Today at COP23, the United States Climate Action Center event “America’s Pledge on Climate Change,” had speakers that included Walmart’s Senior Vice President of Sustainability, the Mayor of Pittsburgh, California Governor Jerry Brown, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. They reassured the world that America’s Paris contribution would be met regardless of inaction at the federal level. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto showcased Pittsburgh’s work to turn around its recession by creating new opportunities for industry workers in a post-industrial city; he cited the BlueGreen Alliance, which was formed between the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club on a mission that there should not be a choice between jobs and the environment.
Governor Jerry Brown was the star of the morning because of the immense leadership role he and the State of California have taken on climate. However, he was interrupted by groups of vocal protesters who stood up from the crowd with big banners shouting, “Keep it in the ground.” The protest was organized by the It Takes Roots delegation, a group of indigenous and marginalized peoples working on climate justice issues, who were speaking out against local industry pollutants in communities. This head-to-head confrontation immediately chilled the room, which was enjoying the congratulatory atmosphere of the event. Before long, someone attempted to initiate a pro-Governor Brown chant.
Making sure the world recognizes that American cities, states, and businesses are committed to tackling climate change is a worthwhile endeavor. This strengthens negotiations, especially when there has been emphasis placed at the COP on increasing ambition before 2020. However, the way the protesters were approached at this morning’s event was not in the true spirit of COP23. The ‘Pacific COP’ is a COP that prides itself on hearing Indigenous voices and nonparty stakeholders. This would have been an opportunity to showcase this effort. This also serves as a reminder that in the face of not only climate change but also a transition to a low-carbon economy, it is imperative that vulnerable communities are not left behind.