At Global Climate Action Summit, thousands vow to uphold Paris accord
Indigenous activists gather outside Global Climate Action Summit | Democracy Now!

SAN FRANCISCO – They came to the Global Climate Action Summit held here Sept. 12-14 – over 4,000 delegates from around the world. Leaders of businesses both big and small, local and national political leaders, climate justice activists, indigenous people, youth, leaders of international climate organizations. National and international labor leaders, artists and musicians – and protesters, both before and during the summit.

In a Call to Action announced at the closing plenary, delegates urged “all leaders to step up and take bold action. Climate change is a threat to all humanity, and it can only be solved by a global cooperative effort.” They called for “strong national policies” to implement the 2015 Paris Climate Accord … “It is up to all of us to roll back the forces of carbonization. Together we will rise and converge on a new climate-safe agenda for the world.”

The Call also featured a list of climate action commitments made at the summit by hundreds of state and local elected officials, indigenous groups, businesses and investors.

The summit was held in the context of devastating weather events around the world, and President Trump’s withdrawal last year from the agreement his predecessor, Barack Obama, had welcomed at its birth.

California’s Governor Jerry Brown called for the summit in July 2017, after President Trump had announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the accord as soon as the accord itself allows – November 2020.

No surprise that in their remarks, many speakers made veiled and not-so-veiled references to the current president. Brown pointedly told journalists at a summit news conference: “I think he’ll be remembered, on the path he’s now? I don’t know. Liar, criminal, fool.”

A point of pride for many speakers, particularly local government leaders, was that in the face of such a setback, the U.S. is still meeting its commitments.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who co-chaired the summit together with Brown, proudly pointed to a report showing that despite the administration’s rejection of the accord, the U.S. is overall meeting its targets.

Noting that since 2000, “the U.S. has reduced carbon emission more than any other nation,” Bloomberg said, “Last year, U.S. emissions fell to the lowest level in 25 years.”

The summit opened with an invocation and ceremony led by Kanyon Sayers-Roods of the Indian Canyon Muraun Band of Costanoan Ohlone People, and indigenous people from many parts of the world played important parts throughout the event.

Among them was Rukka Sombolinggi, secretary-general of Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara, of Indonesia. “Indigenous people and government, we don’t have a great history together,” she said. “But here we are history … earlier this week we took a big step together: a global coalition of indigenous peoples, local communities and subnational governments.”

Among the coalition’s guiding principles, she listed recognition of indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ rights in relation to the land, culture, self-determination and governance, and recognition of indigenous people’s “historic contributions” to maintaining “forest stocks and environmental services the forests provide… Now we need to take it off of paper and make it a reality. The only way forward is to work together. If not us, who? And if not now, when?”

Though greatly outnumbered on the program by corporate and governmental leaders, labor around the world played a significant role as well.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the labor movement is vitally concerned with climate change, and passed a strong climate resolution at its last convention. But he warned that simply demanding plants and industries be shut down with no plan for those who lose their jobs as a result “poisons the political will, slows meaningful action on climate change” and feeds “a politics of division and fear that threatens our entire democracy.”

To applause from the delegates, he urged all present to join in figuring out “how we find and invest in technology and workers and communities that can build a sustainable economy of broadly-shared prosperity.”

Among other participants from labor were Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation; Hans-Christian Gabrielson, president of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions; Irene Lanziger, president of the British Columbia Federation of Labor; and Robbie Hunter, president of the California State Building and Construction Trades Council.

Accompanied by other members of the We Are Still In coalition of local, state and tribal leaders, businesses and educators, James Brainard, Republican mayor of Carmel, Ind., reminded delegates that Republican presidents from Teddy Roosevelt through Ronald Reagan have backed establishing parks and reserves, setting up the Environmental Protection Agency, and signing bills protecting the environment.

“Climate should be nonpartisan because our planet demands it,” he said. “I have yet to meet a Democrat or Republican who doesn’t want to leave the earth in good shape for their children and grandchildren.”

Telling the delegates that virtually all the members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, representing some 85 percent of the country’s population, have signed the conference’ Climate Protection Agreement, Brainard declared, “Great countries show leadership to the world on critical issues … regardless of Washington, the people of our country will keep the promises made in Paris by doing what it takes at the state and local level.”

Addressing delegates attending the Ocean-Climate Challenge high-level dialogue session – one of 25 such sessions during the summit – Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the reality of climate change in Africa “stark,” with droughts, huge storms and floods “on a continent already challenged by poverty and underdevelopment.”

Though they are victims of climate change, Kamau said, African countries “recognize that we have to be part of the solution, because if we are not, we ourselves are going to suffer even more because we don’t have the technology to be able to respond.”

Africa will industrialize, and under present conditions, it will do so using old technologies no longer used elsewhere, Kamau said. It is vital to “find a way to reconcile industrialization and manufacturing with conservation and prosperity of our planet … This is a huge challenge for the world because everything you are doing might be undone by what happens when Africa and poor countries elsewhere in the global south rise.”

Following Kamau on the panel was Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an activist and former chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. “We are a people who still hunt and fish every day,” she told the gathering, “so we are still very connected to the land, the waters and the ice. For us, the ice is our highway.”

The violence inflicted on indigenous communities in the Arctic and around the world “now mirrors the violence we are inflicting on our planet,” she said.

Climate change is really about the health, food security, poverty and human rights issues experienced by Arctic peoples, and can even affect global security: “What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic … the connection is very strong.”

Along with the climate activists, CEOs of giant corporations including Salesforce, Starbucks and L’Oreal, climate activists including former Vice President Al Gore, scientists such as Dr. Jane Goodall and former astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, and celebrities including Robert Redford and Harrison Ford addressed the delegates. Several speakers called for active participation in the November elections.

Co-chair and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s remarks were briefly interrupted by demonstrators including activists from Brown’s Last Chance, protesting the California governor’s signing of multiple permits for extracting oil and gas in the state.

As a final touch, Gov. Brown announced that California is preparing to launch its own satellite into space, “to figure out where the pollution is and how are we going to end it.” Funding is to be provided by private donors, and data will be made public through a partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund. Brown’s office said the satellite will let scientists “pinpoint – and stop – destructive emissions … on a scale that’s never been done before.”


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.