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2009-09-23

With Copenhagen Summit Approaching, Leading Polluters US and China Undercut Hopes of Substantial Pollution Cuts

Topics

Guests

Andrew Revkin, award-winning science reporter with the New York Times. He also writes the Dot Earth blog on the New York Times website. His most recent book is The North Pole Was Here: Puzzles and Perils at the Top of the World.

Anna Pinto, indigenous rights activist from India. She represents the Meitei from northeastern India and is the co-founder of CORE.

Ted Glick, policy director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

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World leaders gathered at the United Nations on Tuesday for a one-day global summit on climate change. But with little on specifics and emerging signs the world’s biggest polluters will try to determine their own emissions reductions, poorer nations most threatened by global warming are warning they’re being left behind. We speak with award-winning New York Times reporter Andy Revkin, environmental activist Ted Glick, and Anna Pinto, an indigenous rights activist from India who’s traveled to Pittsburgh to call on G-20 leaders to tackle global warming. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

ANJALI KAMAT: World leaders gathered at the United Nations on Tuesday for a one-day global summit on climate change. The conference drew nearly 100 heads of state and came seventy days before the major climate summit in Copenhagen in December to update the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the talks, saying the failure to reach a new treaty this year on fighting global warming would be, quote, "morally inexcusable."

    SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: A successful deal must strengthen the world’s ability to cope with inevitable changes. In particular, it must provide comprehensive support to the most vulnerable. They have contributed least to this crisis and are suffering first — and worst.

    Failure to reach broad agreement in Copenhagen would be morally inexcusable, economically shortsighted and politically unwise. We cannot go down this road.

ANJALI KAMAT: President Barack Obama, in his first speech at the United Nations, said the United States was "determined" to act on global warming but offered no specific proposals to jumpstart talks on a UN climate pact.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is true that for too many years mankind has been slow to respond or even recognize the magnitude of the climate threat. It is true of my own country, as well. We recognize that. But this is a new day. It is a new era. And I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history.

ANJALI KAMAT: All eyes were also on China’s president, Hu Jintao. China and the United States account for more than 40 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. In his address, Hu Jintao spoke of reducing emissions by a "notable" margin, but did not give a specific target.

    PRESIDENT HU JINTAO: [translated] First, we will intensify our efforts to conserve energy and improve energy efficiency. We will endeavor to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 levels. Second, we will vigorously develop renewable energy and nuclear energy. We will endeavor to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in prime energy consumption to around 15 percent by 2020.

ANJALI KAMAT: Hu Jintao and Obama are scheduled to meet for one-on-one talks after the summit. Both leaders will then head to Pittsburgh for the G-20 summit, where climate change is a top agenda item.

AMY GOODMAN: Scientists and activists are warning the international community is at a crossroads and must take decisive steps to tackle global warming. Earlier this week, Nobel Peace laureate Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warned that current emissions trajectories will be speeding the world towards the panel’s worst-case possibilities, including heat waves, droughts, melting glaciers, loss of the Greenland ice sheet and other dangers.

For more, we’re joined by three guests.

Andrew Revkin is with us, award-winning science reporter with the New York Times, writes the "Dot Earth" blog for the Times website. He was at the UN covering the climate summit yesterday. He joins us in our firehouse studio here in New York.

In DC, we’re joined by Ted Glick, policy director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

And joining us from Pittsburgh is Anna Pinto. She is an indigenous rights activist from India who’s there as part of the New Voices on Climate Change program, representing the Meitei from northeastern India. And she’s co-founder of CORE.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Andrew Revkin, let’s begin with you. The significance of the climate change UN summit that took place yesterday, and then how it fits into the progression from there to G-20 to Copenhagen?

ANDREW REVKIN: Well, Ban Ki-moon knew he wasn’t going to get some magical deal here, but the idea is to increase pressure on world leaders, putting them on a global stage and on, you know, webcasts around the world to stake some positions.

