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Montreal marathon ends with pledges to slash emissions

Premier: “As Inuit, taking on this challenge, we won’t be alone”

By JANE GEORGE

MONTREAL — Relief: that’s what those who toughed out the final, punishing night of the United Nations Climate Change Conference felt early last Saturday morning.

Cheers, hugs and clapping broke out in the nearly empty meeting hall as federal environment minister and conference president Stéphane Dion finally slammed down his gavel at 6:17 a.m.

“We have completed our Montreal marathon, although the road before us remains so long. We are going to reconcile humanity with its planet,” Dion said as he ended the 13-day conference.

On Dec. 9, the last official day of the conference, Prime Minister Paul Martin joined Bill Clinton, the former United States president, to make a pitch for the world to work together in the fight against climate change.

“In 40 years we’ll have a meeting like this on a raft somewhere… unless we do something,” Clinton warned.

Clinton urged delegates to the UN climate change conference to think like municipal and regional leaders. Earlier in the week, leaders representing cities and regional governments pledged to slash their greenhouse gas emissions.

In Montreal, the premiers of Quebec, Manitoba, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories signed a declaration with 200 regional government leaders from around the world that committed them to work together on emission reductions.

Nunavut’s premier, Paul Okalik, told the gathering that the effects of climate change on Nunavummiut are “significant.” Okalik said permafrost in Nunavut is thawing and the melting of land and sea ice is producing “raging and dangerous rivers.”

“We’re living with climate change today. And it’s not very pretty. And as Inuit, taking on this challenge, we won’t be alone,” Okalik said.

The declaration recognizes the roles of regional governments in crafting climate-change policies and urges them to plan climate-change action beyond the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Nearly 200 mayors at a parallel meeting of municipal leaders also promised to cut their cities’ greenhouse gas emissions.

During the final hours of the conference, delegates approved extending the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 for the 159 nations who have ratified the deal. In the last minutes, they approved an action plan to start a “dialogue” on climate change among all the world’s 180 nations, including the U.S.

“Facing the worst ecological threat to humanity, you have said: the world is united, and together, step-by-step, we will win this fight,” Dion said to the delegates.

The move towards formal recognition of the Arctic as a region “vulnerable” to climate change was left aside, as Dion struggled to make progress on issues where there was already consensus.

But many speakers during the conference’s closing statements did refer to the impact of warming in the Arctic — the first time this has ever happened, according to long-time observers of international climate change conferences.

And many statements also mentioned the impact of climate change on people. Inuit Circumpolar president Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s message about the “human face” of global warming was picked up by many nations whose citizens are or stand to be affected by extreme climate changes.

The Montreal deals may breathe new life into the Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S., the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, hasn’t ratified. Under Kyoto, 40 industrialized nations agreed to cut emissions by over five per cent from 1990 levels. But most now say deeper and more long-term cuts are needed. Canada has to cut its own greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 30 per cent, just to meet its Kyoto targets.

The new “action plan” says the world’s nations, including the U.S., will now “engage in a dialogue, “exchange experiences” and “analyze strategic approaches for long-term cooperative action to address climate change,” but the plan has no timetable or targets.

The open-ended “dialogue” is supposed to look at, among other things, sustainable development strategies, adaptation and new technology.

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