Photo: Inside look at the UN climate conference

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By Steve Kux, Climate Change and Clean Energy Communications and Research Specialist

A UN conference is a surreal experience.

I've been lucky to be among leaders from around the world for the last few days, representing DSF along with Science and Policy Director Ian Bruce.

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This climate conference is the 21st meeting of its kind. Its goals: to develop an effective global response to climate change with strategies beyond the year 2020; and to establish a means to financially assist developing nations as they face greater vulnerability to climate change.

As accredited observers, Ian and I have access to the conference's restricted "Blue Zone" where negotiations are taking place. Civil society groups and businesses are hosting events open to the public in the "Green" and "Red" zones, respectively.

The atmosphere is electric. The summit is being held at the Paris-Le Bourget airfield, where Charles Lindbergh landed the Spirit of St. Louis after completing the first successful trans-Atlantic flight. One hundred thousand people welcomed Lindbergh, eager to usher in a new era in aviation. There are 40,000 of us in Paris now — most similarly eager for a new era in global co-operation and sustainability.

Day one of the conference was a whirlwind of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. After making our way through strict security checks, we met with the Canadian Climate Action Network for a briefing on the day's events. Over the next several hours we rushed around the vast site, attending meetings with experts; a lunch event hosted by the premiers of Ontario, Alberta and B.C.; and a news conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and five provincial leaders before finally (and somewhat frantically) jumping into a room with the CAN team to hear the prime minister's summit address.

In between, we chatted with Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, new Liberal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, and Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Glenn Murray. All agreed that now is the time for Canada to take a leadership role in the fight against climate change. Justin Trudeau's declaration "Canada is back!" was met with thunderous applause.

Canada has a historic opportunity to step up by reducing emissions and speeding the transition to a clean economy. Cities and provinces have been leading the way for close to a decade, crafting innovative policies that have cut emissions while strengthening regional economies. It's time for our federal government to turn this momentum into a national strategy we can proudly present to the world. Young Canadians and future generations will have to live with the outcomes of the choices we make today.

In his speech, the prime minister committed to creating a climate action plan with more ambitious targets for driving down emissions and concrete strategies for meeting those targets — but the plan won't come for 90 days while the new government meets again with provincial and indigenous leaders.

Canadians are clearly on board. Over 25,000 united on Parliament Hill November 29 for the 100% Possible march to demand climate action, joined by hundreds of thousands in cities across the country and around the world. Thank you and congratulations to each and every one of you who participated, from everyone at the DSF — this powerful movement was on all our minds at the climate summit launch.

COP21 may not be the first or the last UN conference on climate change. But it's shaping up to be one of the most pivotal. Political will and public support are streaming together, which could lead to some real results.

This is just the beginning.

December 1, 2015

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