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2011-12-07

Least Developed Countries, Small Island States Face U.S. Resistance to Binding Climate Deal

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As the U.N. Climate Change Conference opened in Durban last week, the Least Developed Countries group and the Alliance of Small Island States presented proposals saying a climate deal that covers all countries must be reached within a year. The drafts received support from the European Union, but not from other developed countries—including the United States—or from larger developing countries like India, China and Brazil. The 48-country Least Developed Countries bloc (LDCs) includes drought-prone states such as Ethiopia and Mali, countries with vulnerable coastal zones including Bangladesh and Tanzania, and countries especially vulnerable to melting glaciers as a result of global warming, like Himalayan mountain states Bhutan and Nepal. The Alliance of Small Island States, or AOSIS, has 39 members, including many Pacific and Caribbean islands, some of which are very low-lying and heavily impacted by sea-level rise. We speak to Dessima Williams, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, and Pa Ousman Jarju, chair of the Least Developed Countries group. "The importance of this COP is that the agreements that have been reached in 2007 have not yet been fulfilled," says Williams. "The most important negotiation that must be concluded here, if we are to remain true to what we did in the past, is the second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol, which encompasses rules and levels of greenhouse gas reduction for the major emitters historically." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: Those are the voices of delegates of the Southern African Rural Women’s Assembly. The women are singing as they arrived at their welcoming session here in Durban, South Africa.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting live from the COP 17. It is officially called the Conference of Parties. Some call it the "Conference of Polluters." But it is the U.N. Climate Change Conference that is taking place here in the largest port in Africa, Durban, South Africa.

As the climate talks here enter their 10th day with little prospect of an agreement, we turn now to the countries which are most vulnerable to changes in climate. As the conference opened, the Least Developed Countries bloc and the Alliance of Small Island States presented proposals saying a climate deal that covers all countries must be reached within a year. The drafts received support from the E.U. — that’s the European Union — but not from other developed countries, including not from the U.S., or from larger developing countries like India, China and Brazil, known as the BASIC countries.

The 48-country Least Developed Countries bloc, known as the LDCs, includes drought-prone states such as Ethiopia and Mali, countries with vulnerable coastal zones including Bangladesh and Tanzania, and countries especially vulnerable to melting glaciers as a result of global warming, like the Himalayan mountain states Bhutan and Nepal. The Alliance of Small Island States, or AOSIS, has 39 members, including many Pacific and Caribbean islands, some of which are very low-lying and heavily impacted by sea-level rise.

To talk more about the effects of climate change on the most vulnerable populations, we’re joined now by two guests. Dessima Williams is chair of the Alliance of Small Island States. She’s former ambassador of Grenada to the United Nations. Pa Ousman Jarju is from The Gambia. He’s chair of the Least Developed Countries, or LDCs, group.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Ambassador Dessima Williams, talk about the significance of these talks. And at this point, what is your frustration level?

DESSIMA WILLIAMS: Thank you, and greetings to your Democracy Now! viewers. And I am not the former ambassador; I think I still have the job when I go back, I hope.

Here in Durban, the importance of this COP is that the agreements that have been reached in 2007 have not yet been fulfilled. And we are under mandate of the Bali Action Program, we call it, of 2007 to conclude certain important outcomes from our negotiations over the last few years. The most important negotiation that must be concluded here, if we are to remain true to what we did in the past, is the second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol, which encompasses rules and levels of greenhouse gas reduction for the major emitters historically. So renewing the Kyoto Protocol at Durban is one of the important expectations, because it is a part of the work that is not yet completed.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, it seems clear, with the United States basically blocking the renewal of the Kyoto Protocol at this point, they’re talking about any discussion of that taking place in 2020. What does that mean?

DESSIMA WILLIAMS: Yes, there are a number of countries that would like to put off the renewal, as well as the ambition that is necessary—they would like to put it off ’til after 2020. Now, that is a nonstarter, because if that happens, we will not be responding to the science. The last year was the hottest year on record. And the impacts on our countries and our island states, in particular, is intolerable, for water supply, food, health. The sea-level rise is going to swallow up more of our islands. So, waiting to regulate the system until 2020 is certainly a nonstarter here. And AOSIS has been pushing, along with the Least Developed Countries, for more immediate and urgent actions in the negotiations as a whole and with regard in particular to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Williams, what has been the role of the U.S.?

DESSIMA WILLIAMS: Well, the U.S. is one of the many active parties. It is not a member—it’s not a signator to the Kyoto Protocol. But we think that—I would rather not single out the U.S., because it fits in a category with a number of other countries who, quite frankly, from the perspective of my organization, AOSIS, could do more. They need to be much more proactive in agreeing to the protocol, which they are not a member, but also in just taking on more ambition and agreeing to make sure that we have a rigorous, rules-based international climate regime in place at the soon as possible time, because that is what the science is calling for us, that is what good global governance requires of us, that is what our islands need.

On the other hand, I think the role of the United States here has been to engage across the board on issues particularly around expanding the Cancún Agreements. But I think you need to speak to the United States itself to understand its role in Durban. What my mandate is is to speak for the islands. And I can tell you that we’ve had many meetings with the U.S. There are gaps between us. But we, for example, want the financing to be agreed to here in Durban. We have spent a year after we left Cancún agreeing that there should be a Green Climate Fund, and the transition committee has prepared all the documentation for that. We want the Green Climate Fund, which would be the largest climate finance system or program in the world, to be agreed on and to get started here, with a commitment of at least $100 billion that the Secretary-General’s team says is important, because the damage that has been done is maybe three or four times that scale. But $100 billion worth of climate financing a year, a combination of private and public financing, needs to be agreed to here in Durban. That would be a very concrete outcome, and I think the United States needs to support that.

