Reflecting on the Clean Power Plan: Justice, Next Steps, and the Road to Paris

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On Monday August 3, U.S President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency released their long anticipated Clean Power Plan. The plan requires U.S. power plants to reduce emissions 32% below 2005 levels by 2030, and calls for tailored state-by-state action to achieve these target. It is the first-ever federal plan to limit carbon pollution and emissions from power plants, and is being heralded as the most serious action on climate change from any US president.

Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN International) Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake, issued the following statement in response to the final plan:


We thank President Obama for the forward step taken in the release of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which comes at a critical time for both the U.S. and the entire international community. The U.S. is one of the largest polluters on the planet, and our inaction on climate change has consistently held back global progress in addressing this crisis. We hope that the CPP will send signals and open the doors to stronger emissions reductions and international cooperation at the upcoming COP21 climate negotiations.

It is important that the CPP recognizes the immediate nature of climate change, the historic responsibility of the U.S., and our duty to future generations. The plan touches on the need for a truly just transition, including provisions that encourage states to focus renewable energy investment in low-income communities and communities of color, which continue to bear the brunt of climate impacts and toxic industrial pollution. Critically, the plan mandates that states must demonstrate how they are including these communities in the implementation process, and encourages green job training and support for people currently working in polluting industries.

That said, the Clean Power Plan has serious shortcomings and while historic, it is clear that the rule is inadequate given the science of global warming. Limiting power plant emissions is an important step, but if we are to avert catastrophic climate tipping points the CPP must be followed with bold action to end all new fossil fuel infrastructure projects, more ambitiously encourage 100% renewable energy, and quickly move to keep all fossil fuels in the ground. As the plan’s continued reliance on false solutions such as fracked natural gas, nuclear energy, and cap-and-trade schemes reveals, we cannot merely make changes to our existing energy system, we must boldly uproot and reshape it.

The real work will now fall to communities who will need to be organized and engaged to insure that the CPP is not blocked before it is given a chance, and that state-by-state implementation is done in a just manner. Social movements must be on the frontlines to demand that our states choose local renewable energy solutions instead of pursuing the natural gas and market mechanism loopholes left in the CPP. And we must demand that the administration goes further by stopping all fracking, preventing Arctic drilling, and rejecting tar sands pipelines, while gearing up for a massive just transition to 100% renewable energy.

Read more about the Clean Power Plan:

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Health & Climate: Changing the Narrative – Training Recap Day Two

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator

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On June 25, 2015 the U.S Women’s Climate Justice Initiative held the second day of an online education and advocacy training, ‘Health & Climate Change: What Is At Stake, What Can Be Done?’. A detailed review of day one is available here.

Day two featured four outstanding women leaders, Susan E. Pacheco M.D of the University of Texas, Pandora Thomas of EarthSeed Consulting LLC & the Black Permaculture Network, Angela Monti Fox of The Mothers Project, and Hannah Vogel with Climate Nexus.

Osprey Orielle Lake, co-Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International), spoke first, welcoming participants to the call and providing a brief background of WECAN International’s framework and vision for this training and other related work.

According to Osprey, the training call aims to bring together women from diverse groups across the US, acknowledging differing experiences and struggles, and working to build a powerful women’s voice for action on climate change. The training, and WECAN’s work in general, is centered on a climate justice framework, which means dedication to the communities who experience climate and health impacts “first and worst”.

“While we are all exposed to environmental degradation, we must take into consideration that frontline and Indigenous communities bear the biggest brunt of health and climate impacts, and that the only way to change this is through our involvement and action,” Osprey explained.

She noted that genuine action on climate change requires “systemic social and political analysis,” and asserted that women’s voices must be heard if we are to develop effective, long-term solutions. Osprey closed her introduction by inviting all participants to join WECAN International for a Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action, happening on September 29. Learn more about the Day of Action here.

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Dr. Susan E. Pacheco

Dr. Susan E. Pacheco took the floor as the first training presenter. Dr. Pacheco is an Associate Professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center specializing in pediatric asthma, allergies, and immunology. She is also the founder of the Alliance Of Health Professionals Against Climate Change and the Texas Coalition for Climate Change Awareness, and serves as the health representative for the Climate Science Rapid Response Team. Susan’s presentation, ‘Children in a Changing World: Silent Victims of Climate Change’, focused on climate-related threats to maternal and children’s health.

According to Susan, 88% of the worldwide disease burden falls on children under five years of age. Some of the things that make children especially vulnerable include the fact that they ‘breathe more air and drink more water’, have immature and developing organs, lungs, and nervous systems, are at a stage of rapid change, spend more time outdoors, need more ‘emotional shelter’, and face a lifetime of exposure and climate stress.

Dr. Pacheco discussed air pollution as a health impact stemming directly from fossil fuel use, and touched on a few more subtle health problems with severe impacts on children. Changing climate patterns are causing increased pollen production in plants, which is worsening allergies and causing respiratory problems. Rising temperatures are affecting ozone production, which changes air quality and has increased the prevalence of asthma. 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma. In U.S 20 million people are afflicted, 7 million of them children.

Echoing calls made during day one of the training, Susan pointed out that very little research has been done on the mental health impacts of climate change, which are thought to include apathy, depression, social stress, and PTSD, to name but a few. As a poignant example, Susan drew attention to the 160,000 children displaced and 15,000 children who did not go to school during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Pacheco also spoke on maternal health, discussing studies connecting women’s exposure to air pollution with autism risk in their children. She highlighted long-term brain damage and developmental issues as effects of exposure to industrial pollutants and fossil fuels during pregnancy, and commented upon pregnant women’s increased vulnerability during heat waves and other extreme weather events.

Susan presented passionately on issues of justice, reminding participants that the burden is not distributed evenly, with socio-economic background determining children’s relative exposure. She spoke to the fact that those who produce the least carbon emissions are the most effected, whether we are discussing differential impacts on children and adults, or between high and low-income communities and countries. According to her presentation, there are more than 700 million children living in the ten countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Critically, Dr. Pacheco explained that re-framing the climate conversation to bring health impacts to the forefront has the potential to inspire meaningful action like perhaps nothing else could.

“The moment that we change our conversation to bring health to the climate change debate our action will change,” she asserted, describing how health discussions can make climate change more relatable and bring an even greater sense of urgency to our response efforts.

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Pandora Thomas

Pandora Thomas spoke next. Pandora is a teacher, writer, designer, speaker and co-Founder of Earthseed Consulting LLC, a holistic consulting firm working to expand opportunities for sustainable living to diverse communities across the U.S. Pandora’s other projects include the Black Permaculture Network and Pathways to Resilience, a program working to engage people exiting the prison system in permaculture concepts and practices.

Pandora spoke with training participants about building community resilience and helping engage people in climate change and health issues by “meeting people where they’re at” and creating relevant, appropriate, and community led projects and initiatives.

“Where we are is very urgent, but ripe full of opportunities,” she began, introducing the West African concept of Sankofa, which translates roughly to ‘we must know from where we came in order to move forward’, used here in reference to the need to build on centuries of wisdom and tradition as we move forward in addressing climate change and its dire health impacts.

Pandora shared a powerful discussion of the disproportionate climate-health impacts felt by African-American communities across the U.S.

