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Climate change solutions through hope and action

A Squamish resident is back from COP27. Here are her takeaways

Squamish's Elise Pullar, 26, recently returned from COP27. 

This was the 27th annual United Nations Climate Change conference, held from Nov. 6 to 20 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. 

At COP27, officially the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, almost 200 countries met to review environmental progress and decide on the path forward.

This conference focused on three main areas: climate adaptation, climate finance and a just transition off of fossil fuels.

The Squamish Chief caught up with Pullar for a conversation about her key takeaways from the convention that fellow Squamish residents can learn from. 

What follows is an edited version of that conversation.

How did you end up going to COP27 in the first place?

I work for an organization called Students On Ice (SOI). My role is to bring young leaders to international conferences so that youth voices, notably Indigenous youth voices, can be heard by decision-makers. We brought a delegation of young climate leaders from Northern Canada to COP27 this year so that they could engage in international climate policy.

I was a delegation lead. There were four young Northern leaders, my SOI coworker and two partners from Youth Climate Lab that were in attendance as well, within our delegation.

We find that they don't get much traction when we share climate or environmental stories. Many people seemed to have tuned out. For you, what were a few big takeaways from the conference that you think Squamish folks should care about? 

I do feel like with COVID, and with other global issues, climate change has taken a bit of a backseat, even though it's affecting us more and more each year, even in Canada. 

One really big thing was the fact that climate change can't be separated from human rights and it can't be separated from Indigenous worldviews. 

Because ultimately, the climate crisis is a human issue. It's not just an environmental issue. And as all of us being human, and living in Canada, we have the freedom to express ourselves fairly openly, and the freedom to vote. We actually have a lot of responsibility because what I experienced in Egypt was that there's a lot of climate advocates in this world that aren't allowed to express their needs, or take action because of ongoing systems of oppression. Even within Canada here, those inequities are with Indigenous people and Indigenous peoples' traditional territories, because they are disproportionately affected by climate change.

Climate change isn't just an environmental issue for young activists and for politicians to solve. I think everyone needs to be an advocate for climate solutions in their workplaces, and in their community circles.

As we saw with the heat dome, Squamish isn't in a bubble where we are not impacted, right? 

Climate change is essentially seeing more extreme weather events. And so we've been seeing more severe atmospheric rivers, forest fires, heat domes, and even unpredictability and seasonal changes; not really knowing when it's going to rain or warmer conditions at random times of year. People think climate change is just global warming, but it's actually the world becoming more and more unpredictable. And so I think because, in Squamish, we spend so much time outside, we are surrounded by nature, we really risk losing that lifestyle if we continue to contribute to the climate crisis.

I hate the doom and gloom side of discussing climate change; I think that's why people tap out and tune out of these conversations because it's devastating.

Instead of focusing on all those things that are changing for the worse, I think we need to start to envision a healthier and more resilient world. And I think we really need to centre in the hope and in the belief that we can have a better future and that we can create that future for our children and their children. Because if we just focus on the catastrophes, no one will want to continue working toward solutions. We already see that with young people in this community and across Canada. Climate anxiety and the mental health challenges related to climate change are on the rise. So I think with that, it's also even more important to gather in community and have this be a collective movement.

I think Squamish also has an opportunity to lead the transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to a circular economy. There are a lot of very aware people in the Sea to Sky. Especially because the District of Squamish has shown their support for a just transition off of fossil fuels. 

In 2019, the District of Squamish declared a climate emergency. But, since then, with COVID, the climate conversation has kind of disappeared from our day-to-day.

There's a lot of talk recently about a 'just' transition to a low-carbon economy, but what does that mean? 

There's a way to transition off fossil fuels that will leave people behind, and that's going to increase fuel prices and put renewable energy facilities in communities that can't support those things. 

And so a just transition is essentially phasing out fossil fuels and moving into a system that is reliant on renewable energy without leaving people behind while supporting populations that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and that are most vulnerable to the economic and social challenges we'll see with a shift from fossil fuels to clean energy.

I think that's some of the pushback we see in Squamish because there'll be people in the expensive Patagonia jacket who have well-paid jobs, telling people who have less to do better. It can be a very uncomfortable conversation when it seems top-down from people who can afford to lose telling people who can't afford to lose, right? 

