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Bolivian UN Ambassador: Despite Extreme Weather, US and Other Developed Countries Failing to Make Serious Pledges to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions

August 10, 2010


Pablo Solon

Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Even as the world faces a series of extreme weather events that scientists warn is related to global warming, international climate negotiations are moving at a glacial pace. The latest round of climate talks in Bonn, Germany, ended last week, and diplomats have just one more short meeting in China in the coming months to hash out their differences before the critical high-level climate conference in Cancún, Mexico, at the end of the year. We speak to Ambassador Pablo Solón. He is Bolivia’s permanent representative to the United Nations and was in Bonn last week. [includes rush transcript]


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

AMY GOODMAN: Even as the world faces a series of extreme weather events that scientists warn is related to global warming, international climate negotiations are moving at a glacial pace. The latest round of climate talks in Bonn, Germany, ended last week, and diplomats have just one more short meeting in China in the coming months to hash out their differences before the critical high-level climate conference in Cancún, Mexico, at the end of the year.

At the meetings in Bonn, the negotiating text got a lot bigger, and a number of proposals from developing countries were added into the controversial agreement that came out of the divisive Copenhagen summit last year. Some fear the new text could slow down talks in Cancún, but others say the concerns of the majority of the world’s countries are finally represented in the text.

For more on what this means for a binding global agreement on climate change, I’m joined here in New York by Ambassador Pablo Solón, Bolivia’s permanent representative to the United Nations. He was just in Bonn last week.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

PABLO SOLÓN: Hello. Pleasure to be here with you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. As you listen to the litany of extreme weather all over the world, your thoughts as you return from Bonn?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, I would say that what you have shown is the reality, that it’s not changing as fast as we would want the process of negotiation. I have heard speeches in Bonn relating the situation in Pakistan, but the concrete pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are the same that one year ago. And with the current pledges of emission reductions from developed countries, we’re going to be in something like three to four degrees Celsius, an increase in three to four degrees Celsius. Now, what we are seeing, what you have shown, is related to an increase of zero-point — less than one degree Celsius. So, can you imagine a situation where this triples or multiplies by four? It’s unbelievable. And still, developed countries have put on the table targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that will increase the temperature dramatically during the coming years and during this century. So that is something that, until now, it hasn’t changed. I go negotiation — to all the negotiations during this year. We have all the — put all the evidence, and still the pledges of developed countries remain the same — very, very low, almost to business as usual.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the United States, in particular? Where are we on this?

PABLO SOLÓN: The United States has made a very, very small pledge. It is something that means to reduce three percent from the levels of 1990. To compare it, other countries, like the European Union, have said that 20 percent to 30 percent; the United States, three percent. So, almost nothing at all. Why? That is the question. Because corporate interests, economy, profits have more weight in the negotiation than, I would say, to preserve life and biodiversity and Mother Earth in climate talks. So that is the problem that we are facing.

In Cancún, the greatest challenge is, are we going to have a deal where developed countries are going to reduce in the next seven years at least half of their emissions? Yes or no? We say it very clearly. If this doesn’t happen, what we are seeing now is just the first episode of a tragedy. So, we need to put a lot of pressure around the whole world if we want really to have a greenhouse gas emission reduction that saves life.

AMY GOODMAN: Just remind people, how would you summarize what happened in Copenhagen, just to get a sense of where we are now?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, what happened in Copenhagen was that the process of negotiation was kidnapped by a group of countries. Usually we negotiate 192 countries. And suddenly, in Copenhagen, a group of countries said, "Now, this is the Copenhagen Accord. It’s 3:00 a.m. in the morning. You have one hour to sign it." And, of course, we said, "No, not at all. We want to discuss it." Why? Because in that Copenhagen Accord, said that the target was to limit the temperature to two degrees Celsius, so that is almost three times what we are seeing now. And there are a lot of countries that are saying we should limit the temperature to 1.5 or to one degree Celsius. That is the proposal of Bolivia. Why? Because some states are going to disappear. There is a state called Tuvalu. Its width is 607 meters. Its highest hill is four meters. If the temperature keeps raising, it will be under the water.

So, now we have, after the climate talk in Bonn, a new text. It’s bigger, as you have said. But it has the proposals of developing countries to limit the increase of the temperature, to develop a climate a court of justice, because somebody has to be responsible for this, to not only commodify, to not make profit through a new market, carbon market, mechanism, but also to recognize the rights of Mother Earth in the process of negotiations. So now we have a text that reflects, from our point of view, the proposals that were made in Cochabamba, in the People’s World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights. So, now the key thing is, from here until Cancún, what is going to prevail? It’s going to prevail the people’s voice, Mother Earth’s voice, or it’s going to prevail corporate voice.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a piece by John Vidal in The Guardian. "New research reveals carbon emissions from rich nations could actually rise under loopholes in the proposed UN climate deal." What are these gaping loopholes in the climate change treaty put forward in Copenhagen?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, it’s, for example, a country says, "I’m going to reduce 20 percent." So you say, "Oh, that’s fantastic." But in reality, there is some tricky parts in the different treaties that allow him, for example, to buy certificates of emission reduction in another developing country. So he, in reality, is not going to reduce; he’s just going to pay somebody else that is going to do his job, but there won’t be a real emission reduction. Second, there is a way of accounting. So, I say, "I’m reducing because now I have planted some more trees here, and I account them in this way." So, there are too many things in the negotiation that really make things even worse.

