U.S. Southern Delegates Both Laud And Denounce Historic Climate Agreement
(APN) ATLANTA — World leaders have reached an historic agreement to address climate change, with input––and pressure––from local delegations the world over, including from Atlanta, Georgia, and throughout the U.S. South.
The agreement, signed by 196 countries including the United States, sets a goal of keeping global temperatures from rising more than two degrees higher than pre-industrial levels.
“This agreement sends a powerful signal that the world is firmly committed to a low-carbon future. And that has the potential to unleash investment and innovation in clean energy at a scale we have never seen before,” President Barack Obama said in a press statement.
City of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who participated in the conference, highlighted the role of local governments in fulfilling the agreement.
“The City of Atlanta leads the nation in square footage of commercial building space committed to energy efficiency through the Better Buildings Challenge… In addition, we will soon deploy electric vehicles in the City’s fleet and install solar panels on 30 municipal facilities,” Reed said in a press release.
“It is by leading on climate action that Atlanta and other cities will build a healthier, more prosperous, and more competitive America,” he said.
While getting 196 countries to agree on anything is an accomplishment, it meant watering down what the agreement entails.
Leading climate scientist James Hansen called the agreement “worthless words.”
His criticism stems from the fact the agreement is nonbinding––there are no legal ramifications for countries that don’t follow through.
Furthermore, countries all set their own individual targets for reducing carbon emissions. Altogether, those targets do not meet the two degree goal.
The countries agreed to eventually scale up their targets to eventually meet the goal by reconvening every five years.
It is also up to individual countries to determine how to reduce carbon emissions. That leaves the door open for destructive practices, like fracking, that may result in lower carbon emissions compared to other energy sources, but still have horrific environmental impacts, Diana Lopez of the San Antonio, Texas, Southwest Workers Union (SWU), said.
“There’s a big frack site outside of San Antonio. The United Nations and the United States push that as a way to offset other mechanisms for extracting oil. But it’s not healthy at all. Wells in four counties [near San Antonio] have gone dry and they’re buying water from somewhere else,” Lopez told APN.
Lopez participated in the conference with two delegations. One, called It Takes Roots To Weather The Storm, was a delegation of over one hundred front line leaders from climate-impacted communities across the U.S. and Canada, including the Arctic. The other, Gulf South Rising, was a delegation from the five Gulf Coast states.
The delegations brought specific demands, and stories from communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis.
“Solutions are already happening on the ground. People doing this work locally have already started developing community-based ownership of energy, alternative forms of energy, and systems based on based on social justice rather than corporate strategies,” Lopez explained.
The front line delegations used direct action to pressure diplomats to set the temperature limit at 1.5, rather than two, degrees above pre-industrial levels.
They also called for the agreement to define climate justice using the framework of human rights and to affirm indigenous land sovereignty.
None of that made it into the final agreement.
Many environmental organizations have hailed the agreement as a victory in spite of its shortcomings.
“Paris marks the beginning and not the end of the work that must be done… This historic international agreement is what the American people demanded, what future generations deserve, and what the world needs,” the Sierra Club said in a press statement.
At least some groups representing the most vulnerable communities are less forgiving of the agreement’s flaws, however.
“We refuse to negotiate our lives. We refuse to trade a coal plant for X number of trees. That’s not a real solution. The reality is that our communities are still going to be the most affected. They are still going to die and they are still going to flood. That’s where we differ from the ‘big greens,’ the idea that getting a little bit further is a victory,” Lopez said.
That does not mean that she and other front line delegates are pessimistic. They draw hope from the thousands of people who took to the streets, participated in direct actions, and held their own forums to determine how to engender a “Just Transition” from fossil fuels.
“There’s a growing movement of people working toward a Just Transition on the ground. We are creating own sources of funding, creating our own systems and structures based on the principles of social justice and environmental justice. Our accomplishments in Paris were that we built deeper networks and deeper relationships for advancing this global movement,” Lopez said.