Several prominent U.S. environmental groups have accused the Obama administration of obstructing negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change Conference and have called for the United States to step aside and let other countries carry on with the talks. Earlier today, the top U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern addressed the U.N. summit for the first time. But as he took the stage, Middlebury College student Abigail Borah interrupted the proceedings. "I am scared for my future," Borah told Stern. "2020 is too late to wait. We need an urgent path to a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty. You must take responsibility to act now." Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman later questioned Stern about Borah’s comments and accusations the United States is a major obstacle to progress at the climate talks. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Durban, South Africa, in our week-long exclusive at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Talks have entered their second to last day, but little progress appears to have been made on the key issues over extending the Kyoto Protocol or forming a Green Climate Fund. The United States is refusing to accept any deal involving binding emissions cuts before the year 2020.
Several U.S. environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, have accused the Obama administration of obstructing the negotiations and have called for the U.S. to step aside and let other countries carry on with the negotiations.
Shortly before this broadcast, the top U.S. climate negotiator, Todd Stern, addressed the U.N. conference for the first time. But as he took the stage, a student from Middlebury College in Vermont named Abigail Borah interrupted the proceedings. We turn now to exclusive footage of the disruption.
CHAIRPERSON: Your Excellency, you have three minutes. Thank you.
ABIGAIL BORAH: 2020 is too late to wait. We need an urgent path to a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty. You must take responsibility to act now, or you will threaten the lives of the youth and the world’s most vulnerable. You must set aside partisan politics and let science dictate decisions.
CHAIRPERSON: Can we listen to the speech? Nobody is listening to you.
ABIGAIL BORAH: You must pledge ambitious targets to lower emissions, not expectations. 2020 is too late to wait!
AMY GOODMAN: What is your name?
ABIGAIL BORAH: U.S.A.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your name?
ABIGAIL BORAH: Abigal Borah.
AMY GOODMAN: From which group? From which group?
ABIGAIL BORAH: The United States youth.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you just interrupt this forum?
ABIGAIL BORAH: The United States government does not speak on my behalf.
SECURITY: Excuse me. Excuse me.
AMY GOODMAN: We just came from the General Assembly of this climate conference, where the U.S. climate negotiator addressed the world gathering. As he was just about to speak, a young woman, a Middlebury College student from New Jersey, got up, named Abigail Borah, and she interrupted the proceedings. She said, "2020 is too late to wait. We need an urgent path towards a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty." The statement went on to say, "The U.S. continues to negotiate on time borrowed from future generations, and with every step of inaction forces young people to solve the quickly exacerbating climate challenges that previous generations have been unable and unwilling to address." We’re going now to Todd Stern’s news conference.
CHAIRPERSON: U.S. special envoy for climate change, Todd Stern. Thank you.
TODD STERN: Hi. Thanks, everybody. I actually would like to make a couple of comments at the top today, and specifically to address one point. There is a misconception running around and kind of gaining currency, the way these things do, that was exemplified in a report I saw in the press this morning sort of attacking the U.S. for proposing to delay action on climate change until 2020. And I’ve heard the same thing from a variety of other sources, including people who should know better. And I was actually just—I just gave my—you have to give—every head of delegation gives a plenary statement of a few minutes in the course of the days, and I had the distinction of being heckled by somebody who was—who had the same misconception. So I just want to clear that up.
CHAIRPERSON: Take a question from the woman in the first chair here?
AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! in the United States. The young woman, the Middlebury student, Abigail Borah, said, "We need an urgent path towards a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty." Mr. Stern, as you pointed out, increasingly at this conference the perception is that the U.S. is blocking any substantive progress toward a legally binding agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Sixteen CEOs of environmental organizations in the United States said the same thing, that the U.S. is becoming the major obstacle here. Can you talk about the perception, as you’ve described it, of a time out until 2020, when many of, for example, the African nations and the island nations are talking about they could be seeing very serious devastation? You, yourself, just pointed out there’s a growing consensus here that the U.S. is blocking progress in any kind of serious commitment to a legally binding mandate here.
TODD STERN: Well, OK. So I will try to repeat what I said a minute ago on part of your question. Then I’ll take the other part. But it’s not a time out. I mean, it’s not remotely a time out. We reached an important agreement last year. We reached an agreement which, although it is not legally binding, it is a COP decision under a legally binding treaty, which is very serious and which covers more than 80 percent of global emissions, as compared to a Kyoto agreement which people are hoping will cover something in the order of 15 percent this year. It’s got nothing to do with a time out. What is embedded in the Cancún Agreement is so much more meaningful in terms of potential emission reductions than anything that is in Kyoto, that there’s no contest. So I think, again, that that’s a misconception.
Plus, and I won’t go repeat everything that I just said a second ago about all of the various actions that are going to be taken promptly, including the negotiation, first the preparatory work, and then the negotiation of a new regime, which—you know, the E.U. has called for a road map. We support that. We’ve—I’ve talked with the E.U. at length. I’ve also talked with my friends in the—from the BASIC countries and others. I mean, if there’s a misconception, then it would be a good idea for the word to get out that it’s just not accurate.
AMY GOODMAN: Top U.S. climate negotiator, Todd Stern, being questioned by Democracy Now! today. We had been trying to interview him for the past week, ever since he happened to be on our plane from Johannesburg to Durban.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! I was wondering if I could ask you a few quick questions? Just quick, one. How do you negotiate the climate change summit when you have an increasing number of Americans not even believing climate change is a problem and, what, more than half the Republican presidential candidates even calling climate change a hoax?
TODD STERN: You know, I’ve just flown for 20-something hours.
AMY GOODMAN: I know. Us, too.
TODD STERN: So I would be happy to talk to you when we get there. But I’m—not a good time right now. OK?