system just won’t do when dealing with the web traffic of millions of Canadians who are moving toward a greener future.

Funding cuts have crippled the national RCEN and have created serious challenges for its many regional networks. With the national network closing its doors it’s not just jobs that have been sacrificed. The scope of democratic approach to environmental policymaking and the ability to hold the government accountable has been refined to nothing more than a kaleidoscope of colourful pictures of the tar sands. Hopeful that Environment Canada understands the gravity of this decision, we are standing firm that the Government of Canada has made a mistake.

Justin Chisholm is a Canada World Youth intern who is currently working with the Sierra Youth Coalition in Ottawa, Canada. Justin will be travelling to Kenya in a few months to engage with the grassroots environmental organization Kenvo. You can follow him on Twitter @itsjustchisholm

People Hugging: UNFCCC Forest Policy Needs A Climate Justice Framework

The importance of the world’s forests and the role that environmental activism surrounding forests have helped to shape a public perception that being an environmentalist means that you’re a “tree hugger.” While my “first word” as a child was in fact “tree,” I organize around climate justice because I hug people – or at least care about them.

Over the last few years it has become commonplace to hear that famous phrase describing anyone’s neighborhood environmentalist. While at school buddies would joke: “Chisholm! So what are you doing huggin’ all those them trees?” I would always swiftly reply, “I don’t hug trees nearly as much as I hug people.” Now before I bore you with more hippie-speak, all this is justified in the context of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change and the recent policy developments surrounding the use of certain forest conservation methods to curb GHG emissions.

While large tropical forests, abundant with enormous trees to hug, are the focal point of policies like Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) or Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forests (LULUCF), it is an imperative that the “people factor” (people hugging) must not be ignored when crafting global climate policy.

 What’s REDD?

 Deforestation and forest degradation, expansion of farmland, conversion to pastureland, infrastructure development, destructive logging, fires etc., account for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector.[1] With this information in mind, it is pretty hard to disagree with the reality that combating global climate change must involve a strategy to tackle deforestation as well. However, there are buck loads of details that speak to the “why” there continues to be deforestation. For the sake of your time and energy, I will wait for another post.

According to the United Nations, REDD is “an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.”

The idea of REDD was first brought to the table during the Kyoto Protocol negotiations in 1997, which first recognized the important role that forests could play in reducing carbon emissions from deforestation. However, formal recognition of REDD was not achieved until 2007 at the UNFCCC 13th Conference of the Parties (COP 13) under the Bali Action Plan.

REDD+” goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

Further, maintaining forest ecosystems can contribute to increased resilience to climate change. To achieve these multiple benefits, REDD+ will require the full engagement and respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and other forest-dependent communities. Heading into the UNFCCC 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) in Durban, there is still a strong showing of opposition to REDD by indigenous organizations like the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN). IEN has released a document satirically condemning the policy as “Reaping Profits from Evictions, Land grabs, Deforestation and Destruction of biodiversity +Plus Industrial Plantations, GMO Trees and Protected Areas.[2]

To “seal the deal” on climate change, REDD+ activities in developing countries must complement, not be a substitute for, deep cuts in developed countries’ emissions. Inclusion of REDD+ in a post-Kyoto regime must not jeopardize the commitment of Annex I countries to reduce their own emissions.

Side note: REDD+ Partnership:

  • Is an interim platform for partner countries (Canada is a member) to scale up actions and finance for initiatives to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) in developing countries.
  • “The Partnership” aims to take immediate action, including improving the effectiveness, efficiency, transparency and coordination of REDD+ initiatives and financial instruments, to facilitate among other things knowledge transfer, capacity enhancement, mitigation actions and technology development and transfer.
  • The first meeting of REDD+ Partnership in 2011 was held in Bangkok, Thailand 10-11 April.

A summary of the meeting, presentationsandbackgroundpaperscanbefoundat http://reddpluspartnership.org/en/.

