U.S. Climate Action: A Moral Imperative

06/01/2017 03:01 pm ET Updated Jun 02, 2017

“The U.S. climate movement is a people's movement. It is led by indigenous peoples, immigrants, grassroots organizers, people of color, refugees, unions, and workers. It is a women's rights movement, and we are more determined than ever to fight the tides from pulling us backwards.”

Bridget Burns, Co-Director of WEDO, responds to the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

For over two decades, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) has engaged in the global negotiations on climate change, particularly to promote the importance of gender equality in climate policy, and to amplify and empower the voice of women in the process. In fact the 1991 Women’s Action Agenda called for the establishment of the Convention on climate change and, a global emissions reduction target.

Pushing a transformative feminist agenda in the international climate regime has never been an easy task. Many commentators have hailed the Paris Agreement as the gold standard of multilateralism and the end of the fossil fuel era. We were quick then, as we are now, to provide a reality check of what this agreement does and does not do. Paris did not deliver system change. It did not deliver climate justice. It did not do enough to protect those least responsible for climate change, often women from the global south. And importantly, a great deal of the responsibility for making a weak agreement lies with the United States, who watered down language, commitments, ambition and bindingness of the agreement — all of which flies in the face of any reasoning from the current administration of why the U.S. should withdraw. Given the nationally determined nature of the decision in Paris, this is already an “America First” agreement.

However, WEDO still believes that the Paris Agreement represents the best agreement we could get for the planet in a continually unjust and imperfect world. The significance of the agreement is the universal recognition that climate change is real and countries must unite now under an ambitious goal to prevent irreversible impacts. It is also no small feat that the agreement includes the goal of keeping warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, the point at which we know that communities in the Pacific will lose their homelands, and countries across the global south will suffer increasing loss and damage.

The U.S. administration's decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement is short-sighted, irresponsible, destructive, and morally wrong. The normalization of climate denialism is abhorrent, particularly to anyone who has fought for decades to shift political will on this issue in the United States. In the first four months of office, the administration has promised to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, purged references to climate change and appointed climate deniers and close allies of the fossil fuel industry to the highest positions of power. In the words of OMB Director Mike Mulvaney: “we’re not spending money on [climate change] anymore; we consider that to be a waste.” Nothing encapsulates this administration’s deep-rooted commitment to burning our planet at the expense of its people more than the approval to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline.

You will hear much today about how this decision to withdraw is a major geopolitical blow for the U.S., estranging ourselves from allies. You will hear that this is a disastrous decision for U.S. jobs in the transition away from fossil fuels and more sustainable consumption and production industries. You will hear how communities across the U.S., mainly low-income and marginalized communities, are already suffering from dirty energy in their backyards, contaminated water systems and poor air quality -- all of which the current administration has promised to roll back protections on.

All of this is true.

But what is also true, is that today in the Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea, women farmers are leading on community led re-location planning for their people who are facing extinction from climate change impacts. In India, women leaders are training practitioners on how to ensure women’s reproductive health and safety post-disaster in the context of a significant increase in the number and intensity of disasters. Across West Africa, the rural women’s movement for food sovereignty is calling for equitable access to resources to ensure their solutions lead the climate fight via family farming, peasant seeds, biodiversity, and agroecology.

What this shows is that when the U.S. denies climate change, walks away from a global agreement on climate action, and fails to deliver on its already unacceptably inadequate climate finance obligations, the U.S. is walking away from a moral obligation to the people with whom we share this one benevolent planet Earth, to those who have contributed the least to this crisis, and who will suffer the most.

Most frustrating, and something women’s rights advocates in particular understand all too well, is that in a moment where we have all the tools, knowledge and resources available to create a beautiful, just, peaceful and healthy planet, we spend too much time fighting the tides from pulling us backwards.

This is why movements are key. We simply cannot and will not let the whims of individual leaders, fear mongering, and misinformation dictate our future. We will build in, with, and across movements to articulate what a just world that promotes human rights and the integrity of the environment looks like. We will push towards that vision with courage, with care for one another, and with a reinvigorated commitment to protect and respect people and the planet.

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