Stop Climate Chaos

An open letter to Barack Obama on the eve of his arrivial at the Climate Summit

Dear Mr. President,

Now is the time to give hope more than a voice. As you depart for the
UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen, I feel compelled to express my hope
and desire for the role you will play when you join the other heads of
state in reaching an agreement to avert catastrophic climate change:
the role you must play in keeping hope alive for many millions of
people around the world.

My Name is Kumi Naidoo, I am the International Executive Director of
Greenpeace, I am also chair the Global Coalition for Climate Action
( and serve as a co-chair of the Global Call to
Action Against Poverty ( But, most of all, like you,
I am a global citizen. I am also a child of Africa.

Like so many people around the world, I was uplifted during your
presidential campaign. I had great hope as I listened to you speak to
the perils of global warming, and about the promise of a clean energy
economy. I was delighted by the promise that the US would return to
multilateral engagement. After so many years of denial and inaction by
the Bush Administration, you restored my hope that a fair, ambitious
and legally binding climate agreement was possible. My hope that a deal
which would banish the specter of catastrophic climate change could be
struck. I believed and still believe you could be the leader to ensure
that happens.

As a child growing up under apartheid, I learned that it is possible
for a leader seeking change to keep hope alive. I also learned that,
sooner or later, transformative leaders must make difficult decisions.
Tomorrow you will face such a decision. Your choice could change the
course of history.

As you well know, no region or nation is immune to the ravages of
climate change. Melting glaciers, blazing forests, and acid seas are
some of the well-documented ecological impacts of climate change. But
too often, we lose sight of the inextricable link between the
environment and how real people are affected. It is now estimated that
some 300,000 people, mostly the poor and politically disenfranchised,
die every year in our warming world.

Water, food, and habitable land are becoming scarcer, compounding human
suffering and multiplying political tensions. The latest figures
suggest that if we don't act now, as many as one billion people will be
uprooted by climate impacts by mid-century.

That will inevitably lead to insecurity and conflict. Something an
already unstable world can ill-afford. Already climate impacts, such as
the drying up of Lake Chad, one of the largest inland seas in the
world, have exacerbated the tragedy in Darfur, where water scarcity and
competition for land have destroyed the lives of millions. Indeed,
climate change arguably constitutes the biggest threat to peace. The
costs of inaction will be measured in human lives, and you well know
that women and children, as always, will bear the biggest burden.

The poor and voiceless will suffer most; they will be hit hardest and
fastest. The unfairness of that pains me. They are the least
responsible for causing climate change.

At home, you have taken important steps to make up for lost time by
enacting policies which will simultaneously limit greenhouse gas
pollution and put Americans to work. From afar, it appears that the
ambition of these plans has been stifled by powerful fossil fuel and
energy corporations. To date, your negotiators have only agreed to a
paltry provisional cut in US emissions of 3 percent on 1990 levels by
2020 - dangerously below the 25-40 percent cut the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change says is necessary to avert catastrophic climate
change. The US has also failed to put a long-term financial assistance
package on the table. Long-term cash injections are desperately needed
to allow poor countries to adapt to the climate impacts they are
experiencing and will experience. They need money to invest in clean
energy sources as they develop their economies.

I feel a responsibility to inform you that this lack of ambition has
profoundly discouraged many of the same people who were so energized by
your promise of hope and pledges to rejoin the international community
in this common struggle.

I cling on to hope, because as you have so vividly demonstrated,
anything is possible. The prospect of personal leadership at the
negotiations allows me to retain some 'audacity of hope' that you will
have both the courage and the vision to make history.

This is not a simple political crisis: it is a moral crisis. I want to
continue to believe in you Mr President. I appeal to your humanity -
please don't condemn the peoples of low-lying island states and the
world's most vulnerable countries to uncertainty. Do not let them be
wiped off the map.

You have given the world hope that we will finally put this crisis
behind us. You have the opportunity to turn hope into action and into

Those from the most vulnerable states face a clear and present danger,
but let us be clear, all of the world's 6.8 billion people will suffer
from the consequences of unchecked climate change. They need a leader
with the courage and vision to act. I pray and hope you are such a

I end by reminding you of something you said often during your
campaign. You frequently invoked the powerful words of Martin Luther
King: "The fierce urgency of now".

Sadly, according to the science the urgency of now has become even more
fierce. I humbly appeal to you to reject the voices of short-term
interest, of political expediency and of compromise.

Listen instead to the call of history. Listen to the voices of those
most at threat. Listen to the voices of future generations, of our
children and grandchildren. Of your children. Of your grandchildren, as
yet unborn. Then, please, take the action that you know is needed.

Kumi Naidoo

Executive Director
Greenpeace International

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