May 17, 2019

I was one of 1,500 people who packed Cramton Auditorium at Howard University in Washington, D.C., for the final stop of the Sunrise Movement’s Road to the Green New Deal.” Young people like myself made up the majority of the sold-out crowd.

Activists, campaigners, and policy leaders took the stage to speak fiercely about the need for climate action – action that matches the scale of the crisis, that is rooted in racial and economic justice, and that centers frontline communities.

Frontline means Ray from Detroit, Michigan, who is working with Sunrise to fight for clean air and economic justice.

It means Mikala from Paradise, California, fighting to raise her town from the ashes of wildfires.

Frontline also means farmers in The Gambia fighting to make ends meet and women in Bangladesh fighting for infrastructure against natural disaster – two communities we work with at ActionAid.

“I’m also the child of two South Indian immigrants,” Varshini Prakash, co-founder and Executive Director of Sunrise Movement, shared at the event on Monday. “And India is a place that is being completely devastated by the climate crisis. Just last fall, I watched as over one million people were displaced and put in refugee camps in their own state, where my family’s ancestral homelands are, because of climate-fueled monsoon seasons.”

Our team watched, too, and we knew we had to act. ActionAid supported an estimated 10,000 people in refugee camps to recover from this disaster across the coastal state of Kerala, India.

In the first days, we coordinated with women community leaders to provide food, water filters, cots, sanitary products, and clothes to families in the camps. Months later, we’re continuing to support communities as they repair the physical infrastructure that was damaged, restore land that was washed out in the flooding, and rebuild their lives.

We know from this work that funding global disaster response isn’t enough. We have to fund real global climate solutions.

In his speech on Monday, Senator Bernie Sanders said, “It is absolutely imperative that we have American leadership that does everything possible to bring the nations of the world together to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel into energy efficiency and sustainable energies.”

His call to action was met with cheers and applause. But it’s worth considering what exactly “American leadership” has meant in terms of global climate action for the past few decades. “American leadership” was watering down the first global climate action treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, and then refusing to sign it. “American leadership” was ensuring the Paris Agreement was nonbinding and voluntary, and then declaring we would withdraw from it anyway. And “American leadership” was deflecting calls for climate finance for poorer countries by pointing to the private sector and leading the charge for dodgy accounting practices to hide the fact that rich countries aren’t paying their fair share.

We don’t think this is what Sen. Sanders means when he talks about “American leadership.” But we have to acknowledge the reality of what this has looked like for the rest of the world, so we can make the drastic change that’s so badly needed. We need the U.S. to step up for international climate justice.

That means the U.S. must:

  • Immediately begin reducing its own emissions in line with its fair share – meaning action 5-6 times more ambitious than the Obama administration pledged under the Paris Agreement;
  • fulfill its pledge to provide billions of dollars to poorer countries to fight climate change;
  • pay its fair share of climate finance, which far exceeds its current commitments;
  • support poorer countries to adapt to and cope with the effects of climate change and to transition to renewable energy in a sustainable way;
  • avoid “false solutions” to climate change including bioenergy, so-called “clean” fossil fuels that actually harm the environment, carbon markets that allow existing polluters to continue business as usual, and dangerous and unproven geoengineering technologies; and
  • recognize that the climate crisis is a global emergency that requires unprecedented international solidarity and cooperation to resolve.

None of this will be easy. That’s why we need a vibrant movement led by young people and frontline communities demanding it in the streets and in the halls of power. People around the world require this of us, and they require it of the Green New Deal.