For Climate Activists, All Eyes on Copenhagen

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Women such as Gracen Johnson have been pouring time and energy into demonstrations pressing for lower global greenhouse gas emission standards. Now many of them are hoping the U.N. meeting in Copenhagen this week won't be too disappointing.

Gracen Johnson leading Ottawa rally.(WOMENSENEWS)--Gracen Johnson hopes Canada, her country, will receive international criticism this week in Copenhagen, where the United Nations Climate Change Conference is being held Dec. 7 to 18.

"I want the world to recognize that Canada is not acting, not playing its part," said Johnson, a third-year international development and environmental studies student at the University of Guelph, Ontario. "The situation is so serious that inaction is inconceivable."

Canada, under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has committed to a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels by 2020. No budging, no room for negotiation, unless other developed countries take the lead. This is much lower than the 25 to 40 percent range that climate change advocates are demanding.

Canada needs to commit to scientific targets and a fair and binding agreement, Johnson said.

She has been doing what she can to stir up climate activism in Canada.

For the first 10 months of the year, Johnson, 20, mustered Canadians through blogging and social networking to convene at Parliament Hill, Ottawa, on Oct. 24. It was the International Day for Climate Action, organized by 350.org, a U.S.-based grassroots international campaign to raise awareness about climate change.

More than 3, 000 converged for Johnson's event, despite the nippy fall weather and a heavy downpour. "The event was telling Canada they need to lead, follow or get out of the way in Copenhagen," said Johnson.

350.org is lobbying lawmakers to commit to policies that will lower atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, or CO2--considered key to global warming--to 350 million parts per million. The current level is 387, according to a dynamically updating monitor on the organization's Web site.

'Women's Involvement Astonishing'

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, says women's involvement has been instrumental in building support for the campaign.

"The range of women's involvement is astonishing," he said, "ranging from women on the beach in California in bikinis to women in full burkas in Yemen and Zanzibar doing amazing things."

He credited women with organizing one of the biggest protest events last October: a march by 15, 000 young people on the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

McKibben said the disproportionate impact of climate change on women is more easily perceptible in developing countries.

"In places where there are already (climate change) effects taking place, women are bearing the brunt because they are often the people most involved in agriculture, in dealing with raising children, sickness and health," he said.

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