For Mihskakwan James Harper, being at COP27 is personal.
He grew up on Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation, where his family owned a trap line and had a front-row seat to the impacts of climate change.
“I have seen those causes of climate change through the exploitation of oil and natural gas in our territories and indeed climate change itself,” Harper told Global News. “Those projects have contributed to change in our territory and our landscape, and our ability to hunt and fish has been changed. The health of the water has changed.
“It becomes a little more difficult to be centered and close to the land, which is our teacher.”
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The 27-year-old is a mechanical engineer with a master’s degree in renewable energy.
He works in the energy storage business as the business development manager at NRStor Inc.
This past week, Harper was in Egypt as a delegate at COP27 with Indigenous Clean Energy.
“For me personally, I’m just very grateful to be here and have the opportunity to share our stories of where I’m from,” said Harper, who now lives in Winnipeg.
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He said carbon sequestration has a role to play, but not as a long-term solution.
“Carbon capture and storage has a role for now, but I definitely see us moving towards a total zero-emissions grid in the future,” he said.
“We have the means, the technology, the financing and we have all the smart people in front of us ready to go. It’s just a matter of committing to it and acting on it.”
Harper said he noticed a significant delegation from oil and gas companies attending COP27.
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“There is a very established and strong presence of influence and power that still exists in the oil and gas industry. But I also think as a young person it’s my responsibility and our generation’s responsibility to step up and hold our leaders accountable,” Harper said.
“I think it is the responsibility of young people to always challenge the status quo and ask why and how we can do better.
“That’s actually a teaching I was raised with as a Cree: to always include our young people, because all our actions will have repercussions and consequences for the future generations.”
Grace Young from Halifax is a member of Student Energy. The youth-led group shared ideas that young people have about clean energy.
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“It was also very exciting to see for the very first time at COP that there is a children’s and youth pavilion. It was pretty energizing to be a part of,” says Young who is the mentoring and events manager at Student Energy.
Young said Student Energy launched their first Youth Energy Outlook at COP26. She said this is the world’s first research project that showcases the perspective of more than 40,000 youth from 129 countries. They were interviewed to understand their vision for their energy future and for the climate future.
“We really need to see governments and organizations working to create space for young people to engage meaningfully, which means not only being able to express their opinion, but ensuring that it is as critically valued as the opinions of those who have been in the industry or in high-level positions for some time,” Young said.
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Harper said he was encouraged by the number of youth and indigenous voices at COP27 calling for a faster transition to clean energy, but he was disappointed there wasn’t more movement toward solar energy in Alberta.
“Alberta’s grid is still quite carbon intensive. It makes me a little sad to know that there is not much solar power.
“I know it’s changing albeit slowly, but there is massive potential in Alberta for clean energy and we just have to make sure we commit to it,” Harper said
Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Protected Areas, Sonya Savage, is leading a five-member delegation to COP27.
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Savage said Alberta has the fastest growing renewable energy sector in Canada.
“Our province is moving faster than anywhere else in Canada when it comes to wind and solar energy,” Savage said in a statement to Global News on Friday.
“There are currently at least 3,770 megawatts of wind and solar projects under construction, with an estimated value of $4.7 billion.”
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