As you heard, there was a lot of vague positions staked. India is proposing a more specific menu. They could triple their emissions in the next thirty years, according to their own forecasts, of CO2, the main greenhouse gas. So India, in some ways, almost matters more for the future than China, because China’s population is going to stabilize while India is still growing. But India’s plan is also kind of touchy-feely. They want to put forward legislation; they would need Parliament to approve. It’s all still kind of — what you’ll see toward December is more specifics being kind of squeezed out of people as the deadline emerges.

AMY GOODMAN: China and US, basically equal on global warming, on being the number one emitters?

ANDREW REVKIN: And when you tally up gross emissions, yeah, we’re about the same now. China has pulled into the lead recently by some estimates. But, of course, they have three times or more the population that we do, and they make that point repeatedly, that they’re — the countries that have generated the greenhouse gases that have already accumulated in the atmosphere, us rich folks, for a century, basically we’ve had a fossil fuel party for a century, gotten very wealthy, and they’re saying, “Hey, you know, if we’re going to divert from that same benefit, you guys have to pay for it.”

And that’s — the big issue here will be who pays for change. China and India both are saying, you know, “We’re going to do what we can, as long as we can keep our economies growing. And if you want us to divert more than that, the wealthy countries have to chip in.” And Ban Ki-moon was basically saying the same thing, that the established powers owe a climate debt, in essence. You heard that from other — the Bolivian, I think it was, spokesman earlier.

And that’s a tough sell, because — and one reason Obama can’t come out with specifics is because he has this huge chain and shackle on his — on him, on the presidency, which is, to sign onto any treaty, he knows he has to get two-thirds approval of the Senate, under our Constitution. So that’s sixty-seven votes. That’s more than just passing a health bill with sixty. So it’s — he knows that from the get-go. His administration has been very sober and kind of real world in the statements they’ve made all this year about what they can and can’t do. And all this is playing out in a way that’s pretty — making a lot of environmental groups unhappy, because they would like to see some more specifics already.

ANJALI KAMAT: And yet, Andrew Revkin, the countries that are most affected by climate change, they are the ones calling for mandatory limits. The president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, he’s — I mean, his country, the Maldives, an Indian Ocean island, they are threatened with extinction if —-

ANDREW REVKIN: I’ve been there twice. I know. You feel the waves. You can kind of feel the vibrations.

AMY GOODMAN: And what can be achieved for these millions of people who aren’t the ones with the most emissions?

ANDREW REVKIN: In 2007, we did a long series called “The Climate Divide,” which basically articulated clearly that the countries with the least history of emitting are the ones that have a fundamentally greater vulnerability to climate risk now. This is -— to garden variety drought and flood, let alone what may come down the line. So, how that obligation, that ethical obligation, is played out is part of this, as well.

There’s really three parties coming to Copenhagen: the poorest countries; the large, fast-advancing, once poor countries; and the wealthy, established countries. And there’s three different issues or more that kind of drive wedges between them. That’s why no one who really has followed this process for a long time is confident that Copenhagen will produce some kind of grand, new, comprehensive deal.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this conversation after break. Andrew Revkin, award-winning science reporter for the New York Times, just came from the climate change summit at the United Nations held yesterday. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking climate change, from the UN climate change summit to G-20 this week and on to Copenhagen. We’re joined by the New York Times reporter, science reporter, Andrew Revkin, here in New York. Ted Glick is with us from Washington, DC, Chesapeake Climate Action Network. And Anna Pinto is joining us from Pittsburgh, indigenous rights activist from northeastern India. Anjali?

ANJALI KAMAT: Anna Pinto, I wanted to ask you — you’re from a region that’s directly affected by climate change. Can you talk about what it’s like where you are, how climate change impacts the communities where you’re living, and why you’re in Pittsburgh?

ANNA PINTO: Well, we are in the sub-Himalayan region and in the lower slopes of the Himalayas. We’re impacted primarily by two major phenomena. One is the glacial melt in the Himalayas, which exacerbates flooding. And the other is the erratic character that has developed in the monsoon rain, which also causes both drought and flash floods simultaneously. These are the two major climate events that impact us, and they augment each other to escalate the problem even more over the last ten years.

