Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi (00:00):

Hello, and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World, where in 15 minutes, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it.

Lama Alsafi (00:41):

My name is Lama Alsafi, host of this podcast. In this episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World, we're looking at climate action and climate justice: what it is, what it means both in Canada and around the world, and how we can all do our part for the environment and for our collective future. Our guest today is Catherine Abreu, an internationally recognized award-winning campaigner whose work centers on building powerful coalitions to advance transformative action on climate change. Catherine is the executive director of Climate Action Network Canada—Canada's primary network of more than 100 organizations working on climate change and energy issues from coast to coast to coast. Welcome Catherine, and thank you so much for joining us today.

Catherine Abreu (01:26):

It's a pleasure to be here.

Lama Alsafi (01:29):

Catherine, can you tell us about the work you're doing at Climate Action Network Canada and who your members are?

Catherine Abreu (01:34):

So Climate Action Network Canada is an umbrella organization for groups in Canada who care about how the changing climate affects people, places, and wildlife. We have 120 macro organizations working across the country. Our members are, many of them, of course, environmental organizations, but we also have a rich diversity of members in the international development and humanitarian space. We have members in the labour movement, health groups, youth groups, faith groups are in our membership. And we also work in very close allyship with organizations that may not be members, but who are part of our larger climate community in Canada, in particular Indigenous-led and Indigenous community serving organizations, are those that we seek to work in allyship with

Lama Alsafi (02:35):

Catherine, can you explain to our listeners what climate action and climate justice mean and why these terms are important when we talk about climate change, both in Canada and around the world?

Catherine Abreu (02:46):

Climate action, just describes you know, the series of tools we can use or actions we can take to address climate change, anything from reducing our use of energy or our use of vehicle that burn gasoline to get around, to putting a price on carbon and having some of that larger scale government action. Climate justice, however, is really about this idea that as we address climate change, we need to do so by building a better and a more just society, because ultimately climate change is the result of a series of social and economic injustices that really underlie many of the structures of our society. I'm talking about things like inequality and income, wealth, and access of services, racial and other forms of discrimination, colonial structures that perpetuate the oppression of Indigenous People worldwide and the ongoing extraction of resources. And of course, a big part of these injustices is the way we externalize in our economy, environmental harm.

Catherine Abreu (04:08):

And that externalization of environmental harm in our economy is what underpins climate chaos and ecological collapse. And so climate justice is about thinking through these fundamental inequalities that exist in the structures, the economic and social structures, of our society and working to change those injustices at the structural level. And in so doing, we are able to take action on climate change, but we're also able to build a better and more justice society and acknowledge the fact that climate change has different impacts on different people. So has disproportionately large impacts on women, on poor people, on marginalized communities, on Black, Indigenous, and communities of colour. So we want to be not only reducing our emissions and seeing the limit of average global warming, but we also want to be really tackling things at the structural level so that we are both reducing emissions and figuring out how to live in greater harmony with one another and live with more compassion in our communities.

Lama Alsafi (05:28):

Can you tell us a bit more about this Catherine, a bit more about the effects of climate change on marginalized populations here in Canada, and also around the world?

Catherine Abreu (05:37):

We see this really everywhere we look. There's really incredible work actually being done in Canada through projects like the ENRICH Project, taking a look at environmental racism, and this is the kind of disproportionate location of polluting or environmentally harmful facilities in Black, Indigenous and communities of colour. So if we take a look across Canada, we see that facilities that cause pollution and often are the underlying cause of human health issues are often located in or near communities that are Black, Indigenous or predominantly communities with people of colour. We also see this trend globally where generally communities or sorry, nations, that are still industrializing that has less wealth than other countries. These are generally the nations that are least responsible historically for climate change, and yet they are bearing the most severe impacts of the climate crisis. And so that is what we're talking about when we talk about the disproportionate impact of climate change on marginalized communities.

Catherine Abreu (07:06):

But we also see that it is often in these communities that we have the most incredible climate leadership. It is often in these communities where we have practices of resilience that we need to be learning from in order to confront the climate crisis. And as I said, you know, we know that women are often disproportionately impacted by climate change because they're often, you know, the providers for family, they're often the first to go without food when food is scarce because of climate impacts. But also women are often such a rich source of climate solutions. And so it's both these communities that we need to be thinking about and working to protect, but also that we need to be learning from, in order to take action on climate change and really commit ourselves to climate justice.

Lama Alsafi (08:03):

COP26, the UN climate change conference was slated to take place in November this year, but unsurprisingly, it was postponed due to the pandemic. Now with a year to go until the next climate conference, what commitments do you want to see from countries and leaders around the world now? And Catherine, what do you hope the next conference will achieve?

