COPENHAGEN—For the past 12 days, the NAACP’s Climate Justice Initiative has been blogging from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. While the discourse on global climate change often focuses on the impacts on wildlife or faraway places, it also has a direct and profound impact on communities at home in the United States, particularly on communities of color. My goal for the conference was twofold: to bring the stories of these affected communities to the Copenhagen conference, and to help bring the lessons of Copenhagen back to our communities.
It has been 12 days of frustration, joy, freezing temperatures and heartwarming relationships. Between meetings, demonstrations, conversations and media interviews, we emerge with 10 lessons from the conference:
10. This is NOT what democracy looks like.
“Danish texts,” back-door deals, walkouts, secondary passes and restricted access were the buzzwords over the course of convention. Early last week, we learned that wealthy nations had structured the conference to make sure that major decisions on resource allocation remained in their hands, a clear violation of the U.N. processes. At the same time, access to the convention for activists was cut by 66 percent at the beginning of the second week and by 99.5 percent by the end of the week while world leaders were in town. Social movement leaders from Africa and around the world, who had made unimaginable sacrifices to participate in the convention, were literally barred from its most important moments.
9. Two degrees of warming equals suffering and death.
Delegates from wealthy countries are floating the notion of “tolerable” levels of global warming—arguing that an average warming of two degrees is acceptable. But a two-degrees average could be disastrous for communities and countries of color—particularly because the average fails to confront the harmful effects to those living on the high side of the equation. Take Africa for instance; the two-degree global average translates into 3.75 degrees of annual warming, which leads to famine, drought, displacement, disease and death.
8. The “This is Africa” syndrome prevails.
Too often at global conferences, the suffering of communities and countries of color is deemed acceptable. There is an insidious devaluing of the lives of people in the global south. It seems to matter little that some communities and regions will be uninhabitable in the next generation, or at least it doesn’t matter enough to restrict SUVs, exotic fruit imports or the emissions of harmful toxins from power plants.
7. We can all use the same words, but mean very different things.