ANJALI KAMAT: And what is India planning to do to combat climate change? Can you talk about the proposal by the Indian minister yesterday at the UN? He spoke quite a bit about this.

ANNA PINTO: Well, as far as I understand it, when you strip away a lot of the goodwill language, India plans to address climate change by continuing its current development trajectory. And that is not a solution. Very often, I think development is posited against climate change action, and that is a fallacy. Climate change action, effective climate change action, whether mitigation or adaptation, would go along healthy development paths, which means cutting out and reducing fossil fuel use. It means reducing high energy and high fossil fuel and high — highly invasive kinds of development practices. And I don’t think India is going along that path at all.

What India is trying to do, basically, if it’s analyzed right down up to the ground, is to, in fact, expand its industrial base, to take over holistic, low-energy, self-sustaining and highly sustainable forms of livelihoods from indigenous peoples, from local communities, and convert all these into a high productivity profile, which conforms to the international idea of what development is. And that is probably the biggest mistake India can make for the welfare of its own people, including — and, of course, most of all, the most vulnerable people, indigenous and local communities, as well as the worst things that can be done in the context of climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Anna Pinto, about how climate change effects migration of large populations?

ANNA PINTO: Well, when your land has dried out, years in succession, due to drought and to annual droughts, when your land is flooded during seasons of harvest or when the waters should actually be receding from the paddy fields, you don’t have anything in terms of options, except to move away, hopefully to a place where you might get a short-term or a longer-term option for livelihood. That is what is driving massive migrations throughout sub-continental — not just India, but the whole South Asia region. It’s driving migration from Bangladesh into India. It’s driving migration from Nepal when there are floods. It’s driving migration within India all around the country.

And most of the people end up in slums. They end up at the mercy of all kinds of criminal activities, including traffickers, including sex traffickers. The list of problems that is generated by bad policy and shortsighted policy and policy that really supports the entrenchment of rich people and their interests in the global economy is massive, and it’s vicious.

ANJALI KAMAT: Anna Pinto, very quickly, you’re in Pittsburgh for the G-20. Do you have any hope that the G-20 is going to address the issues you’re here for?

ANNA PINTO: I believe that they will attempt to address some of the questions as they see them. I do not think that their perspectives will coincide with the kind of approach I’m talking about.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Ted Glick into the conversation, policy director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Ted, the global picture right now around climate change, and what you think needs to happen, as we move from the UN climate change summit to the G-20 meeting — and there are also mass protests outside in Pittsburgh — to Copenhagen?

TED GLICK: Well, I thought, in terms of what happened at the United Nations, one of the underreported presentations was one made by the President, Mohamed Nasheed, of the Maldives, where he said something to the effect that we come to these conferences, we rail against the injustices, we go back home, things cool off, and the world continues as before. And he’s right.

It’s not that there isn’t some change; there certainly are. There’s more renewable energy being built and developed in various places around the world, even in the United States. There are changes that are happening. But by and large, given the seriousness and the severity of this crisis and the fact that it’s here — this is not something off in the future — the response just is not sufficient.

And I have to say, I include, when I say that, those who see themselves as progressive activists, as people who care about justice, as people who believe that we need to organize and mobilize to bring about change. Fortunately, there are opportunities this fall for all of us who get it, who are getting it, on the severity of this and the immediacy and the urgency of it, to take action.

Most immediately, October 24th is an international day of action being organized by 350.org. There are literally 115 countries, 1,500 actions all around the world happening on that day. That’s a very important action, a very important way to keep building momentum towards Copenhagen.

There’s civil disobedience, nonviolent civil disobedience, happening on November 30th around the world, being organized by the Mobilization for Climate Justice.

And then, during the Copenhagen talks themselves, in the middle of it, on Saturday, December 12th, is a global day of action being organized by the Global Climate Campaign, the Global Campaign for Climate Action, and many other groups.

So there are major opportunities for the — from the grassroots, from below, to bring the kind of pressure that absolutely needs to be brought. There is movement. There has been movement on this issue for years, including in the United States, but it’s absolutely time to step it up and to magnify it and intensify it. That’s what we need.