Catherine Abreu (08:21):

So 2020 was supposed to be the year of ambition. Instead, 2020 was a year of reckoning, a year where we came really into confrontation with those economic and social injustices that I named earlier that underlie and worsened the climate crisis and where we also learned how inextricable human health is with the health and wellbeing of the non-human world. And so I think in 2020, we've been reminded of how essential it is for us to take action on climate change and other ecological crises. And 2021 has to be the moment where countries come back to the table and deliver more ambitious climate pledges than they were ever considering the past, and put a bunch of money on the table to back it up.

Lama Alsafi (09:14):

What sort of commitment would you be looking for Canada to make at the next conference?

Catherine Abreu (09:19):

Canada's current promise in the Paris pledge is to reduce emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. And I know that's a lot of numbers, but really the important thing is when we think about what candidates contribution needs to be relative to our historic responsibility for the problem of climate change, our ability to act on climate change as one of the 10 wealthiest nations on the planet, and as a country that claims climate leadership on the world stage. And so we at Climate Action Canada have crunched the numbers and we say that our level of ambition has to double. We have to go from promising to reduce emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 to reduce emissions, 60% below 2005 levels by 2030. And that is what can bring us closer to doing our fair share of living warming to 1.5 degrees. And it's not just about what we do here at home. Yes, we have to dramatically ramp emissions down here in Canada, but we also have to dramatically scale up our assistance to other countries so that they could do the same

Lama Alsafi (10:34):

Catherine, in thinking about climate change advancements and solutions, I wonder what inspires you and gives you hope for the future?

Catherine Abreu (10:42):

What inspires me is the incredible movement for climate justice that we have seen flooding the streets all around the world in the last few years. I've been a part of the climate movement for well over a decade now and I remember in 2016, I went to what had at that point, been the largest climate march of my life in Quebec City. And that march had 25,000 people at it in September of 2019, I went to climate marches in New York and Montreal. The one in New York had 400,000 people at it, and the one in Montreal had half a million, 500,000 people. Almost 35% of the population of Montreal was at that march. And so seeing this exponential growth in the number of people who are willing to put their bodies in the streets to demand action on climate change, to demand that governments face this crisis with courage and with conviction, that's what gives me hope. I also really am inspired by the fact that increasingly we are talking about climate justice. We are understanding that the systems of control, of extraction, of oppression that thrive on White supremacy and lead to the brutalization of Black, Indigenous communities and other communities of colour. Those are the same systems that underlie the climate crisis. And so it's really only at working at that systems level that we can get the transformational change we need. And I see that understanding really dawning in the climate movement. And that gives me hope as well.

Lama Alsafi (12:19):

Catherine, what can our listeners do to be activists for real, positive change in the face of the climate crisis? How can we drive meaningful accountability among decision makers and the public and the private sector?

Catherine Abreu (12:30):

Here's my three point plan for how you can take action on climate change [laughter]. It's in order of importance as well. So number one, talk to the people you know and love about climate change and the fact that you're concerned about it. Study after study shows us that the only way people change their minds is by talking to people they know and trust. We often are reluctant to talk to our friends and loved ones about climate change because we think we don't know enough about it, or we think it's an uncomfortable subject. But it's only in expressing our concern about climate change and our desire to see something done about the climate crisis can we open the door to other people to do the same. Number two, talk to your elected officials, regardless of your political affiliation. Climate change is a non-partisan issue, and every elected official has to hear from their constituents that they want their elected officials to take action on climate change.

Catherine Abreu (13:36):

We have to get to a place in this country where every single political party at every scale of government understands that we are in a climate emergency and they have to do something about it. And the only way that they're going to know that is if you talk to them as their constituent. And finally, number three, use energy less and better. This is the kind of individual action thing. It's true that we can have an impact, a small impact, and we can feel better about living our values if we figure out how to use energy more efficiently. How to get around using public transportation or active transportation or carpooling rather than our single passenger vehicle trip in our internal combustion engine vehicle. But ultimately the change that needs to happen is that big systems, structural level change. And so that's why the first two things are more important than the third thing. The structural change is more important than your individual action. And so fighting for that communal effort is really where the effort needs to be.

Lama Alsafi (14:39):

Catherine, thank you so much for this great discussion today and for all of your work to inform, to inspire, to advocate for climate action and climate justice. Thank you. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in and making a difference in your own communities. As always, you can stay up-to-date on our newest episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World on Spotify and iTunes.