Dear President Obama,

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Dear President Obama,

We are here in Copenhagen as the voices of our communities and our organizations that work to protect the rights of low-income communities, indigenous peoples, people of color and immigrants in the United States.

From the melting Arctic permafrost to the catastrophe following Hurricane Katrina, from the daily toxic assault of power-plants and refineries to the loss of fresh water in the Southwest, Indigenous Peoples and poor people of color in the United States are disproportionately impacted by climate change; which is why we find ourselves at the frontlines of the struggle to reduce these impacts. Due to our shared experience of the damage caused by the climate crisis, we recognize that we are in the same boat as our sisters and brothers in the Global South. We therefore call on you to support a legally binding treaty and to oppose any treaty that does not respect the rights of frontline, climate-impacted communities, both North and South. As someone who has benefited from the experience of growing up in two countries, Indonesia and the United States, and whose family heritage can be traced to Kenya, you are uniquely positioned to respond to this problem from a global perspective.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government’s proposals and negotiating positions are the single greatest barrier to progress in the Conference of the Parties process. Between side deals, weak targets, false solutions, lack of transparency, and a failure to commit to a legally binding agreement, the U.S. is gambling with the future of life on this planet.

Our communities face a triple bottom-line threat: we are surrounded by the polluting industries that at one and the same time condemn us to disproportionate rates of asthma, heart disease and other health threats, and are the primary contributors to the climate crisis; as poor communities, we are the most vulnerable to food insecurity, lack of access to basic services, and other consequences of climate disruption, with no one being more impacted then the women and children among us; finally, should the false solutions proposed in the UNFCCC process come to fruition, our communities will continue to pay the price for corporate pollution while reaping none of the rewards of these failed policies.

As representatives of a grassroots movement across the U.S., we want to be very clear about our expectations of you and your administration:

•  We demand an equitable international negotiation process that acknowledges, respects and advances the concerns of vulnerable communities everywhere, both in the Global South, and in the United States.

• We call for a real, accountable, and just transition from fossil fuel dependency to a more localized green economy that builds community resilience and gives communities real control over the decisions that effect their daily lives.

• We condemn any and all schemes that trade pollution on the financial market and that fail to take into account the rights of indigenous peoples and the need to protect forest biodiversity, such as current cap-and-trade policy and offset-schemes. Market-based carbon reduction schemes will not lead to sufficient carbon reductions, and will continue to create greater health disparities both in the United States and throughout the world.

• We expect your administration to advance proposals that recognize the disproportionate myriad impacts of climate change, and that commit resources commensurate to the scale of the challenges our communities face now and will continue to face in the near future.

• Industrialized nations must provide for reparation of ecological debts. Funds should be provided to assist developing countries to increase their capacities to protect their people from displacement and other potential effects, recognizing the disproportionate impacts on poor women, children and indigenous communities.

The solution to the Climate Crisis requires a rights-based framework that is legally binding and that minimally agrees to the following five commitments on the part of the United States:

  1. Rapid, deep reductions in emissions at the source, in the United States, through an immediate ramp-down of the US consumption load, without offsets. This means a minimum of 49% reduction from 1990 levels by 2020.
  2. Recognition and payment of reparations, or climate debt, to the Global South through a transparent funding source rather than through the multi-lateral development institutions, such as the World Bank, that have thus far failed to provide sustainable development pathways for the Global South.
  3. Operationalize all implementation language in the UNFCCC within all established rights-based declarations, covenants and conventions, whether or not they have been signed or ratified by the US, including the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on Biodiversity; particularly in implementation language of REDD
  4. Acknowledge the traditional knowledge of grassroots communities who are and will be the first to feel the burden of climate change, and take this knowledge, along with the most current science, as the basis of policy decisions.
  5. Ensure space for the real engagement and participation of our communities, for whom concepts of sustainability and resilience are not new.

In your acceptance speech last year, you spoke of your belief that change does not come from Washington, D.C. but to Washington D.C. In response to your clear call, we are now coming to you from the same communities that organized to win you the presidency, as people from across the United States who have put our confidence in you as our highest elected representative. We stand united; as poor communities we are vulnerable to your decisions, but as communities rich in history and popular will we are prepared to demonstrate our potential to lead the way toward new solutions to the climate crisis. Solutions will only be constructive to our economy if they are done with justice and equity.

The tone and substance of the current proposals in these negotiations do not represent the change you promised or change we can believe in. We expect you to deliver on those promises by standing up for those of us on the frontlines of climate change, by calling for a legally binding treaty built on respect for international human rights obligations, and the responsibility entailed by those rights.  Your role as President is to deliver a fair, just and binding agreement. As you know, our role as organizers demands that we hold you accountable to that charge.

Finally, we do not believe that any agreement is better than no agreement. We join with social movements both North and South in opposing a non-legally binding treaty or any treaty that does not respect the human rights of the Global South, indigenous people, immigrants, women and people of color throughout the United States.


Advocates for Environmental and Human Rights, Alternatives for Communities and Environment,  Asia Pacific Environmental Network, Black Mesa Water Coalition, Building Alternatives for A Sustainable Environments, Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network, Just Transition Alliance, League of Young Voters Education Fund, Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project, People Organized to Win Employment Rights, Right to the City Alliance, Southwest Workers Union, Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, WEACT for Environmental Justice, West County Toxics Coalition, Women of Color United (partial list of signatories)

Crafted by civil society participants at the 15th Conference of Parties representing the above organizations.