Successive conferences in Copenhagen (COP 15) in 2009 and Cancun (COP 16) in 2010 saw an international agreement on the REDD+ framework as well commitments from several developing countries to reduce overall emissions. However, further progress on the details of REDD+ such as monitoring and enforcement, transparency, financing mechanisms and the inclusion of indigenous people in the REDD+ process, has been slow. Also, with 2011 being the International Year of the Forests, it is hoped that COP 17 in Durban will lead to more concrete agreements on some of the more technical aspects of REDD+.[3]

Canada has been a major contributor to the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) Readiness Fund – $40M, which claims to build national capacity to address deforestation. Canada is now the largest donor to this fund.[4] It is also worth noting that Canada is not listed as a Carbon Fund Participant  and is not listed as one of the “Members and Observers of the Third FCPF Participants Committee (2010-2011).”[5] Assuming that Canadians that who want climate policy action are not willing to dig deep enough into their convoluted policies, the Canadian climate strategy is one of simply throwing money at a project and not participating in the oversight of that process by any means what so ever. While the FCPF and its links to the politics of the World Bank raise questions about the validity of the program to really help developing countries through neo-liberal advances in climate policy, Canada’s commitment to any international forest-based climate policy remains apathetic at best.

Another forest policy issue that is going to be a “headliner” at the 2011 international climate policy “rock concert” will be closing the accounting loopholes around something called Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF). The “swiss-cheese” of forest climate policy to date, LULUCF is the victim of a weak framework that has been exploited by countries recognizing its lax accounting – and subsequently “cooking” (so much room for a climate change joke here) the books.

Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF)[6]

 LULUCF is a set of rules determining how Annex I Parties account for emissions from their land and forests. Currently it is mandatory to account for afforestation, reforestation, and deforestation, while it is voluntary to account for forest management, grazing land management, cropland management, and re-vegetation.

In the first commitment period (Kyoto Protocol), the voluntary nature of accounting is being exploited by Annex I Parties to obtain credits without accounting for debits. In the second commitment period, Annex I Parties are trying to change the rules to avoid accounting for increased emissions. Either way, LULUCF is being used to falsely exaggerate emission reductions.

Reports and analysis by the European Commission, the Stockholm Institute, the Postdam Institute, UNEP and a Climate Action Network analysis have all highlighted that LULUCF rules are playing a significant role in undermining Annex 1 mitigation efforts and contributing to the Gigatonne Gap between ambition in this process and what the science requires for addressing climate change. LULUCF could, however, be a source of real mitigation action.

Presently, Canada’s most notable contribution to the LULUCF process are its commitment to $4.5 million in “Fast-Start Financing”[7] through the World Bank’s BioCarbon + Fund.[8] The commitment claims to specifically promote poverty reduction through sustainable agriculture.

According to Canada’s climate strategy’

“The BioCF can consider purchasing carbon from a variety of land use and forestry projects; the portfolio includes Afforestation and Reforestation, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation and is exploring innovative approaches to agricultural carbon.[9] The BioCF tests and demonstrates how land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) activities can generate high-quality Emissions Reductions with environmental and livelihood benefits that can be measured, monitored and certified, and stand the test of time.[10]

The major issues with the BioCF program are the clear opposition to the forest policies supported by the World Bank and the very nature of International climate finance.[11] In cooperation with other Parties at COP17 Canada must reject the World Bank’s involvement with the Green Climate Fund because the World Bank is lending institution whose structures, track record and policies are in contradiction to the principles of just, fair and effective climate finance.[12]

Currently, LULUCF allows countries to report activities that remove carbon and not count activities that release carbon, so actual emissions are higher than reported. We must tell the Canadian government to adopt a position on LULUCF that calls for an improved accounting system with mandatory reporting to fill in loopholes and ensure that Canada accounts for all emissions from forests including pest outbreaks and forest fires so that emissions are actually reduced to fair and safe levels.

At first glance, these innovative approaches to international climate policy might seem to really bring the change we need in order to disarm our “carbon time-bomb,” but a closer look illustrates the truth behind these false solutions to global climate change that are still deeply wedded to the injustices that have allowed the issue to arise in the first place.

The true face of our struggle for climate justice are the people on the frontlines of climate change, already facing the devastating consequences of rising sea-levels, melting arctic ice, and the continued exploitation of fossil fuels that is pushing us further and further into the carbon dark ages.

[9] ibid., website.
[10] ibid., website.
[12] For more information check out “The Unholy Trinity: The IMF, World Bank and WTO” by Richard Peet http://books.google.com/books?id=jkPh9Hc96UAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Rose-Coloured Ubuntu: The Diary of An Activist in Transition

Thursday, October 3, 2011

No one every said it was going to be easy to change the world and build the kind of tomorrow that I feel, along with my peers, is a just and sustainable alternative that everyone deserves. I never doubted the capacity of small groups of people to work together and plant these seeds of change, but I am certainly being hit in the face by some of that blinding idealistic image of the world. You know, that world that we see with “rose-coloured glasses.” Where a world of oppression, hunger, conflict and climate injustice will eventually go away after I get my degree, start a business and use the money to found my own NGO join some activist group and nag people about tagging along to … a grip?  Okay, I’ll have to admit, I am being a little bit harsh and the forecast for hope and optimism is not as bleak as one may think. This is what I want to talk about.

