Reflections on the Way to the Climate Change Summit

Reflections on the Way to the Climate Change Summit

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins

I am boarding a plane to Copenhagen, heading to the United Nations Climate Change Conference that has captivated the world’s attention.

As I packed my bags for the Danish winter, my thoughts fixated on how we bridge the gap between the priorities of the Copenhagen negotiations and the very real perils facing the world’s most vulnerable populations.

I do this work for reasons that are very personal. I do it so that sometime soon, parents in my hometown won’t have to choose between oil refinery jobs and the health of their families. I do it because I have watched fishermen in South Africa face incredible obstacles, including food shortages, because of climate change. I do it because I want to see more people of color play a critical role in creating opportunity in green industry as business owners. I do it because I understand that it is our families who pay the consequences of global warming in a boom and bust economy.

I do it because I know the same solution to our climate crisis can be the solution to poverty.

I am going to Copenhagen to join with incredible leaders from across the globe to create a future that will provide opportunity for all of us.

Across the world, especially in developing nations, poor people and people of color are getting hit first and worst by climate change — from droughts and floods, food and water shortages, the destruction of homes and entire communities, to island nations threatened by rising sea levels. We need to find a solution that lifts up the most vulnerable, regardless of international boundaries.

Though local and nationwide action is absolutely critical, global warming is a global problem. We need to come together to find a global solution. No person, city, or nation alone can end this crisis. And the welfare of any individual, community, or population cannot be overlooked in seeking a solution.

Later this week, heads of states from across the world — including President Barack Obama — will arrive to close out the final days of the U.N. summit, and try to come to an agreement on how the international community will handle the climate crisis. But Copenhagen is about so much more than the success of a deal that may be reached. It is more than a specific emissions reduction number that is ultimately agreed upon. It is a call to action. It is a call for leadership.

This is a defining moment for our country. Will we deliver the promise of the American Dream? Or just the rhetoric? Are we ready to make sure that children from Detroit to Johannesburg are given an opportunity to succeed in the clean-energy economy?

We are seeing issues of equity and justice play out in Copenhagen. Last weekend, 100,000 people rallied for a climate deal that addresses the role that each nation has played in the pollution of our planet. Yesterday, developing countries walked out of the negotiations as a tactic to push wealthy nations to act in support of balanced discussions.

In Copenhagen, our real opportunity is to organize and build power, to make connections with new allies across the world, and to learn and share our experiences, solutions, hardships, and sources of strength. As much as the U.N. deal in Copenhagen matters, how we act in the weeks and months that follow is equally important. We need to strengthen this global movement so that we are all more prepared to collectively push for stronger, better, and truer solutions to poverty and climate change.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is the CEO of Green For All, a national organization working to build access and opportunity for all communities in the clean-energy economy.

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