Yes. Right now, not everyone can afford a Tesla, for example. And not everyone can afford the greenest solution. And so, it is about implementing regulations and policies to make smart climate solutions available to everyone, no matter their social or economic situation. That'll heavily come down to municipal, provincial, and federal governments.

My call to action would be for Squamish residents to hold local, provincial and federal politicians accountable for their climate targets they've already committed to. We have a lot of promises out there, and we have a lot of things on paper, but it's really going to come down to the collective push to see those things to be implemented. 

I think it's also really important to support Indigenous climate leadership. 

Indigenous peoples protect 80% of the biodiversity in this world but only make up 5% of the population.

So clearly, we need to support Indigenous people in the transition to a healthier planet. At COP27, I heard about the BC First Nations Climate Strategy and Action Plan. And I really think that is going to be a way forward. And something that we can all get to know and support.

Those two ideas are great, but how do we practically implement them? 

It comes down to having people in positions of power that support a just transition. 

Also, people should get involved in municipal politics, even if they don't see themselves as politicians or in positions where they can make decisions. I think interacting with council is really important and having opportunities for day-to-day people to interact with council and interact with the municipal government is really important.

And then, read this BC First Nations Climate Strategy and Action Plan to create an opinion around what you see as the best solutions moving forward. 

Within Squamish, we have the Squamish Climate Action Network that people can be a part of; we have the Squamish River Watershed society, which is really important for restoring the estuary.

And donating to BC Parks if people can. 

There are a lot of networks that people can be a part of.

My guess is someone who is reading this will comment online something to the effect of: Egypt, where the conference was held, has its own struggles with water scarcity and pollution — it's 27th out of 117 in world pollution — and then even having delegates flying to meet for the conference.the carbon impact of a single flight is quite high. 

So you are contributing to the harm you are fighting would be the argument. What do you say to that? 

In the world we currently live in, it's hypocritical every single day to be an environmentalist, but I don't think that should stop us from gathering because I think together, we're stronger. Climate change is so isolating, and climate work is so isolating, to gather in a strong movement together in the same time zone, in the same meeting room, not all over Zoom, there's a very different dynamic. When you're in-person sitting beside someone from Cameroon, for instance, who is experiencing drought, and on your other side, sitting beside an actual human being who lives in the Arctic and is experiencing the impacts of sea ice loss, it's just a very different feeling to be in those spaces.

I think of all reasons to fly, this is the most important because us not gathering all together is not going to stop people from going on vacation in Mexico, and it is not going to stop oil and gas representatives from meeting somewhere in the world to strategize. And yeah, it is hypocritical to fly, and I wish there was a more sustainable way to gather, but that's why we're meeting — to find a better way forward.

What were some other key takeaways from the conference? 

There was definitely tension between rich, polluting countries and poorer nations because those less-privileged nations bear the brunt of climate impacts. So there were many questions about who should pay for the cost of climate impacts. 

And there was a big demand for a loss and damage fund. Essentially, climate impacts are causing billions of dollars of loss of land, loss of homes and infrastructure and damage in general. And it's mostly causing those things in countries that are not contributing to the climate crisis and have very small emissions. 

One win from COP27 was that a loss and damage fund was created. It's still unclear who will put money into that fund, but it was created at least, so there's the infrastructure to get funding from wealthy nations that are polluting more, to nations that are contributing hardly at all to those emissions. 

Something that was called for was commitments around phasing out fossil fuels, but there was not a clear statement that said that.

There was talk about phasing out coal and about reducing methane emissions, but to stop climate change, we need to stop investing in oil and gas infrastructure. And there were no claims from Canada or from conference negotiators as a whole around that. That was disappointing.

Would you consider going into politics yourself? 

I don't know if, personally, I want to go into politics for my career because I love seeing the impacts of my work on the ground, and I do feel like the most tangible change happens at the grassroots level. 

And I'd rather work on the action piece than on the negotiations and the written agreements piece of this work. I found my niche more in the community side of things. But then, the more I work in Arctic policy and climate policy, the more I see how those frameworks are really what create change. 

I think we're sold this idea that it's up to the individual to change the world. And I really don't think it is. I used to believe that it was as a young environmentalist.

Now, I think we're sold that by industry to take the pressure off them. 

And so I think the most impactful level is the community level. And so maybe one day I'll get involved in municipal politics because I still feel like that's connected to the community,

Read more about COP27. 

**Please note that this story was modified after it was first posted to include information about the Youth Climate Lab.

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