Pandora shared research that 71% of African-Americans live in counties that violate federal air pollutions standards. 78% live within 30 miles of coal-fired plant, and they are also more likely to live near landfills or incinerators. African-Americans have a 36% higher rate of asthma and die from this condition at twice the rate as Caucasians Americans. They are also at greater risk of heat-related deaths, (which will increase by at least 90% due to climate change) due in part to the fact that they are more likely to live in inner city areas. African-Americans are also more likely to reside in coastal areas prone to hurricanes, flooding, and sea level rise, and experience food insecurity at a rate 25.7% higher than the national average.

Pandora also drew connections between climate vulnerability, economic insecurity, and crime and violence, presenting the story of the Pathways to Resilience program as an example of how we can tackle the nexus of climate impacts in a constructive way.

In sharing the work of Pathways to Resilience, Pandora introduced the concept of permaculture as a key tool for restoring the health of the planet and people. Permaculture is a design system and way of living based on observing how natural systems work and seeking to emulate these patterns and principles in all that we do. Among many things, permaculture includes ecologic farming, soil and plant stewardship, green building, Earth-centered economics, water conservation and care, reduced consumption, and clean energy– making it a potent tool for build the kind of world we want – one that insures health for people and planet.

Some of Pandora’s other insights for addressing climate and health impacts within a justice framework include “connect to that which gives you strength”, “think of our potential instead of being mired in the problems”, “feed what you want to see grow”, and draw upon and uplift the existing experiences and solutions of frontline communities.

Angela Monti Fox spoke next. Angela is a mental health professional and founder of Mothers Project, an organization established in 2012 in reaction to the expansion of fracking and natural gas exploitation in New York and Pennsylvania.

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Angela Monti Fox

“[They are] drilling in everyone’s back yard and creating a public health crisis without the public actually knowing it,” Angela explained, noting that similar stories are repeated across the country, “poisoned water and sick children.”

Angela described how extractive industries and other big polluters are allowed to slide-by, dumping toxins into water and claiming that chemicals are diluted to such small quantities that they cannot affect people. The Mothers Project and countless other groups and communities across the world however, are testifying otherwise.

Angela cited a 1996-2009 study in Colorado which followed pregnant women living near gas wells and found birth defects and a 30% greater chance of these women giving birth to a preterm and/or underweight babies. It is being revealed that this kind of exposure can also result in endocrine disruption and DNA damage, meaning that children could be affected for life.  Angela also noted disruptions of children’s ability to “learn, love, bond”.

Angela and the Mothers Project team wrote and sent a letter to Michelle Obama asking for her support in addressing fracking and its health impacts on children. They received no reply, but continue undaunted in their work to expose and prevent these dangerous health impacts.

“A child centered model would bring the entire fossil fuels industry down in a massive action,” Angela explained, expressing her sentiment, much like Susan’s, that the public would care deeply if they understood the depth of the climate-health crisis. Mothers can and should be at the forefront of the movement to educate and inspire action.

We have the power and the science to shift our energy system, Susan concluded, “do we have the power in the people?”

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Hannah Vogel

Hannah Vogel, an associate with Climate Nexus, spoke as the fourth and final presenter of day two. Hannah presented an overview of an important climate and health report that was released just days before the June 25th training. The ‘Lancet Commission on Health & Climate Change’ frames climate disruption as the most pressing global health risk of the century, while conversely drawing attention to action on climate change as our greatest opportunity to address health problems worldwide, with immediate and long-term benefits.

Hannah touched on a theme highlighted by many presenters over the course of the two-day training –we simply must start paying a lot more attention to what our energy decisions mean for our health. According to Hannah’s overview of the Lancet report, we need to fundamentally shift our energy model and implement an ‘emergency-style’ response to climate change.

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During the training Q & A session presenters and participants returned to the subject of the Lancet Report to discuss concerns that, while the report makes powerful calls for action to shut-down coal based energy production, it does not make similar statements on fracking and natural gas, two toxic energy sources whose major health impacts were reviewed by Angela Monti Fox and other speakers during training day one. WECAN International will continue to review the Lancet Report and speak out about discrepancies in an otherwise powerful and important document.

Other topics discussed during the Q & A session include; why we need to pay attention to changing consumer behavior and companies visions rather than just policy, the importance of “finding peoples entry points” and framing climate and health discussions in a positive, inclusive way, and how we can create bridges between diverse movements for justice, referring specifically to the devastating Charleston shooting and Black Lives Matter movement.

In reflecting on the two days of ‘Health & Climate Change: What Is At Stake, What Can Be Done?’ training a few key themes become apparent:

  • Children, women and elders are disproportionately vulnerable to health problems stemming from climate impacts.
  • Low-income communities are more likely to be exposed to toxic industrial sites, fossil fuel infrastructure, and extreme weather events.
  • The fossil fuel industry is the root source of much pollution and climate change-related health problems – addressing health impacts thus means working towards 100% renewable energy.
  • Direct action at the local community level is effective and we all have the power and potential to get involved.
  • Re-framing climate change conversations to reflect pervasive health impacts is central to insuring deep, sustained action on climate change.
  • Education is the key – it is up to all of us to raise our voices and get out in our communities to help connect the dots and re-frame the climate change conversation to include critical health impacts.

For information on future WECAN International education and advocacy calls, please click here.

Health & Climate Change Day Two Training Resources

For Our Children & All Generations: Health & Climate Change Training Recap Day One

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator

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Human health and the health of the planet are inseparable. A constantly interacting cycle, our destruction and waste is stressing Mother Earth’s vital organs to the point of collapse, which in turn is causing epidemics of pollution and disaster related health problems in our communities.

Children, elders, and women are impacted with disproportionate severity – and low-income communities are often marginalized and placed directly in the path of toxic sites and extreme weather events. The topic of health and climate thus emerges as both an existential crisis, and as a question of deep social and environmental injustice.

On June 23, 2015 women from across the United States joined together to participate in the first day of ‘Health and Climate Change: What Is At Stake, What Can Be Done?’, an online education and advocacy training presented as part of the WECAN International U.S Women’s Climate Justice Initiative. Day one of the training featured Sheila Bushkin-Bedient, M.D. , Pramilla Malick, and Cherri Foytlin.

Osprey Orielle Lake, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN International) opened the call and passed the floor to Dr. Sheila Bushkin-Bedient, M.D. of the Institute for Health & the Environment.

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Dr. Sheila Bushkin-Bedient

Shelia presented a broad overview of the myriad of health impacts emerging as a consequence of accelerating climate disruption. She began with a discussion of air pollution, which is characterized by ground level ozone, smog, and particulate matter accumulation. She cited health impacts including increases in asthma, allergies, cardiac and pulmonary disease, lung and heart related hospitalizations, diminished lung function, and premature deaths.

She also spoke about heat waves as a major climate related health concern, drawing attention to devastating cases emerging in Pakistan and India in recent weeks. May and June 2015 brought temperatures of 113- 119 degrees F to India, killing more than 2,500 people as of June 5th. On June 19, days before the training, extreme temperatures in Pakistan killed more than 260 people in just a few days.

Health impacts from heat waves include dehydration, heat stroke and exhaustion, as well as increased mortality rates and exacerbated heart problems. Urban dwellers experience even higher temperatures as a result of the ‘heat island’ effect – and children and the elderly are most vulnerable.

