Coping with the new world order 

Stabilizing our climate would be the best gift of all

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A cloud of hope in this season of hope is hanging over world leaders gathered in Lima, Peru, for the UN's Climate Change Conference.

Echoes of the Twelve Days of Christmas haven't been lost on the conference, which is happening over the first 12 days of December. It is composed of two parts: COP 20 (short for Conference of the Parties 20) to address climate change, and CMP 10 to lay the groundwork after the Kyoto accord expires, from which Canada shamefully withdrew three years ago.

Pundits, policy makers and scientists worldwide know that whatever gifts to our planet and our selves are delivered — or not — in Lima, there'll be few exchanges and no refunds in Paris next year.

That's when a more important round of COP will determine the new global accord for addressing climate change post-Kyoto, setting in motion who and what gets through the future landscape in tact.

Food supplies. Coral reefs. Mosses and lichen. Soil microbes. Habitat for everything from jaguars to blue jays; ecosystems from Whistler to Kathmandu. People who wonder where their fresh water supplies will come from; people who wonder if their country will be under water. Fish, flies, cattle, cattle dogs — all of it will be at the mercy of decisions made first in Lima, then Paris, all within the next 12 months.

You can check out the Lima proceedings and, if you're a media junkie, the press room's live at the UNFCCC. At first glance they may not seem as much fun as, say, Christmas shopping but, hey, these activities aren't mutually exclusive. Besides, it's actually pretty cool to see world leaders in action, unmediated by any news outlet.

As things get underway, it's great to see that the UN is actually getting better at bringing climate stuff "down home." Renaming the event "Climate Change Conference" was a good start.

I also like the personal touches like the head of the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is driving these events), Christiana Figueres or, possibly, her handlers, tweeting away. About a contemporary art piece riffing on the ancient Nazca lines; about her brother's now famous line that there's no Plan B for climate action because there is no Planet B. Or, my favourite, her tweet on the Religions for Peace vigil candle burning on the podium at Monday's opening ceremonies.

It's funny how powerful Christiana is but she only has 45,000 followers, while Lady Gaga has maybe 45 million. Regardless, I've always admired Ms. Figueres for ascending to such a position of real power as a woman, and for her toughness in fighting the good fight for a balanced climate.

I started tracking her work after my husband picked up her brother at Vancouver's airport in a hydrogen fuel cell Mercedes during the 2010 Winter Olympics. He was heading to the Carbon War Room meeting.

An intelligent, unassuming man, Jose Maria Figueres pretty much led the green revolution in Costa Rica, first as agriculture and forests minister moving the country from pesticides to biological controls, then as president pushing Costa Rica to eco-tourism, conservation and national parks. (Note to Premier Clark and Prime Minister Harper: 25 per cent of Costa Rica is now dedicated to conservation). He gave my husband his card, the most coveted souvenir we have from those halcyon days, saying if he ever needed anything, call.

I say all this to "friendly up" these critical UN events. Unlike "lawyering up," it's meant to humanize them and make them relevant to you, dear reader, and what you care about.

Wherever we travel, and I guess now we'll soon have to head back to Costa Rica, I notice people from Latin America, Europe and from Down Under are w-a-a-y more interested in COPs, the IPCC and all things UN about climate change. You can actually have a casual confab with them over coffee about COP this and IPCC that, and they don't go, "huh?"

Leading up to the Lima talks, a number of other initiatives have brought climate change "home" in accessible ways, like the 2050 weather report videos from around the world by the World Meteorological Association.

Featuring real weather presenters, they're based on scientific info from the IPCC and project what's going to happen with no change in direction. They show monster hurricanes drowning Miami's South Beach under water, and mega-droughts in the American Midwest scorching food supplies. (Canada's will be broadcast here on Dec. 5.)

For Peruvians, the 2050 weather report for Dec. 21, their first day of summer, warns of access to Machu Picchu closed for the first time in history because of heavy rains, recalling the 2010 flooding along the Urubamba River; drought on the west side of the cordillera shriveling up farms and ranchland; and coastal temps nearing 40 C with one of the worst El Niño's in history. Oh, and all glaciers below 5,000 metres — yes, metres — will melt soon, impacting water supplies for thousands of people and farms.

Which brings us to another "down home" nexus. Leading up to COP 20, Mark Hume wrote in the Globe and Mail about the impact of California's drought on B.C.'s food supply, which has become increasingly reliant on that state over the past 20 years. The term used was "alarming."

This year alone, California rice production fell 20 per cent; 170,000 hectares of farmland and 6,000-plus farm labourers were put to fallow; and the cost of pumping water from the dwindling aquifers cost the state over US$2 billion.

Time for Plan A — yesterday.

About the same time in Rome, two other UN organizations, the FAO and WHO, held a conference on nutrition to tackle the duality of global malnutrition: the plague of hunger and the plague of obesity. (One Metro Vancouver hospital has brought in special equipment to handle patients weighing up to 1,000 pounds.)

The landmark Rome Declaration states that everyone has the right to access safe, sufficient, nutritional food as well as clean drinking water, and calls for bold action to ensure it. Much like David Suzuki's Blue Dot Tour, it's stepping up to the threshold of sustainability via the yellow brick road of personal interest — food and drink.

The first bold action, just in time for Christmas around the world, should happen at the UN's own Lima climate conference. Let's see if the gifts get delivered.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who still hopes to visit Machu Picchu.

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