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2009-12-16

"If Bush Was in Kindergarten, Obama Is in First Grade"– Indian Environmentalist Sunita Narain on US Climate Policy

Guests

Sunita Narain, leading Indian environmentalist and political activist. She is the director of the New Delhi, India-based Center for Science and Environment and editor of the magazine Down to Earth.

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As heads of state begin to arrive to the COP15 summit here in Copenhagen, the rift between rich and poor countries continues to widen. With less than three days to go, there is no final agreement or breakthrough on the future of the Kyoto Protocol, which industrialized nations, led by the United States, are seeking to dismantle. We speak with leading environmentalist and political activist from India, Sunita Narain. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

As heads of state begin to arrive at the COP15 summit here in Copenhagen, the rift between rich and poor countries continues to widen. On Tuesday, officials from China, India, Brazil and South Africa spoke out angrily after being pressured to sign a deal dictated by rich countries. With less than three days to go, there is no final agreement or breakthrough on the future of the Protocol — the Kyoto Protocol, which industrialized nations, led by the United States, are seeking to dismantle.

I’m joined now by a leading environmentalist and political activist from India. She’s the director of the New Delhi, India-based Center for Science and Environment and the editor of the magazine Down to Earth. In 1991, she co-authored the publication "Global Warming in an Unequal World: A Case of Environmental Colonialism." In a recent article, she writes, quote, "The inconvenient truth is not that climate change is real, but that confronting climate change is about sharing that growth between nations and people. The rich must reduce so that the poor can grow." Sunita Narain, that’s her words.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!

SUNITA NARAIN:

Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN:

You have said this is the worst conference, is that right? The worst COP, conference of parties?

SUNITA NARAIN:

Yeah. I don’t know, Amy. It could be that I’m getting old and that I just see this differently, but I was at Rio, I was at —- in Berlin when the Berlin -—

AMY GOODMAN:

Rio was 1992.

SUNITA NARAIN:

Ninety-two. I was in Berlin when the Berlin Mandate was set. That was ’95 when the Berlin Mandate was decided upon. I was in Kyoto when we talked about the Kyoto Protocol in end of 1997. And every conference had definitely difficulties. Definitely we’ve had difficulties between the North and the South. But I think the kind of distrust that you have at this meeting, the kind of bad organization that you have, the lack of process, the lack of transparency, the enormous effort there seems to be to somehow fix the deal — and that’s completely unacceptable. And I think, you know, if it’s the Danish government or if it’s the US government working with the Danish government, I think the only lesson to them is that they really cannot do this and get away.

AMY GOODMAN:

What do you think is being lost right now? Explain, as hundred — more than a hundred heads of state come to Copenhagen.

SUNITA NARAIN:

Time. I think what is really being lost today is time. We know that climate change is urgent. We need to do something about it. We need to reduce the emissions that we have. And this conference was to come after two years of negotiations.

And yet, what you have at this conference is a complete breakdown, and it’s not because of the developing countries. It’s not because of India and China. That’s, you know, just hiding behind two countries. It’s very clear: it’s because the United States wants to dismantle the Kyoto Protocol. They want to dismantle the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is based on the notion of equity. They want to bring to — in fact, they want to replace it with a completely different multilateral system. So there is a breakdown here, and there are countries responsible for it, but my suspicion is, on Friday, when President Obama does descend to the city, the world media is going to blame the poor nations and not the rich nations.

AMY GOODMAN:

What does it mean — what kind of pressure is being brought to fix the deal?

SUNITA NARAIN:

Well, I think there’s both overt pressure and there is pressure from — you know, which is hidden pressure. When you look at — firstly, we need to understand what’s the deal that the rich nations want. The rich nations want a deal in which, without Kyoto, they have an agreement, which is based on pledge and review, a system in which every country, including the United States, puts up a number and says this is what they will do domestically. So there is no multilateral framework which will make every country agree to a certain target for reduction. And we know that the US has put on the table a very small number, three percent below 1990 levels, when it needs to cut 40 percent. That’s the deal they want.

To get that deal, there is enormous pressure. There is pressure on our governments to be able to agree, to sign on it. There is pressure on poorer nations with the offer of money to break them from the G-77. There is all kind of pressure. And my fear in this, as an environmentalist, is that what we are doing is really not good for climate change, because we are not working towards an effective agreement. We’re undermining a good agreement.

AMY GOODMAN:

You’ve been doing this for decades now.

SUNITA NARAIN:

Too long.

AMY GOODMAN:

How is the Obama administration different from the Bush administration, George W. Bush? Or is it?

