Canadian Youth To Canada: Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way on Climate Change

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Original post appears in Canadian Geographic online.

Copenhagen-- A giant orb glows in a major city square, while in another part of Copenhagen new steel cages await unruly protestors -- all signs that the United Nations climate negotiations are underway in Denmark's capital.

On Sunday, I sat down with Amber Church, the national director for the Canadian Youth Climate coalition, to get her take on the Canadian negotiating team for the next two weeks.

The 28-year-old called Canada a "lost lemming" in the global climate negotiations, even falling behind the U.S. with its inaction.

"Right now Canada is not leading -- it's not even following very well because Environment Minister Jim Prentice's line is, We can't do anything until the U.S. does something," Church said. "To be perfectly honest, the U.S. is ahead of us and we're not even following very well."

Her advice for Canada in Copenhagen? "Canada should lead, follow or get out of the way," Church said.

Church, who lives in Whitehorse, will be leading the Canadian youth delegation at the talks. The delegation is composed of a 35 activists from around the country, making up one of the largest youth delegations at the conference. This doesn't account for another 50 or so more Canadians who are attending with student delegations from universities, such as the University of Toronto.

Church said the Canadian youth will lobby hard for strong reduction targets, holding the Conservative government's negotiating team accountable for not supporting a climate bill earlier this year in the House of Commons, which called for certain emissions reductions.

"The Canadian public along with the House of Commons supports these targets and so we'd like to make sure our government is actually speaking for our people."

With this goal in mind, Canadian youth will be meeting with a growing list of Canadian politicians while in Copenhagen, including Prentice, NDP leader Jack Layton, Green Party leader Elizabeth May, environment ministers from the territories, and Canada's chief negotiator, Michael Martin.

A meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper is still in the works.

Church said these lobbying sessions with politicians will not be soft photo-ops, since the Canadian youth will be driving home their message, Church says.

"Canada needs to stop being obstructionist and Canada needs to come to the table and actually start participating," Church said.

Check back soon for more developments on the Canadian youth delegation in Copenhagen.

Liana B. Baker is the climate policy correspondent for Canadian Geographic in Copenhagen.