Extreme heat goes hand in hand with drought conditions, which stresses plant and animal communities and can lead to parched, failing food systems. The Western U.S has been experiencing intensifying impacts over the last decade– and at the global level, failing crops mean malnutrition, starvation, job and income loss, shortened life expectancy, compromised immune systems, and increased disease vulnerability.

Wildfires are another drought-related concern with direct impacts on air quality and heart and lung disease. A map generated on June 22, 2015 revealed twenty-four major fires burning in the US – thirteen of them in Alaska. As of June 28 there were at least 319 large and small fires burning in the state, a strikingly clear example of the wildly off-balance world we are faced with.

Sheila discussed floods and hurricanes next, citing impacts ranging from bodily injuries, acute illness and deaths, to increases in homeless populations and sickness from contaminated water and food sources. Changes in the range and characteristics of infectious vectors is another very real climate impact, with diseases like West Nile, Lyme disease, Dengue, Malaria, and Chikungunya all shifting and spreading.

Sheila’s presentation circled back to impacts on food systems as a key human health concern. She explained how the vitality and diversity of oceans and freshwater bodies are collapsing due to pollution, rising temperatures, and melt-water, and spelled out what this means for the wellbeing of the worlds waters and human health and nutrition.

Sheila concluded with comments on the psychological health impacts of floods, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events, which can include Autism spectrum disorder, PTSD, depression, anger, family conflict and separation, and even civil conflict and war. Reflecting on these deep climate impacts with Sheila was an enlightening and eye-opening experience.

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Pramilla Malick of Protect Orange County and Stop the Minisink Compressor Station spoke next. Pramilla is a journalist, blogger, mother, and grassroots community organizer who has been working ceaselessly to expose and prevent the damages caused by fracking and gas infrastructure in her community in upstate New York.

Pramilla started by noting the painful irony of our situation. Faced with depleted resources and planetary stress, we have decided to use even more destructive techniques to unearth fossil fuels. She explained how these more violent forms of extraction are driving the health of the Earth and our communities along a parallel trajectory – towards more deadly and extreme impacts.

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Pramilla Malick

For the past two years her community has been living with a compressor station that pushes fracked natural gas along a large pipeline. According to Pramilla, compressor and metering stations are needed every 10 miles along many pipelines, placing millions of US residents in close proximity to dangerous, and even deadly infrastructure.

Pramilla quickly became aware that radioactive gas and liquid was seeping into the soil and being released into the air, and that at least 26 toxic chemicals (many known carcinogens) were being pumped through and around her community. As soon as she understood the dire implications of the compressor station, she began collecting testimony’s from neighbors and photographing the health impacts appearing among residents.

Pramilla documented rashes and skin irritations, nose bleeds, reparatory illness, nausea, vomiting, swollen joints, breathing difficulties, abdominal pain, organ damage, and neurological symptoms, all radiating out up to 150 miles from the station.

Reaffirming Shiela’s comments on young peoples heightened vulnerability, Pramilla drew attention to the fact that these exposures impact not just children’s immediate wellbeing, but also their long-term health and development.

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Mid-way through her presentation, Pramilla took our breath away with a shocking video of the compressor station in her community. At first nothing was visible, but when an infrared camera was switched on a massive plume of emissions became visible, rising up from the compressor like an uncontrollable fire.

She expressed deep concerned about the toxins and carcinogens that her community is breathing in directly, but also about the effects of bioaccumulation in soil and dairy products, which make up a large portion of the local economy and are distributed across the US.

Pramilla and allies also connected the dots between the toxins and the inhibition of agricultural crops, and observed that the constant noise from the station was driving away bats and insects central to pest control and natural ecosystem balance. Soon people in Pramilla’s town began packing up and walking away from their homes – a forced migration that often only the better-off can afford.

On the subject of justice, Pramilla reminded us, “We are all connected. We are connected by the pipelines that are poisoning us. We are connected by our water. We are connected by our air.”

She concluded with powerful comments on the fracking and natural gas industries, which are being promoted by the US government as a type of positive transition fuel. These are unacceptable false solutions she explained,

“We have to choose a different course. We cannot trade one poison for another…the system we have in place is simply not sustainable. It is acting on the bodies of our children as we speak. We as mothers must come together, nothing is more important than the health of our children.”

Cherri Foytlin joined the call as the third and final presenter of day one. Cherri is a mother of six living in Southern Louisiana. She hails from the Dene Nation, and is a photographer, speaker, Idle No More Gulf Coast member, and author of Spill It! The Truth about the Deep Water Horizon Oil Rig Explosion. Cherri spoke with training participants on health and climate impacts in her Gulf Coast home-region, where there have been five major hurricanes in the last five years.

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Cherri Foytlin

The area is a center of industry, with mega-ports and refineries lying directly in the path of extreme weather events. Major oil spills have poisoned the ocean waters and inland aquifers, exacerbating the health and environmental impacts of Hurricane Katrina and Rita as oil and chemical dispersants washed back onto the land and into peoples homes. Asthma, pneumonia, respiratory issues, and cancer have all been documented in people involved in Katrina cleanup efforts, and the true reach of the oil spill and hurricanes health impacts are only beginning to be revealed.

Despite the challenging conditions Cherri is facing in her community, her presentation was filled with a wealth of positive, uplifting insight into how we can all take action to engage with issues health and climate change.

She explained that we must not give up hope and should boldly “sound the alarm”- getting out on the street to talk with our friends and neighbors and help them see the connection between climate change, health, pollution and fossil fuel infrastructure. She asserted that we must continue to demand strong, meaningful action from public officials, but that we also must realize that real change happens only when people stand up, act, and push governments to step up to the plate as leaders.

Cherri commented on the need to strengthen our health systems, assess vulnerabilities, and take action to insure that health professionals have the training to deal with toxic exposure and climate disasters.

She also suggested policy action to require developers to prove how they will protect human and environmental health- with clear guidelines for shutting down projects if and when they cannot provide this evidence. Touching on an absolutely vital theme, Cherri declared that we must end the fossil fuel era and challenge “an archaic industry that is feeding on our health” and the health of the Earth as a whole.

Cherri also explained that working to actively build another vision is of the upmost importance, suggesting action to get renewable energy in homes and show people that a clean economy can support jobs and economic health. Thus far, her community has put solar panels on 26 homes, focusing on the elderly and low-income families first.

We were inspired by, and in full agreement with Cherri’s statements about the need to create a new culture and challenge the idea that our mission in life is to consume. She called for the re-building of a culture that respects the planet, sees reducing emissions as a source of great pride, and lifts up the stories of those who are on the frontlines of impacts and solutions.

During the Q & A session, presenters and participants reflected more on ways to get involved with critical health and climate issues.

Pramilla emphasized support for the transition to 100% renewable energy, an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and action to expose the fact that natural gas and fracking are not “bridge fuels”, but rather “bridges to catastrophe”.

“As mothers, we must tell policymakers that the health of our children comes first, and that clean air and water is a fundamental human right that cannot be compromised in any shape or form,” she explained.

Sheila shared hopeful information about ongoing work with the American Medical Association to call for legislation that requires comprehensive health impact assessments of existing and proposed infrastructure projects. Cherri asked participants to join her in speaking out about the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, building awareness and framing it as the climate and health disaster that it was.

