In December 2015 the world's governments will meet in Paris for a truly historic event -- the United Nations Framework Climate Change Conference. (UNFCCC). The objective of the conference is to protect Mother Earth from the assault of its most ungrateful inhabitants. The challenge is whether Homo sapiens, especially those of the ruling classes of the United States and Europe, can be civilized by the rest of the world before it is too late for all of us.
The challenge to the UNFCCC focuses on the growing world demand that the U.S. and Europe -- as the greatest historical polluters, the initiators and beneficiaries of the Industrial Counter-Revolution, and the creators of economies based on slavery and conquest -- must lead the way with radical reductions of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) of at least 50 percent if not 60 percent or more over the next decade. My fear is that the world's governments, under pressure from the United States, President Obama, and the leaders of the European Union, will be unable to reach any agreement as we move towards the catastrophe of a 2 degree and then 3 degree world -- as massive and hysterical production and consumption in "the West" and the world system proceeds unabated.
I am a civil rights and climate justice organizer. I have been working at the United Nations through the World Conference Against Racism in Durban in 2001, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. I have spent the last year reading every version of the U.N. Durban Draft, and have attended, along with Strategy Center Associate Director Barbara Lott-Holland, two preparatory UNFCCC meetings in Bonn, Germany in May and October. I have spoken with hundreds of representatives of world governments and international NGOs. Based on this investigation and assessment I am deeply troubled by President Obama's role in this process and want to put forth some positive and necessary programmatic proposals.
The President's Present Trajectory -- A Tragedy in Four Acts
- President Obama is not just attending the UNFCCC in Paris -- he is running it. The U.S., as the world superpower with 800 military bases and its hand in every zig and zag of the Paris Process, is the elephant in the climate change bathtub. Whatever UNFCCC's achievements or failures, President Obama and the U.S. will be the chief architects. In my assessment, the U.S. tactical plan is to prevent any strong commitments in Paris that will expose the paucity of its own proposals. As I'll explain it is working to prevent a strong final document and is setting the bar for success very low so that the President can claim victory and protect any Democratic Party candidates from having to defend and run on a controversial climate agreement.
This battle is not over as many representatives of the G77 and China served notice there would be very contested negotiations in Paris to prevent a cover up masked as a coronation. And yet, many seasoned delegates from governments and NGOs told me they fear that President Obama will recreate his power play at the 2009 Copenhagen COP where he came in at the last minute and pushed through a draft agreement that undermined all the work that others had done -- and undermined what was left of the Kyoto agreements. In their view, President Obama shifted the burden from the U.S. and the E.U. to China and India. From President Obama's point of view, as he boasted to Jeff Goodell of Rolling Stone, in Copenhagen, he "crashed" a meeting of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, China, India) because he felt that the work they were doing was "a disorganized mess." He felt he had to "rescue" all the parties by "strong arming" them to agree that "it wasn't enough just for the advanced countries to act -- that China, India, and others, despite having much lower per-capita carbon footprints, given the sheer size of their populations and how rapidly they were developing, were going to have to put some skin in the game as well."
An alternative view, from the most militant climate organizers I have spoken with in both India and China is that President Obama, in fact did not lead with addressing the U.S.' historical responsibilities but rather, resorted to what they called "India and China bashing." And his "strong arming" was little more than Great Power Bullying. While it was a public relations victory for the president, in their view, his heavy handed behavior in fact set back the world climate movement immeasurably.
I have spoken with representatives of the Small Island States at the U.N. -- Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Samoa, who have begged the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to stop the floods and destruction of their islands and cultures. They observed, "The President has refused, telling us he can't get a strong commitment through a Republican Congress. But we feel it is he who does not really want to do it -- for all he has to do is make the case and make the Republicans look bad. But the U.S. is too powerful for us to challenge them directly. That is your job."
Four Climate Justice Proposals for Paris
My organization is going to Paris with four action proposals that we are asking the president to endorse and for which we will be organizing international support.
- The United States must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2025 -- starting now! The established science and the world climate crisis mandates the U.S. to initiate at least a 50 percent reduction of emissions from 1990 levels by 2025. Such a plan would have to go far beyond setting stricter standards for power plants and fuel efficiencies for cars. It would require shutting down factories, closing freeways, and stopping the U.S. society's obsessive compulsion with consumer goods. The Strategy Center has initiated a No Cars in L.A. and the U.S. Campaign as a radical but reasonable response to the severity of the problem. The president does not have to put forth a comprehensive plan to achieve a 50 percent reduction but since he was the one to impose the idea of "Intended Nationally Determined Contributions" he must start with the intention to do what is scientifically and climatically necessary--which is to popularize the concept of at least a 50 percent reduction from 1990 levels starting now.
On November 28 and 29 in Paris hundreds of thousands of demonstrators will be calling on the world governments to make the most radical reductions in GHG emissions and take the strongest actions possible to reverse the pace of lethal global warming. On November 30 through December 11 tens of thousands of government officials and NGOs will meet in Le Bourget, Paris to fight for a strong platform and agreement. Manuel Criollo, Barbara Lott-Holland, Channing Martinez, Ashley Franklin, and I, representing the Strategy Center, will be participating in those epochal events. Of course we cannot, alone, make history but as part of massive movements around the world for climate justice we can play an important role -- to raise the central question, "What are we doing to do about the United States?"
President Obama, who began as a community organizer, understands that our job is to bring clear proposals and demands on those in power with a strong scientific and moral rationale. We have seen the president respond positively to the militancy and moral clarity of the Dreamers and change some aspects of his immigration policies, respond to the militant advocates for gay marriage, and respond to Indigenous and environmental groups who called on him to end once and for all the Keystone XL Pipeline.
It is our job to build a base around our program -- to call on the president to change his baseline from 2005 to 1990 and his Intended reductions from 14 percent to 50 percent, to contribute $10 billion into the Green Climate Fund, to bring 100,000 Black Internally Displaced Residents of New Orleans back to their homes, and to end the Department of Defense 1033 Program.
Paris is a great arena for organizing, for as we said during the 1960s, "The Whole World is Watching." The President and we both understand the wisdom of Frederick Douglass who argued, "Power concedes nothing without a demand -- it never has and it never will."
Eric Mann, director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center, is an NGO delegate to the United Nations Framework Climate Change Conference. He will be doing daily "Posts from Paris" for Pacifica and his KPFK radio show, Voices from the Frontlines, www.voicesfromthefrontlines.com His new book, Katrina's Legacy: The Black Nation and the People of the World Confront the U.S. Empire and Its Genocidal Climate Crimes will have its international opening in Paris in December 2015 and its U.S. opening in Los Angeles in January 2016. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (Nov. 30-Dec. 11), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on climate-change issues and the conference itself. To view the entire series, visit here.