How rude, I should have introduced myself before preaching away! My name is Matthew and I am a twenty-three year old Canadian who was born on the west coast and grew up on the east coast, but I still have plenty of ground to cover across our vast country. Less than one-year ago I obtained my well-rounded liberal arts degree from StFX University (in my hometown of Antigonish) and began – one might also say “continued” – the campaign to be the change I wished to see in the world. Believe me, a lot has transpired, for better and worse, since I crossed the stage in Antigonish on that crisp December afternoon, but that is neither here nor there.

I am here to talk to you about my participation with the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition (CYCC) and more specifically my wonderful opportunity to serve as a member of the Research and Policy Team with the Canadian Youth Delegation (CYD) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 17th Conference of the Parties (COP-17) in Durban, South Africa.

Starting right now, I will be focusing all of my writing around the CYD and COP-17, but after the international negotiations things wont be stopping. I will continue to write as a committed member of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. Normally, I write first and edit later, but sometimes most times I publish raw, un-edited, material to my blog; because if there is one thing I want to see in a youth climate movement it’s honesty and a commitment to compassion. This is not to say that editing is dishonest or apathetic, rather a display of my own convictions on interesting writing.

Before I leave you, I would like to share a very special South African word that I have come to adore since spending time in Port Elizabeth, two years ago: Ubuntu.

Ubuntu originates from the Xhosa and Zulu peoples in South Africa. One particular definition says that it is a quality that includes the essential human virtues; a marriage of compassion and humanity.  Another way of looking at Ubuntu, inspired by an interpretation by Judy Rebick in her book “Transforming Power: from personal to political,” is that we are people through other people.

This powerful word, or understanding of this word, has come to mean a lot in the context of my own personal voyage and is a thematic tone to how I have chosen to write in the context of climate justice. After all, I believe that it is through Ubuntu, solidarity and shared understanding, that I will find clarity in my path as an activist and allow my to sincerely exchange my rose-coloured glasses for a resilient vision of a world where transformational social change “is not only possible, she is on her way.”

StFX Achieves CIMS-GB with Honours

“To help meet the growing demand for green and “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED) certification, the Cleaning Industry Management Standard & Certification Program has been expanded to include new “Green Building” (GB) criteria and a new optional GB designation.

Implemented as the sixth dimension of CIMS, the new criteria and designation offer cleaning organizations a certification that is closely tailored to provide their customers with precisely what they need to secure points under the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (LEED-EBOM) Green Building Rating System, while greening their operations overall.  As such, CIMS-GB certification demonstrates an organization’s capability to assist customers in achieving LEED-EBOM points and offers customers assurance that the organization they select is prepared to partner with them in the LEED process.”CIMS-GB Website

Tunisia’s “Smart Mobs”

According to award winning author and founder of the “The Foundation on Economic Trends,” Jeremy Rifkin,  the second phase of the communications revolution (electrical forms of

communication like personal computers, the Internet, the World Wide Web, and wireless communication technologies) is “connecting  the central nervous system of more than a billion people on Earth at the speed of light .. [and] although, the new software and communication revolutions have begun to increase productivity in every industry, their true potential is yet to be fully realized.”

While Rifkin is specifically talking about the potential of communications technologies to create “distributed energy regimes,” there is also more to be said about the profound impact of information communication technologies (ICTs)  on the way we, as human beings, organize.

This is not a tale about The Simpsons’ Johnny Tightlips’ recent stint studying law at Standford, rather a look at a truly interesting phenomenon in this potentially endless field of discussion concerning ICTs. It is about the emergence of “smart mobs.”

The term first appeared in a book by writer, Howard Rheingold entitled Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. “Smart mobs emerge,” proclaims Rheingold, “when communication and computing technologies amplify human talents for cooperation.”

While coverage on the use of ICTs to inflict harm upon innocent civilians on the basis of making a political statement is in no short supply, the use of smart mobs to help the global spread of democracy is quickly rising to prominence.In the world today, the consequences of smart mob technology appear to be both beneficial and destructive, used by some of its earliest adopters to support collective action for democracy and by others to coordinate terrorist attacks.

