The following is an open letter sent to President Obama from environmental, social justice, faith, consumer and partner organizations as he departed the ongoing UN climate talks in Paris on Tuesday.
Dear President Obama,
On behalf of our environmental, social justice, faith, consumer and partner organizations who collectively represent millions of Americans, we thank you for taking important steps to keep fossil fuels in the ground by rejecting the Keystone XL Pipeline and cancelling some upcoming Arctic lease sales. We are equally grateful that your administration continues to harness the Clean Air Act’s successful pollution-reduction tools to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the Clean Power Plan and rules for transportation sources. These are important steps but much more will be necessary if we hope to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
The actions taken in the next decade will either avert the worst harms from climate disruption by limiting warming to below 1.5°C or commit the world to unacceptable harms for billions of people. You have the capability to negotiate a climate agreement in Paris that will mark the turning point in the world’s efforts to avert catastrophic climate damage and thus protect the human rights of present and future generations.
In order to do so, we ask that you:
- Greatly increase our country’s emissions reduction commitment for Paris—as demanded by both science and justice;
- Pledge to keep at least 80% of U.S. proven fossil fuels reserves in the ground; and
- Finance a just transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050 in the U.S. and contribute the U.S.’ fair share of finance for adaptation, mitigation, and loss and damage in developing countries.
President George H.W. Bush signed and the Senate ratified the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. In so doing, the U.S. agreed to take the actions necessary to avoid dangerous climate change, and also agreed as a matter of fairness that the world’s rich, developed countries, having caused the vast majority of the problem, would take the lead in solving it. Today, the U.S. remains the world’s largest cumulative carbon emitter. Having caused the greatest share of the problem to date, the U.S. must now meet its obligations to respond, and must understand that human rights, equity and fairness matter and are vital to unlocking cooperation in the international negotiations.
Independent scientific analysis demonstrates that our country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) is not yet consistent with keeping warming below even 2°C. A far greater commitment will be necessary to account for our nation’s historic responsibility and serve as the basis of a just international agreement. A recent Civil Society Review concludes that the current U.S. INDC represents only about one-fifth of our country’s fair share of mitigation action. For these reasons, in advance of the Paris talks we urge you to greatly increase the U.S. commitment to reduce emissions at home and finance a just transition abroad, in line with what science and justice demand.
You have stated that the transition to a clean energy economy is going more quickly than anticipated, and that “if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.” As a fundamental policy to achieving our emissions goals, leaving fossil fuels in the ground is critical to protect people from the ravages of oil, gas, and coal extraction. A major study from Stanford University found that that it is feasible for the U.S. to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050, and that doing so will generate a net increase of two million American jobs and a reduction of approximately 62,000 air pollution-related deaths per year.
A study by Carbon Tracker has demonstrated that the world needs to keep 80 percent of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to keep warming below even 2°C. As the leader of the world’s largest historical emitter, we urge you to exert leadership by pledging to keep at least 80% of U.S. proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Two critical first steps are needed in order to implement this pledge: placing a ban on fracking and other dangerous extraction techniques, and ending fossil fuel leasing on public lands and waters to keep these publicly owned resources in the ground where they belong.
Finally, we urge to you commit to financing a just transition to a renewable economy at home and abroad. We request that you exert pressure immediately on Congress to make good on the $3 billion pledge to the Green Climate Fund. In Paris, the U.S. should commit to a clear roadmap for the provision by developed countries of $100 billion in public, grant-based funds for climate actions in developing countries by 2020, as well as a plan to scale up climate finance beyond $100 billion annually after 2020. The U.S. should also commit to targets to significantly increase public finance to meet the cost of mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage in developing countries, particularly for the most vulnerable communities and nation-states. This includes committing to mechanisms for raising new and additional resources such as a financial transaction tax (as France has committed to), halting subsidies for fossil fuel production immediately and investing those public dollars in clean energy solutions that benefit communities on-the-ground.
You recently proclaimed that “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking action to fight climate change.” On behalf of the millions of Americans that our organizations represent, we urge you to bring reality to your rhetoric—and be the bold climate leader that both the domestic and international communities need.
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for International Environmental Law
Friends of the Earth US
Institute for Policy Studies, Climate Policy Program
Sustainable Energy & Economy Network