The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, has ended with an agreement to start negotiations for a new legally binding climate treaty to be decided by 2015 — and to come into force by 2020. Negotiators also agreed to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol and the initial design of a Green Climate Fund. Many environmental groups say the agreement does not do enough to deal with the climate crisis. "It is really not the important milestone in building a climate regime that many have called it, including the United States and the European Union," says Kate Horner, a policy analyst at Friends of the Earth International. "Instead, what it is is a further milestone in a very long history of the wealthy world backtracking on their existing promises and reneging on existing obligations. The platform will delay action for five to 10 years while a new treaty is being negotiated and ratified. It will lock in the low levels of ambition. And really, I think the most damaging part of it is it’s an attempt to shift the burden of this problem on to developing countries who have contributed less." The outcome of the U.N. climate summit could be especially damaging for Africa. "Africa is off the map. Yet Africa is the [continent] that is going to burn because of the indecision and the weak decisions that have come out of this gathering here in Durban," notes Bobby Peek, director of groundWork, a South African-based environmental justice organization. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations climate change summit in Durban, South Africa, has come to an end, with an agreement to start negotiations for a new legally binding climate treaty to be decided by 2015 and to come into force by 2020. Negotiators also agreed to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol and the initial design of a Green Climate Fund. Many environmental groups say the agreement doesn’t go far enough to deal with the climate crisis.
For more, we go back to South Africa now to Durban, South Africa, from where we have just returned, to two guests. Kate Horner is policy analyst with Friends of the Earth International. And Bobby Peek is joining us. He is a Durban environmental activist, director of groundWork, the Durban-based environmental justice organization.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Kate, we spoke to you on Friday when we were all in Durban at the climate talks, which were extended through to Sunday. Now that the talks have concluded, can you analyze for us what has been decided?
KATE HORNER: The outcome of the talks here in Durban is, unfortunately, a very weak agreement that lacks in ambition, equity and justice. The Kyoto Protocol that you mentioned, which is the only legally binding instrument that we have to address climate change, will continue only as an empty shell. Several countries—namely, Canada, Russia and Japan—have refused to put new targets on the table, and the countries that have signed up have only offered really shockingly low levels of ambition. The Bali Action Plan, which was agreed four years ago to bring the United States on board and scale up financing for developing country climate needs, has really all been but abandoned. The United States has weaseled out of every promise that it has made, including to take on comparable action to other developed countries in line with its historic responsibility for contributing to this problem. And it’s also prevented any further discussion of long-term financing for developing countries.
Instead, what we got was this new so-called Durban Platform to launch a new round of negotiations to deliver a treaty in 2020. It is really not the important milestone in building a climate regime that many have called it, including the United States and the European Union. Instead, what it is is a further milestone in a very long history of the wealthy world backtracking on their existing promises and reneging on existing obligations. The platform will delay action for five to 10 years while a new treaty is being negotiated and ratified. It will lock in the low levels of ambition.
And really, I think the most damaging part of it is it’s an attempt to shift the burden of this problem on to developing countries who have contributed less. We’ve heard several times from the wealthy world that they can only do more if these so-called major emitters take on increased obligations. Importantly, India was framed throughout the talks as a major blocker of progress. And because we’re on African soil, we’ve heard a lot about the impacts and the vulnerability of Africa. However, India is—Africa itself is only one-sixth per capita the emissions of the United States, while India is in fact only one-tenth of the emissions. Their water supply is in danger from the Himalaya glacier melts. They are in danger of monsoons.
And the point here is not to say who is more poor and who is more vulnerable, but to shift attention back onto those who created this problem, who refused to offer great ambition, and who continue to refuse to offer up finance. I think the greatest concern that we have is that these talks suffer not only from a lack of ambition, but from a lack of fairness, as the negotiators here continue to act on behalf of the wealthy, dirty 1 percent, and not on behalf of the 99 percent, who are currently impacted by climate change and will continue to be impacted from these adverse impacts throughout time.
