Memorial student to attend global climate talks in South Africa

Justin Brake
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Meghan McCarthy — File photo

When world leaders and government delegates meet in Durban, South Africa, for the Conference of Parties 17 (COP17), a Memorial University student will be monitoring closely and reporting on Canada’s involvement at the Nov. 28-Dec. 10 global climate talks.

The enormity of the challenge that awaits 24-year-old St. John’s resident Meghan McCarthy, who leaves for South Africa Saturday, and the other 17 members of the Canadian Youth Delegation (CYD) is daunting, though.

A desire to influence Canada’s international climate-change policy  propelled McCarthy to apply to the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition to join the team in Durban.

“I always wanted to go and always wanted to be more involved, and I saw that as a good opportunity to be right in the thick of things and be a core member of the delegation,” she says.

Dedicated to advocacy

A fourth-year history student, McCarthy has made a conscious decision to dedicate her life to climate change advocacy. She says she awakened to the reality that global warming is “the greatest injustice that has faced our world, and also the biggest issue facing my generation and my community.”

“A lot of times (our leaders and delegates) say things they don’t mean or say things because it sounds good,” she says. “So it’s all good to say they think the youth are important, or they think the future of Canada is important, but the way they justify that is to say we have to keep (destructive) industries in mind, too, because they’re important to the future as well.

“We just don’t see that as legitimate. If we want our economy to truly be strong in the next 20 years, we have to stop locking ourselves into fossil fuel and other unsustainable industries because, ultimately, there will be a point in time where we will be forced to cut our emissions and move toward a greener economy.”

A member of the CYD’s media and communications team, Mc­Carthy will maintain contact with Canadian media outlets, write a blog for Oxfam Canada and contribute to a daily newsletter, podcast and blog for the CYD website.

She and her colleagues will also, for the first time, have direct involvement with the talks.

“We’re part of the youth constituency, which (allows us) to make interventions into the negotiations,” she says, “because this year we’re getting official constituency status. So we actually are a part of the negotiations, though what we say might not be taken to heart.”

McCarthy says there has been a “change in mood and attitude” among the general population.

“We are willing to ask the tough questions. We are clearly getting to a point where we’ve reached a breaking point and we’re not willing to just lay down and be quiet,” she says. “We’re going to be the most creative, organized, hard-working delegation that the UN has ever seen. And we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the media and the Canadian delegation to notice.

“I’ve been doing a lot of movement building here at home, talking to a lot of youth and doing outreach and trying to get people excited and make sure they’re following along with what happens,” she says. “This is the most important event that happens every year, because it determines our future. It determines how our economy functions, how our society functions, relations between nations, everything.”

Proud part of  Canada

But with last week’s announcement by Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent that, “however acute the international pressure, we will not agree to taking on a second commitment period target under the Kyoto Protocol,” Canada appears to be headed to Durban without any reasonable intent to negotiate an outcome in the interest of all, she says.

“I think that idea of Canada being a peacekeeping nation and being a nation that everyone should be proud to be a part of is really being torn apart, and climate change is a really big part of that,” says McCarthy.

“Canada at the negotiations is known for negotiating on behalf of the tar sands, which is one of the world’s biggest and dirtiest industrial projects … and not on behalf of the people of Canada.”

Prior to her departure, McCarthy will speak on the Climate Policy, Climate Justice panel about the COP17 negotiations at Memorial University Thursday evening.

The event is free, open to the public and runs from 7-8:30 p.m. in the University Centre’s room, The Landing.

For more information on the CYD and to follow McCarthy’s blog, visit

Organizations: Canadian Youth Delegation, Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, UN Kyoto Protocol University Centre

Geographic location: Canada, South Africa, Durban

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Recent comments

  • Laura Downing
    November 17, 2011 - 16:59

    Way to go, Meghan! An excellent opportunity. Safe travels, and I'm sure you'll have a great following on your blog, as many are quite interested in what will happen throughout the discussions. Way to be a debbie downer, Darren. It's an awesome chance to help make a difference b'y.

  • Mark H - Ottawa
    November 16, 2011 - 11:40

    Best of luck, Meghan! You'll make Newfoundland and Labrador very proud. I'll be reading your blog to stay up to date on your adventures in South Africa. Darren, you're right. An airplane trip would produce a lot of carbon. Perhaps she could take a canoe to London, a train to Egypt and then take a camel to Durban?

  • Darren
    November 16, 2011 - 07:35

    I wish you all the best and make sure you get all those carbon offsets for that long airplane trip and all the other consumption of energy this trip will produce.