Cherri provided a powerful statement to close the session,

“Inaction in the face of climate change and injustice is an act of violence towards our women and children and future generations. But the opposite of that, if you take that backwards, is that action for climate justice for all of us is an act of love. That is the most important thing because that is how we win… our love for eachother will win this, we can do this.”

Check back soon for a recap of day two of the ‘Health & Climate Change: What Is At Stake, What Can Be Done?’ training.

You can join our next training, ‘Women on the Frontlines of Climate Change: Resistance & Solutions’ on Wednesday, July 8. Click here for details.

Training Resources

Revisiting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision (FERC): A Mothers Plea

BLOCKADIA - THE BEYOND EXTREME ENERGY ACTION in Washngton DC

Blockadia- The Beyond Extreme Energy Action in Washington DC. Photo via Erik McGregor.

We are honored to share this article written by Harriet Shugarman, Executive Director of Climate Mama and honored WECAN U.S Women’s Climate Justice Initiative Steering Committee Member, and Linda Reik, scientist, mother, and New York resident. 

We are your mothers and your sisters. We are your neighbors, your co-workers and your friends. At different times in our lives we have been called farm worker, engineer, professor, economist, scientist, daughter, and mommy. What we have never been called, until now is: pipeline and fossil fuel infrastructure expert, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authority, activist or terrorist.
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Blockadia- The Beyond Extreme Energy Action in Washington DC. May 2015. Photo via Harriet Shugarman.

These are new names for us, as we work to understand what is happening in our communities. We are listening closely as we hear repeated accounts about children who are ill, crops that are failing, tainted water, farm animals whose progeny die young, incessant noise, dust and smells in the air, and declining property values which threaten our ability to insure our homes and businesses.We have begun to think of creative ways to have our voices heard, as we try to raise the alarm that few citizens and even fewer elected officials are listening to. We are now discovering that our actions have been noticed, but rather than working with us to drill down on the facts, they have caused some government bodies to label us as possible “terroristic threats.” (See end of document for links)

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Blockadia- The Beyond Extreme Energy Action in Washington DC. May 2015. Photo via Harriet Shugarman

By necessity we have come to know the ins and outs of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the names of pipelines and their routes, where they connect, if they are attached to a compressor station, if they are headed for an LNG export facility, what bodies of water they are going to cross under, and more often than not, we also know their FERC projects docket numbers.

We are watching as FERC has been thrust into a hugely important role of overseeing the expansion of our country’s natural gas extraction. According to the FERC website there is no review of FERC decisions by the President or Congress, maintaining FERC’s independence as a regulatory agency, and providing for “fair and unbiased decisions.” In addition, the website states: “the Commission is funded through costs recovered by the fees and annual charges from the industries it regulates.”

This last sentence bears serious consideration. FERC’s annual budget, which was over $304 million in 2014, is 100% dependent on the fees and charges it assesses to the industry it regulates. FERC regularly holds educational seminars and events with industry allowing for easy access to FERC commissioners and staff. Yet, as public citizens, it is very difficult, if not impossible for us to meet with FERC officials and speak at FERC meetings.

To be sure, FERC currently has the authority and wide latitude to interpret the rules under which the Commission was established. In August 2014, Cheryl LaFluer, then FERC Acting Chair, and now FERC Commissioner, more clearly defined this role: “What we have said is that we believe under [the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA] that we look at the direct project impacts, we do not do a cradle-to-grave, molecule-by-molecule analysis of where a fuel is coming from, what’s going to happen at the end of the ship when it goes off to the other side of the Earth and what other fuel it displaces.” Continuing,LaFleur said: “We don’t believe that’s in our authority or in our role under NEPA.”

LaFleur was also quoted at a National Press Club event on January 27th saying: “I believe meeting the goals of the Administration’s Clean Power Plan will also lead to construction of a lot of new natural gas generation.”

So, here too, we are watching with disappointment and concern as the Clean Power Plan, set up to lower our country’s heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions and to act on climate change, has as one of it’s four established pillars anchoring the President’s climate plan – shale gas, a fossil fuel. Natural gas – a fossil fuel that the world’s climate scientists have told us must stay in the ground if we are to have hope for a livable future – is instead being promoted as a viable climate “solution.”

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Blockadia- The Beyond Extreme Energy Action in Washington DC. May 2015. Photo via Harriet Shugarman.

Federal rules allow for the dramatic expansion of shale gas production in our country, and gut previous rules for reporting and protecting us from toxic chemicals; effectively exempting the gas and oil industry from regulations that all other industries must adhere too. As long as industry complies with the rules, the bigger picture – our health, clean water, clean air, our security and our future, doesn’t count. The mandate and reach of FERC must be revisited and revised by Congress. We must connect the dots at all levels and jump into the future now, there is no bridge, there is only a cliff. There is no Planet B.

This wasn’t part of our plans when we put down roots in our communities and birthed our children. But this is where we find ourselves now; experts on technical topics we never imagined as we work feverishly to sound the alarm. Our children are watching.

Sources:

Blog by Harriet Shugarman and Linda Reik

WECAN Joins 63 Groups Calling On President Obama To Reject Enbridge’s Illegal Alberta Clipper Tar Sands Scheme

WECAN International is one of 63 environmental, Indigenous, and inter-faith groups who sent a letter to President Obama last week, demanding an end to the back-room approval of the Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline expansion project. In the letter we call for follow-through on mandated environmental reviews and express our serious concerns about threats to land, water, climate action, and Indigenous rights. Check out the press release and letter to the President below.


For Immediate Release: June 18, 2015

Alberta-Clipper-BypassA letter from 63 national, regional, and local groups demands that the tar sands pipeline project be held to the same standard as the proposed Keystone XL

Washington, DC — In a letter sent to President Obama this morning, 63 environmental, tribal, and faith groups called for a full environmental review of the proposed Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline expansion, expressing serious concerns about the project, which threatens land, water, and climate and tramples on tribal rights.

The groups urged the president to hold the project to the same legally required review process as Keystone XL, and to reverse a decision made by the State Department last year to illegally allow Canadian oil giant Enbridge to use a backdoor scheme to increase the amount of dirty, climate-polluting tar sands flowing through the Great Lakes region.

The full text of the letter and list of signers is below:

June 18, 2015
President Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Subject:  Environmental Review of the Enbridge Alberta Clipper Pipeline Expansion

We applaud your Administration’s commitment to combating climate change. On behalf of our millions of members and supporters, we thank you for ongoing efforts to prioritize what we believe is the most pressing issue of our time. To that end, we also look forward to an imminent rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

At the same time, we are deeply concerned by the State Department’s recent authorization of pipeline company Enbridge’s plan to dramatically increase the amount of tar sands they are importing across the border via their Alberta Clipper and Line 3 pipelines. Enbridge’s plan allows them to blatantly skirt environmental reviews that even the State Department has previously said were necessary.

In 2012, Enbridge announced plans to nearly double the amount of tar sands crude oil it brings across the border on its Alberta Clipper pipeline, from 450,000 bpd to 800,000 bpd. Pumping this increased amount of tar sands crude under higher pressure would increase the risk of a tar sands spill in the Great Lakes region and would jeopardize important regional water resources, including the headwaters of the great Mississippi River. This increased pipeline capacity would also trigger more development of destructive, high-carbon tar sands fuel. Therefore, the State Department correctly determined that it must evaluate these and other environmental impacts before deciding whether to allow Enbridge to expand Alberta Clipper’s flow of tar sands crude into the country.