SUNITA NARAIN:

Well, I think if President Bush was in kindergarten, President Obama is in first grade, but nothing more than that.

AMY GOODMAN:

What do you mean?

SUNITA NARAIN:

Well, it just means that President Bush didn’t understand — rejected the very notion of climate change for a long time. He also rejected the Kyoto Protocol. And he said that the US will do nothing about it. President Obama accepts that climate change is real, which is welcome, but he also rejects the Kyoto Protocol, and he also puts on the table a very weak target for his country to do. He has not shown leadership at the scale that is needed in the world. The world has a crisis, and we need leaders who can face up to that crisis. And as yet, President Obama has not shown that.

AMY GOODMAN:

What does global warming look like from India?

SUNITA NARAIN:

Bad. Very bad. We are very badly impacted because of climate change. How are we impacted is because of the monsoons. Monsoons are the true finance minister of India, OK? Then it’s not the man who sits in the chair and is called the finance minister. And today what science is telling us is that our monsoons are going to get more variable, less predictable, and more intense, which means that when it rains, it’s going pour. When it rains, there’s going to be a flood. That means farmers have less water for their crops when they need it. That’s devastation at a scale which is unbelievable, because it’s all in small stories. It’s not the kind of headline news, because you won’t catch it as a city going down. But it’s about people’s lives.

AMY GOODMAN:

You know, it is not easy to get into the Center right now, which is more than just a technical point. It’s about civil society being here.

SUNITA NARAIN:

Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN:

I am wearing my press pass right now, several IDs, because it’s that serious. Many thousands of people haven’t been able to get in. You tried in the last few days. How long were you on the line? And what do you think this means?

SUNITA NARAIN:

It’s a nightmare. We were in the line for nine hours on Monday. Nine hours. The problem was not that we were in the line; the problem also was that there was absolutely no information. There was no willingness to treat this, that these are people who have come because they want to be part of the process. It was all treated as, you know, you’re too many, you’re unwanted, we really didn’t invite you, this is our party. And the fact is, the UN gave accreditation to 45,000 people. And if those numbers have been given accreditation, how can you turn around and say, “Well, we do not have space for you”?

And to me, this speaks about the process that we have today. I mean, I am appalled at the kind of behavior I have seen from police, the fact that there are preventive arrests happening in the city, the fact that activists who are fighting for something that we all believe in, that everyone sitting in this room believes in, are actually being treated as if they were criminals, the fact that there is no civil society voice of dissent which is allowed inside the room. You’ve heard today that the Friends of the Earth, you know, has been de-barred, de-badged.

AMY GOODMAN:

We broadcast Nnimmo Bassey being pushed out and got this Twitter feed, a correction: World Wildlife Fund said they couldn’t give out press releases in the media area. But there is a serious crackdown inside. What is the best possible outcome in this two days?

SUNITA NARAIN:

If this is the kind of process that they have here, there is no good outcome out of it. Be very clear about it.

AMY GOODMAN:

Do you think no deal is better than —

SUNITA NARAIN:

This is not a democratic process. Of course, a bad deal is worse than a no-deal. I’m sorry, a no-deal, OK, is better than a bad deal. Let me put it this way. I am basically saying, we do not want a bad deal.

And this process, which keeps — which keeps people out, which is undemocratic in the way it even consults with its own parties, is clearly not a process which is going to be effective in dealing with humanity’s biggest crisis. We need cooperation between people. We need democracy to function at the global level. If we cannot even get democracy to show its face in Bella Center, do you think we can fix climate change?

AMY GOODMAN:

If you were to meet President Obama today, do you think the US is the major obstructionist force here, or not?

SUNITA NARAIN:

I think the US has been the major obstructionist force in climate change from the day the crisis began.

AMY GOODMAN:

Why?

SUNITA NARAIN:

When you look at the Kyoto Protocol, when you look at the UNFCC — I was in Rio. The entire dialogue on Rio was to somehow get the Americans to agree: “Let’s be pragmatic. We need them on the table.” So all numbers were whittled down, all targets were reduced, just to bring the Americans on board. The Americans walked out.

Then came the Kyoto Protocol. Everything was done somehow to get the world’s biggest polluter to agree to be a responsible nation. Everything was done because the world needs the US on board. Kyoto was signed, the US walked out.

And today you have Copenhagen. All the games that we are seeing here is a single country which is driving it, which wants a weak agreement. And I think it is time that people in America said enough is enough.

AMY GOODMAN:

Sunita Narain, I want to thank you so much for being with us, leading environmentalist from India.

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