By Leslie Fields
Climate change is the issue of our generation. While there are great challenges, there are also phenomenal opportunities. This issue should bind earth’s peoples together regardless of nationality, race, ethnicity, clan/tribe, gender, age, ability, religion, economic status, etc. This issue should provide opportunities to alleviate the world’s ills due to capitalism, consumerism and exploitation based abovementioned realities. This issue should drive sustainable lifestyles based on new technologies and economic opportunities. This issue should make everyone understand that earth’s ecosystem is fragile and not infinite.
Instead, the organizers of COP15, just at the moment of when more people (particularly in the NGO community) became involved-from all over world, the organizers saw fit to limit access. Just at the moment when young people got truly energized by an issue that will define their generation, the organizers and host government cracked down on public participation in brutal ways. On the first through third day of the second week, many registered participants stood in line outside in the freezing cold for up to eight hours just to get into the Bella Conference Center. Access to the official conference center was increasingly limited every day. While the words accountability and transparency were thrown around and are expected to be complied by certain governments—the conference organizers operated in no such way and should be held accountable.
The deal announced demonstrates the U.S. is facing in the right direction and is at least engaged (again). This deal, however, will prove to be too late for countries already suffering from catastrophic effects of climate change. This deal will only mean something if those of us in the U.S., who are engaged in this issue, up our engagement levels. We must truly commit to sustainable lifestyles ourselves and work hard to educate, advocate and fight with those in our communities who are also suffering catastrophic effects of climate change. We have the power to make the change with our government. We have the power to lead so that the U.S. will lead. African Americans are in a unique position to once again be the vanguard of a movement that will change history.
Beverly H. Wright, Ph.D., is a Professor of Sociology at Dillard University in New Orleans and Founding Director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ), one of the few community/university partnerships that address environmental and health inequities in the Lower Mississippi River Industrial Corridor, often referred to as Cancer Alley. Since Hurricane Katrina, much of the work at DSCEJ has focused on research, policy, community outreach, assistance and education for displaced African American residents of New Orleans.
Dr. Wright, herself a victim of Hurricane Katrina, is an advocate for the safe return of New Orleans residents, addressing issues of health and environmental restoration and monitoring fairness as these relate to standards of clean up.
This year Dr. Wright was honored with a Heinz Award for her environmental justice work, particularly within Cancer Alley. In 2003, she was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and in 2006 received the Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leadership Award.
Calling for “action over inaction,” President Barack Obama today called for “mitigation, transparency, and financing” in the fight against climate change. Speaking in Copenhagen today he said the U.S. would cut “emissions in the range of 17 percent by 2020, and by more than 80 percent by 2050 in line with final legislation.” Further, he conveyed that America has made its commitment, referencing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s remarks on Thursday, and stating that we are “ready to get this done today.”
Read his full speech:
Remarks of President Barack Obama-As Prepared for Delivery
December 18, 2009
Good morning. It’s an honor to for me to join this distinguished group of leaders from nations around the world. We come together here in Copenhagen because climate change poses a grave and growing danger to our people. You would not be here unless you – like me – were convinced that this danger is real. This is not fiction, this is science. Unchecked, climate change will pose unacceptable risks to our security, our economies, and our planet. That much we know.
Leslie G. Fields, Esq., National Environmental Justice Director for the Sierra Club, is also an adjunct professor at Howard University School of Law, co-teaching international environmental law and co-coordinator of the Environmental Law Clinical Externship.
She formerly served as International Director of Friends of the Earth-U.S., and has worked with community groups, nonprofits, the private sector and all levels of government. She focuses on the intersection of international environmental justice, democracy, corporate and civic governance and globalization.
Ms. Fields has worked extensively on oil/gas natural resource extraction issues (e.g. the West African Gas Pipeline), as well as on climate change and water privatization in Western and Southern Africa. She has devoted time to serve on the boards of Horn Relief, a Somali women’s development and environmental organization, CERES (Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies), the National Black Environmental Justice Network, the Texas NAACP, and EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council’s International Subcommittee.
Commission to Engage African Americans on Climate Change Supports a Just, Fair, and Equitable Climate ProgramDecember 17, 2009
COPENHAGEN – As delegates from around the world gather in Copenhagen for the UN climate conference, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies’ Commission to Engage African Americans on Climate Change (CEAC) today reiterated a set of principles for consideration as nations seek to come to agreement on a global pact to mitigate climate change.