AMY GOODMAN: Kate Horner, in a moment I want to ask you about what the U.S. could have done and how it actually did work behind the scenes, but right now I want to turn to Bobby Peek, longtime Durban activist—before that, anti-apartheid activist—was in the streets all week at the climate change summit. When we first arrived on Friday night, we went to the streets on Saturday. A major march took place there, through Durban, of thousands of people. Bobby Peek was at the front of that march. Bobby, talk about what climate change means for South Africa, for Africa, and then why you were among a group of, what, more than a hundred people on Friday who ended up having your credentials revoked because of the protest you held inside the Albert Luthuli Convention Center, where the U.N. Climate Change Conference was taking place.
BOBBY PEEK: Thanks, Amy, for having me on.
I think we need to recognize that when we talk about climate change globally, when we’re focusing on Africa, the temperatures are going to rise 1.5 times higher than what it will be normally for the world. And in Africa, we’ve been having serious droughts in the eastern part and the northeastern part and floods in Niger, which has resulted in millions of people being misplaced. Hundreds of thousands of people have been dying over the last couple of years, but we don’t hear much about that in the international media. What we rather do hear is about the floods in Pakistan, the droughts and fires in Russia and Australia. So Africa is off the map. Yet Africa is the [continent] that is going to burn because of the indecision and the weak decisions that have come out of this gathering here in Durban.
And for South Africa, in particular, we are having people that are presently, as we now speak, having to start moving away from the drier areas, moving towards the cities to seek employment there, because there’s no viable subsistence in the rural, dry areas. So that is a real, big, deep concern for South Africa, as well.
The amount of people that we had on the streets, around 10,000 on Saturday, showed us that the world is concerned about what is going on. We are—you know, as the phrase has appeared over the last couple of months, we are the 99 percent of the world that is suffering, that has not been heard within the UNFCCC, within the halls of what we call power. And that’s why, on Friday, 350, together with Friends of the Earth International and Greenpeace, decided that we need to make our voices heard. And in solidarity with people globally, we decided to try and make sure that inside we get the attention of the decision makers. The result of that was that a group of us were eventually debadged and asked to leave the UNFCCC. And I think for groundWork, in particular, in South Africa, for us, that is of no consequence, because we are not heard on the inside. And for us, it’s critical, as groundWork, to make sure that we’re on the outside working with people in order to build up a type of pressure and a type of accountability mechanism that, when our governments go to these conferences, that they know, when they come back home, they’re going to feel the pressure of society. And that was trying to convey that message within the UNFCCC.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the comments of the head of the African Group, Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu. He is from DRC, from the Democratic Republic of Congo. We had gotten a chance to talk to him earlier in the week, and he was talking about the ending of the negotiations and the final agreement.
TOSI MPANU-MPANU: It’s middle ground. It’s middle ground. We are standing at one end of the spectrum. Partners from the developed world were on the other end of the spectrum. I guess we met midway. Of course, we’re not completely happy about the outcome. We feel like it lacks balance. It doesn’t take into consideration enough CBDR. But we believe that it’s a step in the right direction.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, head of the Africa Group from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bobby Peek, if you could comment on the role of the Africa Group, of the small island nations, as well, and also what took place during this last week of the negotiations in Durban, in city hall, when people held up signs and banners that said "Don’t fry Africa," Bobby.
BOBBY PEEK: So, as groundWork and the communities we work with in South Africa that are living next to petroleum industries, living next to coal mines, we were very aware of the strong position that the African ministers took in Mali, where they said that it’s critical that we have a 40 percent reduction of emissions below the 1990 baseline by 2017, that we have a meaningful Green Climate Fund, that actually has money in it, to make sure that it operates, and that this all should occur in order that temperature rise should not be above 1.5 degrees Celsius. What we got in Durban was complete the opposite. It was failure. We got very weak ambition, as my colleague Kate has said, and that weak ambition is going to lock us into 2020, means that we’re going to have most probably a net increase of emissions over the next eight years rather than a decrease of emissions. And that means Africa will burn, because we’re looking at a temperature range of, globally, that temperature rising to three to five degrees, and for Africa it means seven to eight.