So, today in Bonn, or last week in Bonn, it was very clear that they say the average is going to be a reduction, in the best scenario, of 18 percent, taking into account the levels of 1990. But because of these loopholes, in reality, there could be an increase to four or seven percent of the emissions of 1990. So what we are asking for is that when a country says, "I’m going to reduce," say it very clearly, "How much are you going to reduce domestically, without any kind of loopholes, without any kind of carbon market, without any kind of offsets?" That is the only way to have a clear negotiation that is transparent for people.

AMY GOODMAN: Has the US attitude changed at all? I mean, after Copenhagen, you spoke out fiercely against it. President Morales did, as well. The United States penalized you by millions of dollars, saying if you wouldn’t sign on to the Copenhagen Accord, is that right?

PABLO SOLÓN: Yeah, they —-

AMY GOODMAN: Did you sign on?

PABLO SOLÓN: No, of course not. I mean, they penalized us with an aid of $3 million, because they said we didn’t support the Copenhagen Accord. And we said, "You can keep your money." But we are not fighting for a couple of coins. We’re fighting for life.

AMY GOODMAN: Why? How does this affect Bolivia?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, we have glaciers, for example, in Bolivia. Until now, we have lost one-third of our glaciers. If this situation continues in Bolivia, we’re going to lose the vast majority of our glaciers. All our mountains will be naked. And you know the consequences for that in relation to water for agriculture, for drinking water for the populations there. And this is a situation where we cannot hide ourselves. We think that there has to be a very responsible action.

And coming to the first part of your question, I would say that the situation in the United States has begun to move backwards. What I feel is that when this proposal of law was withdrawn from the Senate, then everybody began to say, "Oh" -—

AMY GOODMAN: When the energy bill...

PABLO SOLÓN: Yeah. Then the United States is not even going to go move forward, move beyond what they have already said they were going to do, but instead, they can move backwards. That is the perception that I feel in — from other developed countries. So, if the United States is not going to do too much, then the others say, "Why should I do it?" And then comes a discussion of, "Well, if I do more, and the United States does so less, then I will be in a difficult situation to compete with the products of the United States, because I will have to invest more in clean energy." And so, at the end, what happens is, we’re in a very difficult situation.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting. I remember when Bolivia held the climate change conference. The foreign minister of Ecuador said, in response to Ecuador also being penalized millions for not signing on to the Copenhagen Accord, the US cutting off money to Ecuador, they said they would give that money to the United States, an equivalent amount of money — I think it was like $2 million — if the US would sign on to the Kyoto treaty.

But I wanted to go back to a few weeks ago. We had Maude Barlow on, the former water representative at the United Nations, the day that the resolution was passed, that you, Ambassador Pablo Solón of Bolivia, had put forward around the issue of water and sanitation. This is an excerpt of what you had to say at the UN.

    PABLO SOLÓN: [translated] At the global level, approximately one out of every eight people do not have drinking water. In just one day, more than 200 million hours of the time used by women is spent collecting and transporting water for their homes. The lack of sanitation is even worse, because it affects 2.6 billion people, which represents 40 percent of the global population. According to the report of the World Health Organization and of UNICEF of 2009, which is titled "Diarrhoea: Why Children Are [Still] Dying and What We Can Do," every day 24,000 children die in developing countries due to causes that can be prevented, such as diarrhea, which is caused by contaminated water. This means that a child dies every three-and-a-half seconds. One, two, three. As they say in my village, the time is now.

AMY GOODMAN: Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Solón, he’s our guest today in studio. The first resolution on this issue, explain.

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, in the UN, we have recognized the right to food, the human right to education, the right to work, the right to social security. But for sixty years, we haven’t recognized the human right to water. So it’s the first time in history that the UN recognizes the human right to water and sanitation.

AMY GOODMAN: Who supported it, and who didn’t?

PABLO SOLÓN: We had forty-two countries that co-sponsored the resolution. That day, 122 countries voted in favor, and forty-two countries abstained.

AMY GOODMAN: Abstained?

PABLO SOLÓN: Abstained. So that means that 75 percent of the countries that were present voted in favor, and 25 percent abstained. Nobody voted against, but many made speeches expressing that they didn’t support the resolution, but that they were not going to vote against it.

AMY GOODMAN: And the US being one of the abstainers?

PABLO SOLÓN: Yes, the US was one of them.