Alberta Clipper and Line 3 also run directly through the 1855 Treaty Territory where indigenous and tribal members live and work. This territory is used by tribes for hunting, fishing, and gathering.  Native plants, including wild rice, animals, and sites within the territory traditionally have been important to members of native tribes for subsistence, spiritual, medicinal, and other purposes.  The territory is also used for other important tribal spiritual and cultural practices.  Tar sands expansion would put all of these tribal resources at risk.

For the above reasons, the State Department correctly determined that it must evaluate these and other environmental impacts before deciding whether to allow Enbridge to expand Alberta Clipper’s flow of tar sands crude into the country.

Rather than wait for this requisite environmental review and permitting process to run its due course, Enbridge decided it would immediately increase the flow of Alberta Clipper by diverting the oil onto an adjacent pipeline for the actual border-crossing, then diverting the oil back to Alberta Clipper just south of the U.S.-Canada border. Enbridge claimed that the Department’s permit for the adjacent pipeline, Line 3, which was built in 1968 withoutany environmental review, does not contain express language limiting its capacity.

Unfortunately, in early 2014, State Department staff acceded to this scheme following several closed-door meetings with Enbridge.

The Department has both the authority and obligation to reverse this decision. The Department should not be complicit in an interpretation designed to attack its own authority and undermine its review process. Rather, the Department must stand by the environmental review that it indicated was legally obligated when this expansion was first announced, and prevent Enbridge from moving forward until that full review process is complete. Failing to do so would compromise the presidential permitting process, would limit public input and transparency around this process, and would undermine the Administration’s expressed commitment to addressing climate change.

It is the duty of your Administration to decide whether cross-border tar sands pipelines are in the national interest, and you have made clear that you take that duty seriously. The State Department simply cannot allow Enbridge to dictate the outcome based on a back-door scheme to avoid full review. The Alberta Clipper expansion must be held to the same national interest and climate standards as the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

We therefore call on the State Department to withdraw its back-room approval of the Alberta Clipper expansion, and complete its ongoing environmental review of the project before allowing any more climate-polluting tar sands crude oil to be imported.

Sincerely yours,

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Cc: U.S. Secretary of State, John F. Kerry

WECAN International at the Coalition Climat 21 Gathering in Paris

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For the past three days the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International) has been on-the-ground in Paris, France participating in a Coalition Climat 21 organizing session with a diverse group of leaders, united for collective action before and during the United Nations COP21 climate negotiations happening in Paris this December.

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Coalition Climat 21 is composed of over one hundred associations, networks, social and environmental NGO’s, trade unions, youth groups, and grass roots organizers, joined together with the goal of creating a strong civil society voice and popular movement pushing for climate justice and ambitious action during the COP21 negotiations and beyond.

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Payal Parekh, 350.org Global Director & Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN International Executive Director.

The June strategy session served as a platform for groups from around the world to share their movements, network with allies, and strengthen plans for events, demonstrations, and other calls to action happening worldwide over the next few months and in Paris during COP21.

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Jacqueline Patterson, NAACP leader & honored WECAN US Women’s Climate Justice Initiative Steering Committee member with Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN International Executive Director.

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While on-the-ground, WECAN International participated in a Women and Gender mobilizing session and had the opportunity to lead a workshop on Rights of Nature and the International Rights of Nature Tribunal which will be happening in Paris in December.

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Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network speaking about Indigenous rights and climate change.

“This year is one of the most critical years for addressing global climate change. If we do not act now, we risk catastrophic impacts that will effect all we hold dear,” explained Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN International co-Founder and Executive Director, “COP21 will thus likely be the most important UN climate negotiation of our time. The decisions and actions to protect the Earth and next generations laid out by COP21 international agreements will have a profound impact on our global trajectory. The peoples movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground and bring real change is dynamic and strong, and we must demand and work ceaselessly to insure that world governments step up and answer their citizens calls. We all need to look upward to the sun and wind for a just transition, with frontline communities leading the way.”


Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator

‘We are all Solar Sisters’ – Women for 100% Renewable Energy Training Recap

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On June 2 and 4, 2015 the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International) held the first in a series of online trainings presented as part of the new U.S. Women’s Climate Justice Initiative. Launched with the goal of building a collective voice for U.S. women advocating for climate justice and action in the lead up to COP21 climate negotiations, the 2016 U.S. elections and beyond, these free education and advocacy sessions strive to provide the resources and support needed for women to become effective climate leaders in their communities, and at the national and global scale.

The first training, ‘Women for 100% Renewable Energy- From Installation to Advocacy’ centered on a few key questions including:

  • What policies are most important to advocate for in the transition to 100% renewable energy?
  • What is distributed/decentralized energy and how do we realize it?
  • How do we move to install solar in our own homes and communities, including for low-income women?

‘Women for 100% Renewable Energy’ featured presentations by Angelina Galiteva and Diane Moss of Renewables 100 Policy Institute, Cathleen Monahan of Grid Alternatives, Allison Archambault of EarthSpark International, Lynn Benander of CoOp Power, and Robert Styler of Powur, with an introduction and moderation by WECAN International Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake. Full biographies are available here.

WECAN International and Renewables 100 Policy Institute advocating for 100% renewable energy at the Peoples Climate March in New York City, September 2014.

Osprey Orielle Lake opened the June 2nd training with a warm welcome and brief discussion of why women are so central in this stage of the human journey, as we move to address the climate crisis. Focusing in on one very tangible indicator, Osprey explained that in the United States women make approximately 80% of all consumer choices, giving them a powerful ability to direct fossil fuel divestment, clean energy choices and investment, and community-led grassroots transitions.

Osprey also opened the floor to a discussion of a central training topic; what does an equitable transition to renewable energy entail? She explained that a justice framework calls for renewable energy that is accessible to all peoples, that works with respect for Nature’s needs and diversity, and that does not pursue any false solutions, such as large-scale hydropower, nuclear energy, or shale gas.

She also spoke about the concept of a Just Transition and how a fair and sustainable low-carbon economy must care for workers, families and communities currently involved in conventional fuel production, ensuring that they do not bear the brunt of the transition to new ways of producing wealth.

Concluding her introduction, Osprey drew attention to the fact that the U.S represents 5% of the world population, yet produces upwards of 26% of global carbon emissions.

“As one of the world’s biggest carbon polluters, the US has a historic and current responsibility to lead the way to a clean energy future. But simply transitioning to renewables will not solve our problems, we must also dig deeper to address over-consumption and unequal distribution, analyzing how we can live better, not more,” she explained.

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Angelina Galiteva, Renewables 100 Policy Institute

Angelina Galiteva, co-Founder of the Renewables 100 Policy Institute, presented first, providing a big picture look at why we must transition, what progress has already been made, and how women can work to further this transformation.

According to Angelina, we need to focus on 100% renewable energy because it is achievable, because it is an environmental imperative, and because dirty energy lies at the root of all of our problems, from poverty and inequality, to health, war, and climate catastrophe.