So, having understood very clearly the strong African position, the strong position by the island states, as civil society in Durban, we lobbied to make sure that the public and that those that were negotiating were very clear that that is what we need to work with. It’s the poor in these countries that are calling—and their ministers, that are calling for strong, binding, legal agreements in a second commitment period. What we got, however, which we heard rumors of already before we got here, was this unraveling of a Durban mandate, which became the Durban framework, where suddenly we were talking about 2020 and beyond, without holding the U.S., Japan and Canada morally accountable and responsible for what they had to do now, and not look into the future. So the U.S., Canada and those countries had the great escape, because people did not stand with Africa.
In the city hall on Thursday, when we met with President Zuma, we tried to deliver messages to the world and to President Zuma that we need to stand strong with Africa, we need to support Africa, we’re on African soil, and this process needs to be an Africa COP. Unfortunately, those positive messages of support, for both our government and for Africa in general, was not taken kindly and was not understood by the security police. And as a result of that, security police moved in, tried to pull the messages away, and pushed people out. And that was sad, because it was only people making their democratic voice heard that was now stifled.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Kate Horner, as you travel back to the United States from Durban, South Africa, the question is, where do you go from here? The grassroots groups that gathered in Durban, there were some—it’s believed up to 20,000 people there, most of them not delegates, heads of countries or representatives of countries doing climate negotiations. What tack are you planning to take now?
KATE HORNER: Well, I think we approach this recognizing where the U.S. is coming from in this long history of the climate negotiations. As I mentioned to you on Friday, the U.S. has a long history of weakening and delaying international deals. And here, we’ve really seen a similar example. They’ve led an exit strategy from the Kyoto Protocol and now even have successfully removed any reference to taking on comparable action in this new Durban mandate and in the Bali Action Plan. Their current targets are only 3 to 4 percent below 1990 levels, and they even don’t even know how they’re going to meet those targets, because they are weakening the authority and the regulations in climate negotiations in the United States. So I think that we will be working with grassroots groups around the world and in the U.S. to put pressure on the U.S. to address this problem in a fair way and stop trying to shift the blame onto those less responsible.
We’ll also continue to follow the discussions around the Green Climate Fund and financing. The U.S. has played an entirely damaging role here in the talks and over the last year. One of the things that the U.S. was successful in doing was advancing the role of the private sector in the Green Climate Fund. And many developing countries were strongly resistant to the role of the private sector, because it would possibly mirror the experience of existing international financing at, for example, the World Bank, where more than 60 percent of the financing goes to multinational corporations in rich countries and not the entrepreneurial class in poor countries, those exact entities that experience the highest credit scarcity and the greatest borrowing costs.
The United States also has not only not put money on the table for climate, but has even refused to talk about innovative, creative sources of financing. There are some really exciting proposals on the table, like a micro tax on trade and currencies, stocks and derivatives. In the Flash Crash of 2010, in which the Dow Jones plunged more than a thousand points, only to rebound 14 minutes later—exposed the very damaging impact of these kinds of high-frequency trades. Now, a small tax could raise $650 billion per year, and it would help to curb financial speculation, which has had such a damaging impact on our economies and abroad, at the same time that it could raise money for both the climate crisis, to rebuild our economy, and to create jobs. The U.S., of course, is acting on behalf of the wealthy world, the financial elites, and not on behalf of those who are experiencing impacts of multiple crises around the world. So I think we’ll be working very closely with this inspirational new movement of—
AMY GOODMAN: That was Kate Horner, policy analyst at Friends of the Earth, as we lose our feed to Durban, South Africa, where she and Bobby Peek of groundWork, the South Africa-based environmental justice organization, are speaking to us from, at the conclusion of the U.N. Climate Change Conference that took place there over the last two weeks. A special thanks to SABC, South African Broadcasting Corporation, and AP for helping us with that broadcast. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Our break, Angelique Kidjo performing at the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony in Oslo, Norway.