AMY GOODMAN: Why? What would it bind them to? What are the forces that say no to a people’s right to water?

PABLO SOLÓN: I always have asked that question. For me, it’s something that I can’t understand, because you cannot put in first place privatization or corporate interests or transboundary issues related to water in front of the necessity of recognizing the human right to water. But I would say that behind these abstentions, there were this kind of concerns. But the vast majority was so strong that they couldn’t say, "No, we’re going to vote against." They just had to abstain. And that was, at the end, very important, because if a resolution passed without any vote against, in reality, the resolution has been approved by consensus under the UN rules.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what is different from here on in, now that this resolution on the human right to water — and also add, why sanitation?

PABLO SOLÓN: And sanitation.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the significance of sanitation?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, now we are going to see the difference, when the summit on the MDGs, the Millennium Development Goals, come in September, because there is going to be a review, and we’re going to discuss what we are going to do in order to accomplish these goals until 2015. And we have a very critical situation in relation to water. One of eight citizens in the world doesn’t have clean water. But the situation is even worse when it comes to sanitation, because 40 percent of the worldwide population doesn’t have sanitation. And different presidents and governments are going to be here in New York, and the main discussion is now, we have recognized it, how much are we going to put on the table in relation to money, to efforts, to transfer of technology, in order really to make a change in this?

Why do we highlight very much the issue of water? Because climate change is going to affect, in a very severe way, the access to water. For Africa, it will mean a strong desertification. So it’s necessary to take all the measures now, or we’re going to see a situation even worse than what we are seeing now.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ambassador Pablo Solón about the right to — the human right to water and sanitation. At the same time in Bolivia, there is a conflict going on. I wanted to ask you about that, Ambassador. A coalition of some 6,000 people in the southern Bolivian mining area of Potosí have blocked off the area for over ten days, cut all railings to Chile, and launched a hunger strike. On Friday, they shut down the city’s airfield, and some a hundred tourists were stranded in the area. The demonstrators are calling for more investment by the Bolivian government in the lithium-rich area.

    DEMONSTRATOR: [translated] If they fail to heed what we have asked for in the documents by tomorrow, we are going to blow up the high-tension lines that supply electricity to the San Cristóbal mine so production is stopped in the mines in southeast Potosí like San Vicente and Chorolque.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to what he just said?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, yes, but the reason of the conflict that now is in Potosí is a conflict between borders between two of the states, two of the provinces, inside Bolivia. It is really something that the government is trying to solve, because there’s a conflict between the limits of one of the provinces and the other province.

In relation to the other issue that has to do with the interview, the issue of lithium, it’s the first time that we want to develop and to industrialize our lithium, but for our country, not to be exploited and exported as raw material to other places. And so, we just see almost no added value being developed inside Bolivia. So the main task that we have is how we develop an industry related to lithium inside our country, because the history of Bolivia and the history of Potosí, Potosí, where those protests are taking place, was a city that, 400 years ago, was bigger than London. But why you have it like that? Because even though it had a mountain that was full of silver, all of that silver went to Europe, and nothing remained in the country. Now we have the opportunity to change the situation for Bolivia.

AMY GOODMAN: Meaning you not only want to make the lithium, you want to make the electric cars, you want to make the lithium batteries —-

PABLO SOLÓN: Yeah, the batteries.

AMY GOODMAN: You want to make the drug? What -— it’s also the drug, lithium, right?

PABLO SOLÓN: Yes, all the products related that one can produce from lithium. That is our challenge. The history of Bolivia and of, I would say, many of the developing countries is that, for centuries, we have only been suppliers of raw materials.

AMY GOODMAN: This report that came out that — I mean, you have been called the Saudi Arabia of lithium.


AMY GOODMAN: But now this report has come out that says Afghanistan — you have more than half the world’s supply — that Afghanistan maybe may surpass Bolivia. Is this true?

PABLO SOLÓN: I don’t know, because those reports, we don’t have concrete evidence. But if another country has that, it’s very good. I mean, why should we always think, "I must be the only country that have this? I have to be the only country that can make profit out of something?" I mean, if you have a raw natural resource that is very important, think how you are going to use it responsibly, not think how you’re going to benefit for your own profit. That is what we think we should change, really, because that is the way things have been moved until now, and that is why we are in this traumatic situation. That is why we’re promoting a new kind of relation with our natural resources. They are not natural resources; we call them — they are our Mother Earth. We should try to look and seek balance with the whole system and not try to think, "Oh, I have lithium, oh, I have gold, or I have water. How am I going to exploit it? How am I going to make profit out of it?" The question is how I’m going to live in harmony with nature.

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Solón, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Solón. You can go to our website at to see our week’s coverage from Cochabamba, when Bolivia led the People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth — Pachamama in the indigenous language.

This is Democracy Now!,, the War and Peace Report. When we come back, we look at developments in Latin America. Stay with us.

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