“Its very clear that pollution is not free,” Angelina commented, explaining that the fossil fuel industry is the worlds second largest water user, a primary source of water and air contamination, and a creator of huge wealth disparities. The pursuit of 100% renewable energy on the other hand, creates jobs, improves quality of life, mitigates climate change, and can bring energy security and environmental justice.

Angelina provided data to show that there is absolutely no technologic or physical barrier to 100% renewable energy, but rather, only issues of “political and investment will”.

To power the world with solar we need only 0.07% of global land area, and capturing just two minutes of the solar radiation that hits the Earth each day can power the world for a year. Not only could this provide clean and reliable energy, but it could also bring power to the 1-2 billion people who still do not have access to electricity.

“Local action matters,” and is driving the transition, with 8 countries, 55 cities, 58 regions, 9 utilities companies, and 21 nonprofits and educational and public institutions representing more than 52.8 million people already committed to a 100% renewable transition. On a good day, grid power from renewables is reaching more than 40% in California, and we have the demand, knowledge, and community support needed to bring this to fruition in communities across the U.S. and the world.

“We are all solar sisters,” Angelina concluded as she passed the floor to Renewables 100 Policy Institute co-Founder, Diane Moss.

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Diane Moss, Renewables 100 Policy Institute

Diane provided further insight into some of the 100% renewable victories already taking place, highlighted key policies to push for, and provided tips for successful organization.

Burlington, Vermont and Greensburg, Kansas have both achieved 100% renewable electricity, and many other U.S counties have firm commitments, including Aspen, Colorado by 2015, Palo Alto, California by 2017, Georgetown, Texas by 2017, East Hampton, New York by 2020, San Diego, California by 2030, and Hawaii by 2045.

According to Diane, some of the important initiatives that U.S. women can advocate for include policies that:

  • set zero net-energy building targets
  • streamline the permitting process for renewable energy installs
  • promote and allow net metering
  • cut direct and indirect subsidies for conventional energy sources
  • educate and train citizens of all ages in clean energy and green job development

Diane explained that the first and most successful 100% renewable campaigns have come from communities that have promoted cooperation between activists, businesses, and the government. She also suggested that, whether at the household or global scale, 100% renewable energy projects be pursued with a set of short, medium, and long-term goals, with plenty of milestones to celebrate along the way.

Cathleen Monahan, Director of the Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) Program at GRID Alternatives, spoke next.

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Cathleen Monahan, GRID Alternatives

Cathleen and GRID Alternatives focus on solar accessibility for low-income communities for a few reasons. For one, solar installation can result in an 80% average reduction in monthly electricity bills. Secondly, the homeowners who can least afford clean energy are often the ones living in closest proximity to toxic conventional production.

After discussing the importance of renewables in a social justice context, Cathleen provided a look into some of the technical aspects of solar configuration and installation, including an overview of the parts of a solar energy system, different designs for mounting, options for connection (batteries vs. grid connected), selecting a contractor, financing your project, and tips for where to place your panels, which sizes to use, and system set up in different microclimates.

Cathleen also shared information about GRID Alternative’s Women’s Solar Initiative, which as gotten more than 1,000 women out on job sites to learn about solar energy. More information about opportunities to volunteer on a solar install with a powerful all-female team is available here.

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Allison Archambault, Earthspark International

Allison Archambault of Earthspark International opened the second day of training on June 4, joining the call from Haiti. She discussed the three keys to 100% renewable energy; storage, integration, and demand management. The later was of particular importance in her presentation, which busted the myth that supply must equal demand. Rather, Allison explained, in a sustainable renewable energy model, we should work to adjust demand to meet supply. For example, if we know that the grid will be strained in the afternoon on a hot summer day, we can work to pre-cool homes, thus re-distributing demand to function in harmony with the flow of energy production.

By building renewable energy infrastructure in optimal locations, using a mix of complementary technologies, and using smart grids to bring demand into equilibrium with supply, we can create “clean, local, efficient, affordable, reliable energy systems”- the CLEAR choice. Community micro grids were also discussed as key component of a resilient energy system, functioning independently of the bigger grid with on-site generation and storage.

Concluding her presentation, Alison spoke with participants about the idea of shifting from being consumers to ‘prosumers’, and discussed the sense of empowerment and connection that develops when individuals and communities re-claim local power and begin contributing back to a renewable energy grid.

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Lynn Benander, Co-op Power

Lynn Benander of Co-op Power spoke second, presenting the strategy of consumer owned energy cooperatives, as modeled by the Co-op Power network already up and running across New England. Participants in the New England renewable cooperatives come from multiclass and multirace backgrounds, promoting justice and diversity as the first step in sustainability and the clean energy transition.

Using the locally owned coop model, every community can decide what direction they want to take- be it solar, wind, biomass, or geo-thermal- and work to ensure that energy is created and distributed in a just and inclusive way. In bringing power back into the hands of residents, deep and sustained local economic development becomes a real, powerful possibility. According to Lynn, women are playing a key role on every level of community renewable energy development- as purchasers, activists, policymakers, supporters, organizers, and builders.

She also shared the Co-op Power ‘5 Years to Energy Freedom’ plan, which asks people to pledge to reduce energy consumption by 50%, and then work towards using renewables to supply the other half.

Lynn ended her presentation with a powerful assertion that the only precedent to the renewable energy movement is the abolition movement, with both striving to address economic injustice and root causes of unequal power and poverty dynamics. In fighting for 100% renewable energy, we are thus furthering the work of the important movements that have come before us.

Robert Styler of Powur spoke with training participants last, expanding upon Lynn’s sentiment that a virtually unprecedented movement is taking place. In his words, “the greatest transfer of wealth in history is happening now, from the fossil fuel industry to clean energy entrepreneurs like you.”

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Robert Styler, Powur

“Concentration of power is a disaster,” Robert commented, highlighting how the pursuit of renewable energy gives us an opportunity to reverse this trend by decentralizing both energy production and wealth creation. Despite being up against big obstacles, Robert explained that we are at a tipping point, with even the big banks and head of the Federal Energy Regulation Committee conceding that renewable energy is well on its way to making fossil fuels obsolete.

Robert provided background on the Solar City program which is installing a new solar system in the U.S. every three minutes, and discussed the ways that Powur is working to make financial support accessible for homeowners and organizations leading the renewable energy transition through an ingenious new fundraising system.

Thanking WECAN International and training participants for allowing him to present, Robert expressed his deeply held belief that the shift to a just and healthy world will be one led by women, and supported by men.

During the question and answer segments of the two-day training participants and speakers engaged in discussion about passive solar and the promotion of net-zero energy homes, how to modify the renewable energy tax credit system so that it benefits low-income communities, and the need to address campaign contributions so that big utility and fossil fuel companies cannot continue to push dirty energy. They discussed the need for carbon taxes, the potential of geo-thermal, how to promote renewables in high-density urban centers, and the power of focusing on your own zone of influence while educating others and taking personal steps to further the 100% renewable energy transition.

‘Women for 100% Renewable Energy- From Installation to Advocacy’ was presented by the WECAN International Women’s Climate Justice Initiative (WCJI). More information about future education and advocacy sessions is available on the WECAN International webpage. The next free online training- ‘Health & Climate Change: What Is At Stake, What Can Be Done’ will be held on June 23rd and 25th. To register for WCJI updates and calls to action, please click here.