AMY GOODMAN: And the position of the US Congress and the Obama administration, Ted Glick?

TED GLICK: The Obama administration certainly gets the issue in a way that the Bush administration did not. There’s no question that some things are happening that are positive.

The problem is that the US Congress continues to be a stronghold of the coal interests and oil interests. You know, coal and oil has a major stranglehold over Capitol Hill. And again, that’s why mobilization is critical. We’re not going to solve this problem, unless we can break that stranglehold, unless we can get the kind of legislation that really begins to move us seriously off of coal, ends the building of any new coal plants, gets us onto a clean energy trajectory. Again, that won’t happen without significant mobilization on a broad scale.

ANJALI KAMAT: Andrew Revkin from the New York Times, I want to bring you back into the conversation. Can you talk about also why is Copenhagen so important?

ANDREW REVKIN: Well, if I could briefly just resonate on this point on the blog lately, I’ve moved, over twenty years, from covering just the pure science — you know, how much CO2 gives you how much warming, all that stuff — to what causes change or not. And there’s been this phrase that’s repeated. It’s on the blog right now, my piece out of the summit. It’s called "blah, blah, blah, bang." We have this tendency in human nature, with a looming, slow-drip problem like global warming, even in the face of these incremental changes, most of which are in places we don’t pay a lot of attention to, while we’re insulated ourselves, to let things slide until we get hammered. And the hammer has not fallen yet in any way that has been that kind of wake-up call.

Robert Brulle, who’s this sociologist, on the blog, sort of deconstructing us, shrinking us, you know, he says we’re really — and he points to the activist community, too, and said, you know, this isn’t just about lobbying within the Beltway. If you don’t have this kind of social awakening, in the absence of the big slam from nature, we’re not really going to do stuff. And so, what I’ve said, I asked on the blog again, are we still in this “blah, blah, blah, bang” kind of situation? Can we grow out of that? And it’s not clear yet.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Copenhagen having no carbon emissions standards, no requirements, no — that it’s all dropped, the mandates?

ANDREW REVKIN: Well, India — the reality is, it was really articulated, interestingly enough, by the Bush administration, that, you know, what we’ve got to deal with here is an incredibly variegated set of nearly 200 countries, with these entrenched blocs — the have-nots, the haves, the have-too-muches, the getting-enough folks — and you’re never going to have an agreement.

In fact, this has been articulated very clearly lately by Tim Wirth of the UN Foundation and others, that in Copenhagen, the most likely scenario is for sort of a package of fairly modest agreements on specific things like forests or technology sharing, but the big, heavy lift of having a global cap and sort of a Kyoto-style system after —-

AMY GOODMAN: Because Kyoto is expiring.

ANDREW REVKIN: Kyoto is expiring, and the next thing won’t be like Kyoto. It’ll be something different. That seems to be what everyone is forecasting, meaning not a mandatory ceiling for the globe under which everybody plays nice and trades, and people make money and cut emissions. It’s not going to -— the chances of that coming out within even a few years beyond Kyoto are mixed.

ANJALI KAMAT: And where does that leave the billions of climate refugees?

ANDREW REVKIN: Well, one of the issues that there’s some hope for an actual concrete commitment in Copenhagen is for actual money to flow to countries with climate vulnerability. It’s, as you see, Africa — the African Union, Ethiopia, they said they’re going to walk out if there isn’t sign of that. And if you look back at — for twenty years, I’ve been covering this since the ’80s, the first climate treaty in 1992, there were commitments to give poor countries adaptation money. And it never happened in any meaningful way. So if that doesn’t happen — that’s a starting point, I think — something along the — for that will likely come.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Andrew Revkin, we want to thank you for being with us, award-winning science reporter for the New York Times, writes the blog “Dot Earth” over at the Times website. His recent book, The North Pole Was Here: Puzzles and Perils at the Top of the World. Ted Glick, policy director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Anna Pinto in Pittsburgh, indigenous rights activist from India. And we’re going to stay right now in Pittsburgh around the issue of the protest there.

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