The CEAC believes that just and responsible climate change action should achieve the following goals:
- Reduce emissions to avoid dangerous climate change and as a result to improve overall air quality and public health;
- Shift America away from an over reliance on fossil fuels to a clean energy economy;
-Recognize and minimize any adverse economic impacts resulting from regulating dangerous green house gases; and
- Ensure that vulnerable communities are not disproportionately impacted by climate change mitigation policies.
“There is a fierce urgency in the African American community with regard to climate change and its effects,” said Carolyn Green, Chair of the CEAC Delegation attending COP15. “Our polling shows that large majorities of African Americans believe global warming is a serious problem and a threat to their own communities, and they want government to do something to reverse it. We hope that the United States continues to fully embrace this extraordinary opportunity to lead the world in crafting a just global climate policy.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced in Copenhagen on Thursday that the U.S. would contribute to a $100 billion fund to assist poor and developing nations adapt to climate change and work toward a more energy efficient global economy.
According to the Washington Post, “Seeking to unblock an impasse in climate talks, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States would only commit to building the fund if nations gathered here for global climate talks produce an international accord that includes emission reduction commitments from both developed and major developing countries; financial and technological assistance for poor countries; and a way to independently verify the cuts all nations made.”
Earlier in the week Clinton, in an editorial for the New York Times , called for transparency in the climate agreement, a move applauded by many leading environmental NGOs. “Transparency—knowing whether countries are living up to their commitments— is the linchpin of an effective global effort,” said Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund.
Read the Washington Post and New York Times coverage of Secretary Clinton’s announcement.
Commission member Dr. Robert Bullard participated in a discussion with a distinguished panel of experts in Copenhagen sponsored by the University of Delaware’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy.
The panel explored alternatives to the global marketplace paradigm of climate change policy solutions. Speakers discussed place-based strategies for addressing climate change that rely on community action and municipal cooperation, including strategies for improving energy, food and transit systems and for encouraging the development of clean technology. Dr. Bullard emphasized that for any city’s clean energy or sustainability plan to be successful, planners must use equity and justice concerns as a determining factor in the urban design process and in the allocation of energy and transit resources.
Other panelists included: Dr. John Byrne, University of Delaware Distinguished Professor of Energy & Climate Policy and Member of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Dr. Mark Alan Hughes, Distinguished Senior Fellow, University of Pennsylvania, School of Design and former Director of Sustainability for the City of Philadelphia; and Dr. Cecilia Martinez, Senior Policy Fellow at the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, University of Delaware.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux, President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina is an economist, author, and commentator, and described by Dr. Cornel West as “the most iconoclastic public intellectual in the country.”
Dr. Malveaux’s writing appears regularly in USA Today, Black Issues in Higher Education, Ms. Magazine, Essence Magazine, and The Progressive. Her weekly columns appear in The Los Angeles Times, Charlotte Observer, New Orleans Tribune, Detroit Free Press, and the San Francisco Examiner. She appears regularly on CNN, BET, Howard University’s TV Show, Evening Exchange, and has appeared on PBS, Fox News Channel, CNBC, and C-SPAN, and has hosted talk radio programs in Washington, San Francisco, and New York. She is CEO of Last Word Productions, a multimedia production firm headquartered in Washington, DC.
Frank M. Stewart is President and Chief Operating Officer of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE), which gives members a pathway to become more involved in the energy industry and energy policy. He is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy.
“There is potential for an entire transformation of energy in America, as we know it,” Mr. Stewart said in Copenhagen on Tuesday.
On the topic of green jobs and their impact on communities of color, he said, “The greatest opportunity for economic progress is at our doorstep now being formed.”
Mr. Stewart is the recipient of some of the DOE’s highest awards and was honored by the Association of Energy Engineers as its Energy Executive of the Year. Currently he is a member of the Board of Directors of the StEPP Foundation and the Board of Advisors of the International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technologies. Since 2006, he has been a member of EPA’s National Advisory Council for Environmental Policies and Technologies, and co-chairs the Working Group on Energy and the Environment.