 Women for 100% Renewable Energy Training Resources:


Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator & Project Assistant

San Francisco Bay Area Refinery Corridor Healing Walks

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In the San Francisco Bay Area of California, the Chevron refinery in Richmond is a familiar sight and one that is a constant reminder of the negative health effects that has plagued the community as a result of its presence.  Residents living near refineries experience a myriad of health issues ranging from asthma, cancer and various auto immune and respiratory diseases.   Unfortunately, this refinery is only one of five in the Bay Area and there is a proposal for a WesPac oil terminal in Pittsburg.  In addition to the health risks associated with living near a refinery the people living there are also in close proximity to rail lines that carry crude oil through their communities.  These trains travel past schools, community centers, shopping areas and playgrounds.  The trains carry potentially explosive crude oil and have a blast radius of one mile, meaning they are continuously threatening the health and livelihoods of the community.

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A serious fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond on August 8, 2012 hospitalized 15,000 people, then a little over two years later a train derailment occurred on December 3, 2014 near an elementary school in the same town.  Although the train had not been carrying any crude oil, it is an example of the grave outcomes that could occur as a result of careless planning and an example of how some communities are turned into sacrifice zones.  In response, the community has risen with many successful resistance efforts including in January of 2014, a series of healing walks along the San Francisco Bay Area refinery corridor, which were inspired by the many healing walks and runs which included the Tar Sands Healing Walks in Alberta, Canada, the Longest Walks, and the Peace & Dignity Journeys.  The walks were held to bring attention and awareness to the health and environmental impacts of the fossil fuel industry.  These walks are rooted in old resistance tactics that Indigenous people have used over the years to protest the taking and polluting of their lands.  The main organizer of the walks is long time activist, Pennie Opal Plant of Idle No More San Francisco and Movement Rights.

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Idle No More began in Saskatchewan as a small series of teach-ins that would help people protest bills that would strip away at native cultures and has now become one of the largest indigenous mass movements in Canadian history.  This movement spread around the world from the Americas to Australia, Europe, Asia and Africa as groups in solidarity began to conduct their own Idle No More type actions in December 2012.  A group of Native America grandmothers, mothers, fathers and grandfathers formally created Idle No More San Francisco Bay.  They are one of the most active groups in the movement and are comprised of allies from many different backgrounds. Movement Rights is an organization that works to help local communities exercise their legal rights’ over corporations that threaten the future of the residents’ ability to live in the community in a sustainable and healthy manner.

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The two organizations inspired people to fight and protect their land while also empowering communities to exercise their legal rights’ over corporate entities.  Last year, front-line activists living along the corridor joined them and created the Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition (BARCC) and together they are working to host their second annual Connect the Dots: Refinery Corridor Healing Walks.   The 2015 walks are held in a four part series, once a month from April through July, they are as follows:

Saturday, April 18th – Pittsburg to Martinez

Sunday, May 17th – Martinez to Benicia

Saturday, June 20th – Benicia to Rodeo

Sunday, July 19th – Rodeo to Richmond

WECAN was thrilled to participate in the 2014 Healing Walks and will be walking again this year

WECAN was thrilled to participate in the 2014 Healing Walks and will be walking again this year

The Walks begin and end with prayers for the water which are conducted by Native American women, and are led by Native American elders and others in prayer following a sacred staff. Walkers stop at the refineries and toxic sites along the way to pray for the land, water and air, as well as creatures living near the refineries and those yet to be born. Support vehicles follow the walkers with water and medics. Participants are asked to sign an agreement to be nonviolent and walkers are encouraged to envision a just transition to a clean and safe energy future and an economy that supports everyone. They are then invited to write or draw these ideas on muslin squares which are sewn together to create a quilt.

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To learn more about the Healing Walks and participate in them,  please see http://www.refineryhealingwalks.com/walk1.html

The Women’s Earth and Climate Action International’s (WECAN) is honored to have Pennie Opal Plant on our USA Initiative Steering Committee as we continue to support frontline communities.  To read more about WECAN’s work to mobilize efforts in the USA please see http://wecaninternational.org/north-american-regional-convening

Behind the Climate Negotiating Text for COP21

Pablo Solón

The future lies in the past. What has happened will determine what will come. The idea that we can change everything and save the world at the last minute is exciting in movies but it does not work in real life. It particularly applies when we speak about issues like climate change where the consequences of what we did in the past century are just beginning to manifest.

This principle applies also to climate negotiations. What is now on the table after the climate negotiations held in Geneva from 8-13 February 2015 is setting the scope and the range of possibilities for the climate agreement at the upcoming COP 21 in Paris this December.

The good news

The good news is that in Geneva the climate negotiations have finally really started. Smoothly and quickly, delegations from different countries avoided long speeches and went directly to work to compile their different proposals for a future climate agreement in Paris. At the moment, the negotiating text has 86 pages and 1,273 brackets. The task for the next 10 months is to streamline this bracketed draft and come out with a text of around 20 pages without annexes and zero brackets.

In the current text there are good and bad proposals that yet need to be negotiated and agreed. The final result will be something in between the most ambitious and the weakest proposals. So how good are the more positive proposals on the table? Are they going to put us on a path that limits the increase of the temperature to 1.5 ºC or 2 ºC?

Disturbing omissions

By now, it is well known that to achieve the goal to limit the temperature increase to below 2ºC, we need to leave 80% of the current known fossil fuel reserves under the ground. This has been stated in many studies, reports and interventions, but not one single country has submitted this proposal in the current text of negotiations. The word “fossil fuels” only appears twice throughout the text and only in reference to the reduction of fossil fuel subsidies. How are we going to cut back greenhouse gas emissions if we don’t have an agreement to leave under the soil, the 80% of the “black gold” that has been discovered?

The other disturbing omission is the short-term target for 2025 and 2030. In the text there are 13 references to zero emissions by the mid and end of the century. But when it comes to this decade and the next, there are no concrete targets and just general references about “enhancing the mitigation ambition” that appears 61 times in the text. The targets that are needed are very clear in different studies. The UNEP Emissions Gap report and other studies show that to be consistent with a trajectory that limits the increase of the temperature to 2ºC, global greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced to 44 Gigatons (Gt) of CO2e by 2020, 40 Gt by 2025 and 35 Gt by 2030. This is the cap the world needs to avoid a future too dire to imagine.  Now, in the text there are no references to these figures. There are only proposals in terms of percentages for the next half of the century. The most ambitious for the near term says, “Developed country Parties shall take mitigation commitments for the post-2020 period that are more ambitious than emission reductions of at least 25–40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020”. In other words, the next decade you have to be more ambitious than this decade. That is not really a clear target.

These omissions in the text are not an accident, they reflect an agreement that for the coming years until 2030, every country will do what they can/want and the UNFCCC will just summarize the “intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs)”. No single country has challenged this suicidal path by putting in the negotiating text that we need a global target to reduce global emissions to only 40 Gt of CO2e by 2025 to avoid an increase in the temperature of 4ºC to 8 ºC.

The center of the debate?

