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Obama, the UN and Climate Change

September 24, 2009

On Monday, President Barack Obama addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. In his speech he addressed the issue of global climate change by saying, “Our generation’s response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it – boldly, swiftly, and together – we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.”

For many these were encouraging words, but they are still just words. President Obama offered no concrete solutions or commitment from the United States to actually work towards a significant reduction in greenhouse gases.

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Something else that was missing from much of the US media coverage was other perspectives on the issue of climate change. The international women’s organization MADRE said this is response to Obama’s remarks;

“You correctly identified climate change as a key issue of our time.  Yet, missing from your comments were concrete solutions and the recognition that rural women hold key solutions to climate change.  Women are the traditional managers of rural communities’ food, water and other environmental resources. Women farmers in Nicaragua who have led the way in sustainable, organic agriculture; women in Kenya who have brought wells for clean water to their communities; women in Panama who have preserved biodiversity by protecting seed banks—these are the on-the-ground experts to whom we should be turning for models of sustainable resource management.”

Unless you read the independent news media you would not come across the perspective of people like Constance Okollet, a farmer from Uganda, who has suffered from tremendous drought conditions brought about by climate change.

The international environmental group Friends of the Earth issued a statement on Wednesday to US President Barack Obama demanding that the US do what they claim they will in being a leader on climate change.

“The U.S. Congress is dragging its heels on climate legislation in the lead up to Copenhagen in December, where key international climate negotiations will take place. The Obama administration must make good on its pledge that the United States will be a global ally in the fight against climate change.”

Copenhagen is the site of the first international conference on climate change since Kyoto that involved the world’s leaders. According to Indian activist Vandana Shiva the US has done very little to address the carbon emissions it has produced as a nation, despite the promises that came out of Kyoto.

“The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in December 1997, set binding targets for these countries to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions by 5 per cent on average against 1990 levels by 2012. But by 2007, America’s greenhouse-gas levels were 16 per cent higher than 1990 levels. The American Clean Energy and Security Act, which was passed in June, commits the US to reduce emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, yet this is just 4 per cent below 1990 levels.”

Shiva believes that one of the biggest obstacles to achieving significant reductions in carbon emissions is the market-based plan that the rich nations of the world have adopted, what is called “carbon trading.” Carbon trading essentially allows rich countries of the world the ability to continue to pollute at unsustainable levels and at the same time use the resources and people of poorer nations as offsets.

For more information about what grassroots people are doing about climate change check out Beyond Talk and 350.org.

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