Both Twitter and Facebook were not even dirty thoughts in their creators minds back in 2003, when Rheingold first began talking about Smart Mobs, but “the technologies that [were] beginning to make smart mobs possible – mobile communication devices and pervasive computing” helped formulate social networks in ways that myriad present networking platforms allow people to do so today.

Smart Mobs in Tunisia?

The recent Tunisian Revolution, a likely candidate for the use of smart mobs to liberate people, is said to have began with the late Mohamed Bouazizi’s desperate protest

against unemployment in Sidi Bouzid — by setting himself on fire to draw attention to his dilemma — and spread quickly to other regions and other issues within the North African country.

Commenting on the speed of the protests, Foreign Policy Magazine writes, “[that] within days of attempted suicide in front of the local government office, students, teachers, lawyers, journalists, human rights activists, trade unionists, and opposition politicians took to the streets in several cities, including Tunis, to condemn the government’s economic policies, its repression of all critics, and a mafia-style corruption that enriches members of the president’s family.” On January 14th, 2011, the protests finally came to fruition after president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced to step down and flee to neighbouring Saudi Arabia.But was it what Howard Rheingold called “smart mobs” actually provoke the ousting of a North African government in less than one month?

With many different perspectives on the role of social media, or the medium at which smart mobs spread in the present global context, we turn to a recent article in the Atlantic on the positive role of Facebook in the Tunisian revolution; and then a writer from gawker.com who believes that paying too much attention to the role of social media discredits the ability of the Tunisian people to stand up for themselves and fight for democracy.

Is Zuckerberg’s Baby A “Digital Che Guevara”?

The Atlantic writer Alexis Madrigal writes in “The Inside Story of How Facebook Responded to Tunisian Hacks”about the important role of Facebook — in particular —  in spreading dissent within Tunisia. “The videos — shot shakily with camera phones –created a link between what was happening on the streets in the poor areas of the country,” explains Madrigal, “and the broader Tunisian population.”

These are precisely

the same kind of linkages between people that Rheingold refers to in his discussion around the emergence of smart mobs, a clear example of communication and computing technologies amplifying human talents for cooperation around a common goal: ending oppression.

But Facebook’s role grew deeper and it wasn’t just videos that people were sharing. “For activists as well as everyday people,” illuminates Madrigal, “Facebook became an indispensable resource for tracking the minute-by-minute development of the situation.. [and] by January 8, it had several hundred thousand more users than it had ever had before in Tunisia.” It is important to note that this rise in subscription to Facebook was likely through its mobile platform, hinted at by the prominence of photos arising from camera


While the role of Twitter in the the Tunisian affair is clearly overshadowed by that of “The Social Network,” Facebook, there is a clear and compelling argument to be made around the importance of social media, the emergence of smart mobs, in the present political unrest in North Africa. However, are people giving the citizens of Tunisia enough credit for seizing the opportunity for change in their country — amidst the focus on social media acting as a catalyst for that change? Jeff Neumann, from Gawker.com, proclaims in his recent article that “Social Media Didn’t Oust Tunisia’s President — The Tunisian People Did.”

Putting the “Tunisian” in Tunisian Revolution

He begins with a plea to reassess the context and situation of the Tunisia revolt. “We should stop trying to fit the events in Tunisia into a Western context,” Neuman exclaims, “[because] it simplifies things, but it also overlooks the real forces of change at work in the North African country … This isn’t about Facebook, or Wikileaks, or Twitter — it’s about the people of Tunisia being fed up with decades of marginalization at the hands of a Western-backed kleptocracy, and taking charge of their own future.” He argues that it was the growing prominence of important social and economic issues (low wages, high-unemployment among educated citizens, high food prices and an authoritarian government under President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali) that threw the Arab nation into unrest. Continuing, Neumann mans an important point in his argument. He does not doubt the role of social media in the Tunisian uprising, but he asks: “is this a social media revolution?” Promptly responding,  “Absolutely not.” While Neumann is not entirely confident that social media was the so-called “tipping point” for the uprising, his soft stance on the role of social media in this particular case is viewed alongside  Madrigal’s note about the important role of Facebook, illustrating that the use of ICTs — Facebook, Twitter, mobile devices, the internet, and other mass communication devices — showing that “smart mobs” are quickly becoming an instrumental political tool in the hands of oppressed people around the globe.