Looking at the negotiating text, it is clear that what seems to be the center of the controversy is not about how much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but around the supposed conflict between developed and developing countries. The word “development” appears 247 times in the negotiating text, “developing” countries 410 and “developed” countries 342 times. The debate in the text is more about who should do what in the reduction of green house gas emissions (developed and developing), what flexibility mechanisms (carbon markets) are going to be in place, how each one is going to report, what kind of verification process will be established for the different type of countries and what kind of financial and technological support there will be to implement the mitigation actions.

The position of developed countries in general tends to water down the difference between developed and developing countries, promoting more the use of “all parties” (134 mentions in the text). On the other hand, developing countries want to keep the firewall between developed and developing countries.

The group of Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) that includes Algeria, Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria and Venezuela has included the following paragraphs in the negotiating text that show their approach to developed and developing countries:

“Developed country Parties shall commit to undertake Absolute Emission Reduction Targets during the period of 2021-2030, in accordance with a global emission budget including their historical responsibility, through quantifiable, economy-wide mitigation targets, covering all sectors and all greenhouse gases, implemented mainly domestically, which can be aggregated and which are comparable, measurable, reportable and verifiable, with the type, scope, scale and coverage more ambitious than those undertaken under the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol during the pre-2020 period, and communicated and implemented without any conditions”.

On the other hand, Developing country Parties should commit to undertake Diversified Enhanced Mitigation Actions (DEMAs) during the period 2021–2030. They may include, inter alia, relative emission reductions; intensity targets; REDD-plus activities and other plans, programmes and policies; joint mitigation and adaptation approaches; net avoided emissions, or also manifested as adaptation co-benefits, in accordance with their special circumstances and specific needs.”

While it is true that this is a real source of debate – the maintenance of the delineation between developed and developing countries so that developed countries do not escape their historic responsibility, and that countries make commitments according to common but differentiated responsibility, it is also one that serves as a smokescreen for the deals that have been made between polluters – one developed and one developing. China, which has caught up to developed countries on levels of emissions, maintains the developing country title but does the rest of the developing countries a disservice by striking a very bad deal with one of the largest polluters in the world, the United States. The highly publicized US-China deal last year is a reflection of how the US and China, two of the largest polluters, have decided not to do what is needed for 2025/2030. The two big polluters account for more than 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is a “laissez faire” deal in which China will only peak (reduce in absolute terms) emissions in 2030 and the US will reduce 15% of their green house gas emissions in 2025 based on their level of emissions in 1990. As a reference, the EU has committed to reduce 40% of their emissions by 2030 based on their 1990 levels.

This is the heart of the deal in Paris and with these emission cuts from the US and China, the rest of the countries will not do much more because as they have expressed, that would go against their competitiveness in the global economy. The negotiation around the text is about how to package and sell a bad deal to public opinion and how to dilute the responsibility of polluting countries of the developed and the emerging developing world. Probably the issue about “common but differentiated responsibility” will be solved through the addition of some “innovative language” like “in light of different national circumstances” as it happened in COP20 in Peru.

Opening the door for new carbon markets

Even with the failure of carbon markets, the debate is not if this mechanism should continue or not, but how to enhance the current ones and develop new ones. No country has submitted text to avoid carbon market mechanisms or REDD+. Carbon market mechanisms are mentioned 27 times and REDD+ 13 times. In the text there are mentions of an “enhanced Clean Development Mechanism (CDM+)”, the “Emissions Trading System (ETS)”, “REDD Plus”, “market mechanism in the land use sector”, “sub-national and regional emissions schemes” and “carbon pricing”. A reading of the text shows that COP 21 will open the door for new carbon market mechanisms but that the real development of them will be agreed at future COPs.

Finance: the forgotten promise

Finance, which was supposed to be one of the most crucial commitments by the developed countries to the developing countries, has now become an issue relegated to the sidelines. The climate debt owed to those suffering the impacts of climate change, yet who are the least responsible, is on the way to being forgotten. Looking at the text, the word finance itself is mentioned 203 times but when it comes to concrete figures, there are only a measly 14 mentions with only four proposals:

  • [Developed countries][All countries in a position to do so] commit to provide at least USD 50 billion per year during the period from 2020 to 2025, at least USD 100 billion per year by [2020][2030] for adaptation activities of [developing countries].
  • The provision of finance committed by developed country Parties to be based on a floor of USD 100 billion per year since 2020.
  • A short-term collective quantified goal of USD 200 billion per year by 2030 should be committed by developed country Parties,
  • [Developed country Parties][Parties in a position to do so, considering evolving capabilities] to provide 1 per cent of gross domestic product per year from 2020 and additional funds during the pre-2020 period to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

If current promises are to be a basis, there is little confidence in these promised numbers. At the COP20 in Lima, there was triumph around the achievement of reaching 10 billion USD – out of the 100 billion USD that was originally promised several COPs ago.

Furthermore, in the text, developed countries prefer to use the term “mobilize” instead of “provide” and they do not limit the obligation of funding to developed countries but to all countries in a position to do so, further diluting the responsibilities of the developed countries as they spread it to developing countries. The term “mobilize” is not associated with any figure in particular and in general includes “from a variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources” which means that even loans and carbon markets will be accounted in the process of mobilization of financial resources.

Rights and compliance

Human rights are mentioned seven times and mainly in the preamble and objectives section. There are no concrete proposals to guarantee human rights in mitigation, finance, market or technology measures. There is only one mention in adaptation and only in general terms. In some cases, the mention of human rights is at the same level as the right to development.  Indigenous peoples’ rights appears only two times in the preamble. Migrant rights are not included, and in the loss and damage chapter, there are only two mentions of “organized migration and planned relocation”. The proposal of Rights of Mother Earth or Rights of Nature is not included at all as an option to be discussed. The only mention to Mother Earth is in relation to “protecting the integrity of Mother Earth” without further development.

When it comes to mechanisms of compliance, there are those that say, “no specific provisions required” and those that suggest a “Compliance Committee” with “an enforcement branch and a facilitative branch”. The possibility of sanctions is mentioned and also suggested is the “use of economic instruments such as market mechanisms as a way to promote compliance”. Bolivia has included the proposal for an “International Climate Justice Tribunal”.

These token mentions of rights and recognition of those at the frontlines of climate change are empty promises with no concrete commitments attached to them. The negotiations around solutions to climate change need to have the rights of peoples and Nature at its heart.

Fighting for our Future now, not in Paris

The nature of climate change with its feedback mechanism is such that what we did in the past is what we reap now. Following this logic, what we do now is what we will reap in the next 10 years, and if the current text is to be the basis of that future, we will have none of which to speak.

There is no cheating, buying or creating loopholes to delay action until 2030 – the time to act decisively is now. And these are very concrete and clear actions that need to be taken:

  • leave 80 percent of the known fossil fuels reserves under the ground
  • deep emissions cuts to achieve global targets – 44 Gigatons (Gt) of CO2e by 2020, 40 Gt by 2025 and 35 Gt by 2030
  • reduce military and defense expenditures, which account for more than 1.5 trillion dollars globally, and instead channel these funds to provide public finance for developing countries for adaptation, mitigation and for loss and damage
  • the recognition, respect and promotion of the rights of people and nature

A bad deal in Paris will lock in catastrophic consequences for the future of the planet and humanity. The urgency of the task at hand cannot be emphasized enough – we need to act now.

*Pablo Solón is Executive Director of Focus on the Global South.