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'Since Kyoto, the US has diluted every global climate proposal to the point of ineffectiveness, including the Copenhagen Accord in 2009 and the Paris Agreement itself.' (Photo: Grassroots International/flickr/cc)

Leaving Paris for All The Wrong Reasons

Sara MershaCarol Schachet

The announcement by Donald Trump that that United States intends to ignore the non-binding Paris Climate Agreement, with the intention to renegotiate it to foist his America First policy on the rest of the world, should come as no surprise to anyone. What is surprising is who opposed the US withdrawal: Big business – including fossil fuel transnationals Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and BP, industrial agribusiness and agrochemical giants Monsanto, DuPont, and General Mills, and more, as well as the current Secretary of State (and former Exxon exec). If nothing else, this assortment of big-business boosters of the Paris Agreement tells us just how weak the agreement truly is at addressing the root causes of climate change.

Since Kyoto, the US has diluted every global climate proposal to the point of ineffectiveness, including the Copenhagen Accord in 2009 and the Paris Agreement itself. It was the US that insisted on making the deal based on non-binding pledges for voluntary emissions cuts (which collectively would still lead to a global temperature increase between 3-4°C above pre-industrial levels), on preventing the operating text of the agreement from including recognition of human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and on promoting many false solutions that will end up doing a great deal of harm (including so-called “carbon neutrality,” which allows polluters to keep polluting by purchasing offsets).

These realities, combined with Trump’s claims that the Paris Agreement would somehow be an unfair burden on the US, are particularly disturbing, embarrassing, and even enraging, given the responsibility that the US has as being the most historically responsible for the causes of climate change, and our continued role as one of the most significant contributors of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.

“By abandoning the Paris Agreement, this administration will further perpetuate environmental racism and climate injustice against Indigenous Peoples experiencing the worst effects of climate change across the globe…Backing out of this agreement continues a long history of broken promises and threatens the vital and sacred life cycles of Mother Earth.” – Tom Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network

It is clear that major transnational corporations played a large role in influencing the US’s role in negotiating the Paris agreement.  Indeed, Bloomberg news reports that Exxon and Conoco-Phillips supported the Paris agreement based on the argument that “The U.S. is better off with a seat at the table so it can influence global efforts to curb emissions that are largely produced by the fossil fuels they profit from.”

At Grassroots International, we are reflecting on four key lessons and priorities for climate justice work going forward:

  1. Contrary to Trump’s “America First” philosophy, isolating the US from the rest of the world only hurts us more.  We are not separate from each other or from the rest of the world – rather our lives and our future are in a precarious balance that is linked to one another. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words are more true today than ever:  In a real sense all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
  2. We must continue to push and hold our government accountable for the US’ role in causing climate disruption. In a recent Grassroots Global Justice Alliance statement about Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Agreement, Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, shared this perspective: “By abandoning the Paris Agreement, this administration will further perpetuate environmental racism and climate injustice against Indigenous Peoples experiencing the worst effects of climate change across the globe…Backing out of this agreement continues a long history of broken promises and threatens the vital and sacred life cycles of Mother Earth.”
  3. Perhaps more than ever, a translocal strategy is one of our best opportunities to combat climate change.  Recently, mayors across the country made a pledge to uphold the Paris agreement at the local level.  While this pledge is not enough,  it is an important signal to the world that the majority of the country does not agree with Trump’s climate denial approach.  Furthermore, it is a sign that it is possible to win more government action for climate justice at the local level, with cities, towns, states, and Tribal governments.
  4. As always, it is clear that what is most needed is leadership and solutions coming from those most impacted by climate disruption, including grassroots communities and social movements of small-scale farmers, Indigenous Peoples, Black and Afro-descendant communities, migrant communities, women, and young people in the US and around the world – particularly in the Global South.  These are the communities on the frontlines of climate impacts, and at the forefront of struggle.  These are the communities putting their bodies and lives on the line to stop fossil fuel extraction, to regulate refineries and shut down power plants, to stop the corporate takeover of agriculture, land, water, and seeds.  These are the communities pushing to address the legacies of environmental injustice.  These are the communities standing up against megadams, forest offsets, agro-fuels, and other false solutions to climate change.   And these are the communities creating the solutions that we will need for a healthy future, based on the concept of buen vivir – living well, in harmony with one another and with Mother Earth.  

In the US, communities organized through the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ), Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and others are taking leadership to articulate Just Transition agendas at the local level, and they are winning!  These agendas include pushing for an end to the extractive economy, and transitioning to regenerative, local, living, loving, linked economies.  These economies include community land trusts, agroecology, local seed libraries, and other strategies to achieve food sovereignty  They include expansion of public transit and community controlled renewable energy, along with protection of rivers and ecosystems.

These are the struggles that have won and will continue to win real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, while building community resilience to the impacts of climate change.  In fact, the same day that Trump announced pulling the US from the Paris Agreement, Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) announced an amazing victory in Richmond, California – a historic cap on pollution from oil refineries, which will prevent Bay Area refineries from bringing Tar Sands or other extreme and heavy crudes to be processed.

It is clear that we are in a unique and critical moment in the history of the planet.  Through our Climate Justice Initiative and beyond, Grassroots International is committed to continuing to prioritize our work to support and accompany climate justice struggles in the US, with GGJ, CJA, and others, and with our partners leading climate justice movements in the Global South.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Sara Mersha

Sara Mersha participated with frontline community leaders and activists as part of the It Takes Roots to Change the System delegation at COP21 in Paris. She is Director of Grantmaking and Advocacy at Grassroots International. She collaborates as part of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance and the Climate Justice Alliance.  She serves on the board of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, and is on the planning committee of the Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project.

Carol Schachet

Carol Schachet director of development and communications at Grassroots International and a longtime organizer. Her writings have appeared in the Resist Newsletter,  Ecology Today, Insights and community journals.

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