We Can’t Forget the Poor in the Climate Change Debate

We Can’t Forget the Poor in the Climate Change Debate

As international climate talks conclude in Copenhagen, it is clear that we are on the verge of a historic moment. Today, 130 heads of state seek to reach an agreement on clear steps forward to solve the climate crisis. The significance of this moment cannot be overstated, especially for historically disadvantaged communities.

The effects of climate change threaten all nations and peoples. But it is developing countries and impoverished communities who suffer the most. From heat-related deaths to floods and famine, poor people and people of color are the first to be devastated when climate disaster strikes. This is true whether it be New Orleans or Namibia.

Just yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a plan to mobilize $100 billion in financing to help developing nations and countries most vulnerable to climate change adapt and invest in clean energy. This financing is a bold step in the right direction, and will provide essential resources to countries and people in dire need. It far surpasses previous U.S. commitments in funding and brought new energy to Copenhagen, raising some hope that an agreement may emerge later today.

This financing has the potential to save lives and transform communities. Yet, like the House of Representative’s climate and energy bill, an international investment to combat the effects of global warming must include policies that ensure the inclusion of and access for the most vulnerable to the benefits of a green economy.

Green For All worked with a coalition of civil rights, labor, faith and environmental groups to ensure the inclusion of these essential provisions in the House legislation. The leadership role taken on by advocates for people of color and the working poor had never before been seen on this scale for this issue. This support shifted the terms of our national debate.

I hope to see that replicated today.

The equity provisions in the House bill may not directly translate to an international agreement. But their spirit must be maintained. Climate policy — whether at home or abroad — must ensure survival for communities that too often languish at the margins of prosperity.

We’re gaining strength. We’re forging partnerships. And we’re building a growing consensus that low-income communities and communities of color — whether West African or African American — must have a fair stake in a new, clean-energy economy.

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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