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2012-12-07

Profiting From Pollution: Top Venezuelan Negotiator on the Economic Motives Behind the Climate Talks

Guests

Claudia Salerno, Venezuela’s vice minister of foreign affairs for North America and special presidential envoy for climate change. She is head of the Venezuelan delegation at the U.N. climate change summit (COP 18) in Doha.

Heherson Alvarez, climate delegate from the Philippines and a member of the Philippines Climate Change Commission.

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We speak with Claudia Salerno, the top negotiator for Venezuela at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Doha, who is known for her dramatic action at the conference three years ago in Copenhagen when she bloodied her fist while banging it on the table, demanding to be heard. She says her main concern this year is that new commitments to the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding international climate agreement, will be "meaningless." "The first thing that countries need to understand when they want to succeed in this process is to understand that this is not an environmental process," Salerno says. "This is a process that is going to have impact in economics, so that is why it is so difficult for developed countries that are doing well economically, or even doing bad, to do the necessary changes in their economics." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: Claudia Salerno, you are the chief climate negotiator for Venezuela here. You are famous for, three years ago in Copenhagen, hitting your fists against the table to get attention, to be recognized, and bloodying your hand. Talk about what’s happening today, and take it back to three years ago in Copenhagen, why you were so distressed.

CLAUDIA SALERNO: I said that I strongly consider that the things that we are living and facing now in this process in 2012 are the consequence of what happened exactly three years ago. Three years ago, one state actually said that he was going to take the lead to transform the whole system and the whole regime of climate change, because it didn’t fit them. So, one single country—

AMY GOODMAN: That country?

CLAUDIA SALERNO: Being the United States, the only country that is not party of the Kyoto Protocol, because it didn’t fit them. They needed to destroy the whole thing to try to accommodate the regime to what would be nice for their economies, their argument being always not what countries are going to do what, but which economies. This is an economical negotiation. The first thing that countries need to understand when they want to succeed in this process is to understand that this is not an environmental process. This is a process that is going to have impact in economics, so that is why it is so difficult for developed countries that are doing well economically, or even doing bad, to do the necessary changes in their economics.

AMY GOODMAN: What is happening now? What are the key issues that aren’t being addressed? And is there going to be an agreement at the end of today or tomorrow? Clearly, the talks are going later than was planned.

CLAUDIA SALERNO: I think in the previous two years, we already learned that presidents do always the best to try to have an agreement and a clapping situation. They were even saying last year that decisions were making by ovation and not by consensus. So we know that some kind of deal is going to be produced. The question now is, what kind of deal? The main issue for developing countries being ensuring a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol—now, having the text in our hands since this morning, our main concern is that we are going to have an unmeaningful second commitment period, an empty one.

AMY GOODMAN: Which means?

CLAUDIA SALERNO: Which means that the commitments that are there are not sufficient to keep the temperatures stopping from escalating. So we are actually heading towards an area of 4 or 6 degrees of temperature, even when in Cancun we agree a global goal and a global target for everybody to reach, at the most, 2 degrees.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance. Two degrees is what people were aiming for, which is 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit, and the World Bank came out with a report that said we could be leading to a 4 to 6 degree increased temperature world by the end of the century, which is 7.4 degrees—is 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit. The issue of markets, Claudia Salerno?

CLAUDIA SALERNO: The issue of markets is the worst part of this whole package. What we have seen lately is this tendency of actually trying to convert and to transform what it was created in Kyoto at the beginning as a way to help developed countries to achieve their commitments. Now it became actually mechanisms to take profit of a certain kind of pollution that is profitable for developed countries. So what they consider now a business that is interesting is actually to keep a climate regime that will allow them—that’s what they are intending, the whole two weeks—that will allow them actually to make trading of whatever is called rights to pollute. So what we are seeing with a lot of concern is this capacity that they want to create of mechanisms that will allow them to buy the right to pollute to a certain level and then to exchange, among them, their rights to contaminate the land.

AMY GOODMAN: Venezuela is perhaps the largest oil producer in the world. You’re a member of OPEC.

CLAUDIA SALERNO: Yes, we are. And we are also—we have been recognized by OPEC last year as having the largest proven reserves in the world. And that creates for us a huge responsibility. But I have to say that even with those large numbers and large quantities of exportation, our country only represents 0.48 percent of the total emissions in the world, because Venezuela is also an Amazonian country, so we do have more than 50 million hectares of virgin forests that we are—and they will remain untouched for us, so we are extremely green country with a very old tradition of ecological and very respectful approach for environment.

AMY GOODMAN: Your assessment, both of yours, in 30 seconds of the role of the United States here right now, beginning with Heherson Alvarez.

HEHERSON ALVAREZ: Well, the United States, on electing a president like Obama, gave some signs that attention would be given to climate change. But that was not done. There were some big problems, so they said, about their economy, and Obama attended to priorities. But, of late, he said that he’s going to situate one of the three pillars of his forthcoming administration, situate that he’s going to provide for a safe world, referring to climate change management policy for the American generation, for American people. We’re awaiting that signal. And we’re also hopeful that there are signs from the business community to band together in the manner of a foundation, addressing problems of climate change, for we have many setbacks. The intervention methods alone that is being defined, and no matter how clearly, by the organized community of the world, led by the United Nations, is insufficient. The bureaucracy is too slow. There is too much debate. And even when the science is clear, the science is not being applied with determination.

AMY GOODMAN: And Claudia Alvarez—and Claudia Salerno?

CLAUDIA SALERNO: I will be very quick. I think that negotiators here from the U.S. delegation seem not to be aware of the Obama statement when he took power after elections. He actually mentioned climate change after Sandy hurricane, and it seems like there is a de-link between the promises made by the president and the kind of behaviors that their delegates are having here.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. We’ve been speaking with Heherson Alvarez, climate delegate from the Philippines and member of the Philippines Presidential Climate Change Commission, and Claudia Salerno, Venezuela’s vice minister of foreign affairs for North America, special presidential envoy for climate change here in Doha.

When we come back, a Native American environmental leader, Tom Goldtooth, and we’ll be joined by an Indian activist who has been coming to these conventions for more than a decade. Stay with us.

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