Region of Waterloo residents vote strongly in favour of climate change action

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Over 100 Canadians from the Region of Waterloo gathered June 6 at the Knox Presbyterian Church to share their views on climate change as part of the World Wide Views (WWViews) project. The event was part of a global initiative to bring together thousands of citizens in over 80 countries for one day to discuss and vote on questions and issues related to climate and energy. The results will be submitted to the United Nations COP21 climate change negotiations, which are scheduled to be held in Paris later this year.</p>

Participants of the event in Waterloo — which was organized by the Balsillie School of International Affairs in conjunction with several UW groups including the faculty of environment and the department of knowledge integration — were carefully selected to ensure they reflected the diversity of Canada.

“We took into consideration national statistics about people in different age groups, and their professional backgrounds,” Vanessa Schweizer, a professor from the department of knowledge integration as well as the organizer of the event, said. “We had statistics behind us to [make] sure we identified a nationally representative sample of people even though this was a local sample.”

The questions discussed were divided into five main themes: the importance of tackling climate change, tools to tackle climate change, UN negotiations and national commitments, fairness and distribution of efforts, and making and keeping climate promises. The participants were  split into groups of eight and, armed with information on climate change provided prior to and during the event, debated each topic with their group members before voting.

The results of the votes, which were counted on-site and immediately submitted to the WWViews website, were telling. The majority of Ontario respondents were very (71 per cent) or moderately (27 per cent) concerned about climate change. Approximately 80 per cent felt that climate change was not a national priority in Canada but believed it should be, and 93 per cent believed Canada should take measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions even if other countries don’t.

When asked if they thought the outcomes of the UN climate negotiations since 1992 have done enough to tackle climate change, 92 per cent said no. They were also asked their opinions on other issues such as carbon tax, contributions to the Green Climate Fund, and the responsibilities of developing countries versus developed countries in tackling climate change.

“As someone who is a climate policy expert, where I’m often talking to other experts at meetings or interacting with people from industry, sometimes within our own echo chamber we make the mistake of thinking that citizens have a rather cynical view of climate and energy and I feel that the results from this deliberation show that’s not true,” Schweizer said about the results.

“Citizens are not as cynical as they are often portrayed, or as people make the mistake of thinking that they are, maybe because of the way media coverage comes out sometimes. There are a lot of Canadians who are concerned about climate change, [and] there are a lot of Canadians who think that governments need to help lead the way,” she added.

At the end of the event, participants were encouraged to continue the conversation about climate change in their own communities. Schweizer also hopes to bring this data to the attention of elected officials.

“Some of the things we’re doing to add to that ripple effect of the conversations continuing is that we want to get this information out to local elected officials, all the way from the municipal level such as mayors, going up to MPs, MPPs,” Schweizer said. “We also think that the political parties will find this rather interesting, to see a snapshot of what Canadians in southern Ontario think about these issues, especially since it’s also an election year.”

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