COPENHAGEN, Denmark â?? I joined with thousands of other folks converging on Copenhagen to ensure that voices of environmental justice/climate justice communities are heard inside and outside of the UN climate negotiations. Among affected communities, grassroots organizations, small island nations, and highly impacted countries, there is a noticeable shift in the discourse about climate change. Unlike a few years ago it is not merely about the science. Rather, issues of climate change have taken on broader implications of equity, human rights, cultural preservation, and gender equality.
Within this frame, several actions took place on International Humans Rights Day (December 10), as President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. Southwest Workers Union joined with the Indigenous Environmental Network, as the North American indigenous delegation delivered a letter to Obama at the U.S. Embassy demanding real action to reduce the emissions from the United States, including ceasing fossil fuel development and ending the support of false solutions like nuclear power and use of tree plantations as supposed “carbon sinks.”
Testimonies offered the human face behind fossil fuel extraction and climate change from Alaska to Arizona. After some negotiations with the extensive police force, the letter was accepted by a deputy at the Embassy. It seems the “Yes We Can” attitude of the Obama administration has rapidly faded from true leadership in Copenhagen. The U.S. government is proposing merely a 3-percent decrease below 1990 emission levels by 2020, falling below even the initial Kyoto targets of 5 percent and far missing the science-based demands of at least a 40 percent reduction.
This is the first international meeting where the U.S. has pledged to take an active role, after 8 years of refusal under the Bush administration. Both EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, and Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, presented briefings at the conference. Despite the presence of high-level government representatives and big talk about the U.S. taking leadership, few solutions have been offered. In fact, Salazar's statement came on the heels of his approval of more oil drilling in the last 5 percent of the protected coastal area in Alaska.
Yesterday afternoon, youth, environmental justice, and indigenous delegations formed a human chain and marched throughout the conference center to call for Human Rights and denounce the plan to allow emission reductions through forestry activities (i.e. tree plantations in the tropics). The chain stretched throughout the expansive Bella Center as we called on governments to protect the integrity of forests and biodiversity.
The sense of urgency is real. The Pan-African Congress called a two-degree-centigrade temperature rise “genocide.” The Tuvalu delegation, a small island nation from the South Pacific, walked out of the official negotiations and demanded a fair, ambitious and binding agreement and called for an open transparent process. (They rejoined the next day.) Unfortunately, the weak links â?? U.S., Canada, Australia, and Japan â?? have done little to move towards a meaningful agreement.
Some things in Copenhagen, however, offer some lessons for us in San Antonio. There are hundreds of miles of dedicated bike lanes throughout the city, which in spite of the chilly wet weather are generally packed. Buses, trains and metros link the country together with ease. A large wind turbine rises above the convention center, as Denmark has an ambitious plan for expand wind power.
Jill Johnson is the organizing director for the San Antonio-based Southwest Workers' Union, a non-profit organization dedicated to worker rights, environmental justice and community empowerment.