Opinion: We must not pass the buck on climate to the next generation

Imperfect as they are, COPs are the only global game in town. That’s why I went to Dubai as the only delegate from Quebec’s opposition parties.

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It seems everyone has an opinion when it comes to the Conference of Parties known as the COP, the annual climate summit that concludes today in Dubai. Criticisms range from their massive carbon footprint to the compromised results they produce.

I’ve personally gone back and forth over the years assessing both “bon COPs and bad COPs,” and as I look back, I realize each turning point is marked by a birth.

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The first was the birth of COP itself. I was a university student when I took a gap year to serve as one of two global youth ambassadors appointed to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, where the twin conventions on biodiversity and climate change were adopted. I recall that as a meaningful moment of hope — one that shaped the next 20 years of my academic and professional life as I went on to work as a reporter, researcher and lecturer on international environmental negotiations.

By the time COP came to Montreal for its 11th rendition in December 2005, I was serving as a senior policy adviser to Prime Minister Paul Martin. I attended that conference as a member of the Canadian delegation, but had to abruptly leave the Palais des Congrès as I went into labour with my first child. After the birth of my son Jack, his future became my foremost concern.

Determined to do my best as a new mother, I focused my energies on raising him while raising public awareness around climate science and solutions, personally training with Al Gore in the wake of his game-changing 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. I extended my maternity leave to deliver climate presentations to countless audiences — schools, professional orders, places of worship and business.

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Unable to keep up with the demand, several Canadian trainees and I brought the former U.S. vice-president to Montreal in 2008 to train 250 other climate leaders from across Canada. Five of us co-founded Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project in Canada soon thereafter. The organization has since reached over 700,000 Canadians and millions more worldwide, laying the groundwork for bolder and more progressive climate action.

I like to think our work contributed to the historic achievement of COP21, which concluded with the birth of the Paris Accord. Paris was COP at its best: a commitment from 196 countries to keep global temperatures from surpassing 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. This year’s COP was the first-ever global stock-take, an assessment of the world’s commitments under the Paris Accord.

Jack turned 18 last Friday, a milestone I missed due to being halfway around the world at COP28 as the official opposition critic on environment and climate change. As the only delegate from Quebec’s opposition parties, my role moving forward is to hold the CAQ government to account on the climate commitments it made in Dubai.

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Quebec enjoys a long-standing reputation as a climate champion in large part due to audacious initiatives by previous Liberal governments to nationalize hydroelectricity, establish the first carbon market in North America, and lay the path for the province to renounce oil and gas exploration. This track record led Quebec to be named here at COP28 as co-president of the global Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA), a singular achievement for non-state governments that will require Quebec to further up its game to reduce its own carbon consumption as a credible basis for recruiting other provinces and countries.

Since my election last fall, I’ve championed bolder environmental action — whether it be through introducing a bill that would amend the Quebec Charter to recognize the right to a healthy environment as fundamental or spearheading the first climate training for the Liberal caucus and political staff. After three decades of environmental work, I recognize that ambitious goals are necessary but far from sufficient: countries need to implement their climate commitments with comprehensive and concrete action.

I attended COP28 for the same reason I accepted to enter politics: to help set up the next generation for success. I went because we cannot pass the buck to Jack’s generation. We know the solutions — what is lacking is the political courage to follow through.

My gift to Jack on his 18th birthday is a solemn commitment to do all I can to fight for his future. Imperfect as they are, climate COPs are the only global game in town. What we do — and don’t do — after this COP and the next ones through 2030 will determine the future of life as we know it on planet Earth.

That’s why I went to COP28.

Désirée McGraw is the member of the National Assembly for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

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