AMY GOODMAN: Pa Ousman Jarju, for viewers and listeners who are not familiar with The Gambia, if you can just put it in a geographical—place it for us in Africa. And then talk about the Least Developed Countries.

PA OUSMAN JARJU: Thank you very much.

The Gambia is situated in the western coast of Africa. It’s embedded in Senegal from both the north and the south, and along the west by the Atlantic Ocean—one of the most vulnerable countries. The capital city is an island sitting—almost 80 percent of the city is below one meter above sea level. So the projections have indicated that by 2075 the whole capital city, with almost 92 square kilometers of mangrove forests and areas of very rich biodiversity, would be submerged.

Now, the LDCs, as you indicated, are 48 countries who are among the most will vulnerable countries in Africa, Asia and also the Pacific. We think—we are here in Durban for two issues. As Ambassador Williams stated, we are here to ensure that there’s a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which is fundamental and for us is the survival of our communities and the livelihood of our communities and also the existence of the countries among LDCs and AOSIS, which is at stake here. So what we want is a ratification of the only legally binding instrument, which is the Kyoto Protocol. The first commitment period is ending next year, December, so we want a process where we can ratify it and have a second commitment, legally binding instrument.

That said, we want the operationalization of the agreements that we agreed last year in Cancún. Ambassador Williams talked on the Green Climate Fund. We want that to be operationalized, and we also need it to be capitalized. At least there must be some capital to initiate that fund. We want the adaptation committee and also the national adaptation plan that was agreed in Cancún, including a program for loss and damage, to be agreed here in Durban, but for us to also have a second commitment period. We think we should look forward to the global growth. We have agreed in Bali for a two-track process—that is the KAP and the LCA. So we want a mandate for the extension of the LCA process, where everybody, including the United States, is engaged, so that we can have a legally binding instrument for that process.

AMY GOODMAN: Pa Ousman Jarju of The Gambia and head of the LDCs, representing the Least Developed Countries here, I’ve been speaking with a lot of the NGOs. CAN has come out, the Climate Action Network, representing more than 700 NGOs around the world, saying that the United States should either shape up or get out of these negotiations. They are not signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, yet blocking any kind of continuation, as you’re talking about, of a second period of the Kyoto Protocol. I was just—I just came from an interview with Wanjira Maathai, the daughter of Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace winner who died just a few months ago, represents the Green Belt Movement. She said, "Shape up or get out. The countries that are in most need need to be able to negotiate the second term of the Kyoto Protocol." What are your thoughts about that?

PA OUSMAN JARJU: I think it is very fundamental that we engage all parties, both parties to the Kyoto Protocol and the convention. But as I stated in our opening statement at the Conference of Parties, the ship towards saving tomorrow today is going to depart Durban by Friday, so all those who are ready for salvaging the earth and also saving the most vulnerable communities should join that ship. If the United States is not ready now, let them give way to those who are ready to continue working towards a safer climate and a safer world for tomorrow. Whenever they are ready, they are welcome to come on board. We know that the U.S. was not ready yesterday. They are not ready today. But hopefully, maybe tomorrow, they will be ready. But we think delaying agreeing on a second commitment period and also starting a process towards a legally binding commitment under the LCA process is calling for catastrophe for our communities. We don’t think that is pragmatic. We don’t think that is advisable to the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Williams, you know well the politics of the United States, spending a lot of time in New York as ambassador to the United Nations. As we’re speaking right now, inside, Ambassador—Senator Inhofe, the Republican senator, the only legislator from the United States, federally elected—national legislator, is here, but major climate denier. What are your thoughts about the lack of the U.S. presence, yet such an important player in blocking what is taking place here?

DESSIMA WILLIAMS: Well, again, the politics of the U.S. has to be discussed with U.S. politicians. What we know is that from the island countries there are heads of governments here. There is the president of Nauru. There is the prime minister of Samoa, deputy prime minister of Belize. There are leaders here who accept the evidence put forward by the most rigorous scientific research institutions that tell us the window for safety in the world is closing. Some of these institutions are in the United States, some of them are outside. And I think the basic reports and information we get confirm that there is a phenomena of climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to speak with Dr. Pachauri in just a minute.

DESSIMA WILLIAMS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: But I wanted to ask, on the Green—for example, on the Green Climate Fund, the U.S. alone with only Saudi Arabia in blocking a major discussion about the Green Climate Fund just a few weeks ago.

DESSIMA WILLIAMS: Well, I think what you can get from us is the urgency with which we needed these actions taken and these outcomes here at Durban. There are 194 parties to it, and everyone is playing according to their own national politics. For the LDCs and the island countries, our national politics have to do with our existentialist survival, that the islands are experiencing floods and hurricanes and typhoons. The African continent, the Asian countries are expecting—experiencing droughts and floods, all of which are unusual and are accredited to the escalation in the temperature of the earth since the—compared to the pre-industrial period. So I don’t think that you will find among us any climate deniers. I think what you have here at the U.N. is 107 countries that we represent together, and with some of the Africans, who know that there is a threat to our food crops, to our healthcare, to our coastal regions. And it’s not just us. In Thailand, in Russia, in Los Angeles—everywhere in the world—we’re having these unnatural and abnormal weather systems. And we have a regime in place that can respond to it. So we are calling for urgency. We are calling for effective response that will protect the most vulnerable right away and protect everybody altogether.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us. As I said, coming up after break, we’re going to be turning to Dr. Rajendra, who is the—Pachauri, is the head of the Nobel Prize-winning international body of scientists, who have just put out another dire report about climate change. Dessima Williams, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, ambassador of Grenada to the United Nations, and Pa Ousman Jarju of The Gambia, chair of the Least Developed Countries, the LDSs, group. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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