Where’s the Change We Can Believe In?
December 17, 2009
Affected Communities Deliver Letter to US Embassy Demanding Real Solutions to Climate Crisis
COPENHAGEN – On the eve of President Obama’s arrival in Copenhagen to attend the fifteenth United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties, organizations representing communities affected by climate change from around the United States delivered a letter urging President Obama to put a stop to the United States acting as a major barrier to real solutions to climate change, and instead to actively advance the concerns of vulnerable and impacted communities in the Global South and at home in the United States. “Global South” is a term often used to describe the G77 + China, or developing countries, including India, Brazil, the Philippines, South Africa, Kenya, and the Small Island Nations.
They held a press conference and rally in front of the US Embassy in Copenhagen, accompanied by chants of “Climate Justice Now!”
The letter was submitted by a convening of United States grassroots climate justice groups, including members of the North American indigenous communities delegation, the Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project (MG), the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative (EJCC), Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) and the Right to the City Alliance (RTTC).
In the letter to President Obama, the climate justice groups assert, “Unfortunately, the proposals and negotiating positions of the United States government continue to be the single biggest barrier to progress in the Conference of the Parties process. Between side deals, weak targets, false solutions, a lack of transparency and a failure to commit to a legally binding agreement, the U.S. is gambling with the future of life on this planet.”
Wahleah Johns from the Black Mesa Water Coalition offered, “Indigenous peoples and grassroots communities are consistently left out of the climate negotiations, although we are the ones who bear the brunt of the burdens of ecological crisis. For instance, Peabody Coal uses 3.3 million gallons of water every day for mining coal on my reservation. The majority of the people that live out there on the Rez don’t have running water, or electricity, but we supply southern California, Nevada, and parts of Arizona with all of their energy needs. We expect President Obama to demand and support the rights of impacted communities to be at the forefront of just and equitable international negotiation processes.”
Speakers at the press conference and rally beforehand described the impacts of current ecological crises in their communities. Surrounded by colorful signs and banners, they also offered five actions that President Obama could take to address climate change at a scale and speed that would sufficiently match the scale and timeframe of the current ecological crisis.
For instance, Kandi Mossett (Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara), a young Indigenous woman from Fort Berthold, North Dakota, is fighting a so-called clean fuel refinery in her community, including low-wage, dirty jobs and increased debt. Mossett knows firsthand the differential and disastrous impacts of oil refineries – including so-called clean ones – on community health: she’s survived cancer. She continues, “I’m lucky enough to be here but a lot of our people aren’t here anymore. They’re buried under the ground, because of what our governments are doing to us. Given what we know about climate change, why would we continue on this course? We are all going to be wiped off the face of the planet if this continues to happen.”
The letter proposes that rapid and deep reductions in emissions at the source are critical to meeting meaningful targets for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and urges President Obama to immediately reduce the US consumption load, without offsets, by a minimum 49% deduction from 1990 levels by 2020.
Likewise, Henry Clarke, the Executive Director of the West County Toxics Coalition from Richmond, CA, said, “The North Richmond community is on the frontline of Chevron’s chemical assault. We have experienced a lifetime of chemical exposure, asthma, cancer and death. These are human rights violations.” The letter proposes that solutions must include a rights-based framework that adheres to other United Nations rights-based frameworks set out in declarations, covenants and conventions, regardless of whether or not they are ratified by the United States.
Another necessary action demanded by the grassroots climate justice groups included the “recognition and payment of the climate debt” to the Global South. They stipulated that these climate debt repayments would have to be administered through a transparent, funding source and not current multi-lateral development institutions, which they say have failed to provide sustainable development pathways for the Global South, including the World Bank.
Jose Bravo, of the Just Transition Alliance out of San Diego, CA, added that for communities from the global South in the North, sustainability and environmentalism was not a new thing. For Bravo, “Just transition is about shifting from polluting jobs to clean jobs, polluting industries to clean industries.”
Michele Roberts, from Advocates for Environmental and Human Rights out of New Orleans, Louisiana and Washington, DC, adds that communities from the South in the North – like those in the Gulf Coast region – are on the frontlines of ecological crisis, while the beneficiaries of unsustainable resource practices will feel it less. Likewise, a 2 degree Celsius rise in average global temperature is predicted to mean at least a 3.57 degree Celsius rise over continental Africa. Gopal Dayaneni explains, “Two hundred years of compounded industrial production has already committed us to severe and catastrophic consequences for the poorest people on the planet, including much of Africa, coastal Asia, indigenous people and small island states.”
The letter was delivered by Gopal Dayaneni from Oakland, CA and Roxana Aguilar from Los Angeles, CA.
Kalila Barnett, from Alternatives for Community and Environment, out of Boston, MA, closed with the following message to President Obama: “You campaigned on a platform for change and your belief that change doesn’t come from Washington, it comes to Washington. Change is here, on the streets of Copenhagen, and all over the world. Climate Justice Now!”