Nigerian environmental activist and the director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation. He is the author of To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa.
We are broadcasting from the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru, where high-level talks have just gotten under way. On Tuesday, Bolivian President Evo Morales called on delegates to include the wisdom of indigenous people in the global agreement to address climate change and criticized the summit for failing to address capitalism as the root of the crisis. We discuss the state of the climate talks with Nnimmo Bassey, a Nigerian environmental activist, director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, and author of "To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa." Bassey says the carbon trading included in the draft agreement could increase deforestation, displace farmers and contribute to the food crisis in Africa.
AMY GOODMAN: Peruvian musicians who performed yesterday at the opening ceremony of the U.N. climate summit. They were just practicing in the walkways here in Pentagonito. That is the site, the very well-fortified site, where this U.N. climate summit is happening, so many of the citizen actions happening miles away from here. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Yes, we are broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit, where high-level talks got underway Tuesday. During the opening ceremony, that included performances by Peruvian dancers and musicians, Bolivian President Evo Morales called on the delegates to include the wisdom of indigenous people in the global agreement to address climate change. During a later news conference, Morales criticized the U.N. summit for failing to address the root of the crisis.
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Sometimes in this type of event, official event, where governments are represented, the deep causes of global warming are not dealt with. We only remain at the effects of global warming. And we are convinced, as the plurinational state of Bolivia that represents the different social movements of Bolivia, that the origin of global warming lies in capitalism. If we could end capitalism—and this is something we should do at global level—we would have a solution. This is why it’s so important to integrate our peoples.
AMY GOODMAN: The U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, also addressed the U.N. climate conference on Tuesday. He took questions from the press after his speech.
MIKE BURKE: Mike Burke from Democracy Now! in New York. Over the past year, many churches, investment funds and schools have joined a movement to divest from fossil fuel companies. And I’m wondering if you support this movement?
SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: It’s encouraging these days that there is a greater awareness and willingness that they are now investing their resources into more sustainable energy. Of course, practically speaking, in our real world, this fossil fuel may have to continue to be used as our energy sources.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the state of the climate talks, we’re joined right now here in Lima, Peru, by Nnimmo Bassey, Nigerian environmental activist, director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation. He’s the author of To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa.
How is this climate summit going? It is the 20th climate summit; it’s called COP 20. Next year, the binding summit. Do you hold out any hope, Nnimmo?
NNIMMO BASSEY: Unfortunately, I would like to be hopeful—I’m an incurable optimist—but with regard to the Conference of Parties on climate change, I believe that there was a big derailment right from Copenhagen at COP 15. So, there is no real reason to think there’s going to be something that we can say, yes, finally, the world is on track to tackle global warming. We’re still seeing situations where nations are haggling and debating over figures, nothing to show that there is an understanding that climate change is something that has been scientifically investigated and that there must be a way to evaluate aggregate actions by different countries that would add up to a result that will tackle the problem.
Right from the arrival of the Copenhagen Accord, everything is moving in terms of the direction of voluntary commitments to reduce emissions. As President Evo Morales said, there’s really no indication that the world—the leading nations, the rich nations of this world, are ready to tackle global warming at its source. What is causing global warming? One of the major causes is the dependence on fossil fuels. And all the conservative organizations, like the World Bank, the International Energy Agency, have all indicated that unless up two 80 percent of known fossil fuel reserves are left under the ground, we are on track for catastrophic temperature increase. There’s no talk about leaving fossil fuels. Everything is about how to offset the pollution, so every mechanism is being developed that would help polluting industry and rich countries to continue with business as usual.
AMY GOODMAN: Nnimmmo, can you talk about the effects of climate change on Africa, and particularly Nigeria?
NNIMMO BASSEY: Well, the effect of climate change is real, already being experienced. It’s not something for the future. And Africa is so central in the whole of this because Africa experiences 50 percent more in terms of temperature rise than the global average. So if the global average temperature goes up by two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, in Africa the experience will be three degrees Celsius. If it goes to six degrees, that will be nine degrees. Africa is set to be roasted. We’re going to a scenario where we may have Africa without Africans. It’s really horrible.
The floods are getting more, the droughts, the desertification. Africa may well be the only continent where the desert is still spreading. And then, with the assault on land grabs and everything, we are really being squeezed. In 2012, we had floods across the continent. In my country, Nigeria, six million people were displaced by flooding in one year. Over 300 lost their lives. We had similar flooding replicated across the continent. We’re having also the challenge of sea level rise. Where I come from, the Niger Delta, the land is naturally subsiding. So when you have a combination of sea level rise and land subsidence, you’re having a heightened impact.
We are seeing a situation also, from research, that if the situation continues the way it’s going, by 2050 we may well have more than 50 percent increase in conflicts on the continent. I mean, this is something I don’t even want to think about, considering the level of resource conflict, political conflicts and other manifestation of violence on the continent.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what REDD is, what it stands for, and what it means for the African continent?
NNIMMO BASSEY: Well, REDD is the mechanism that has been introduced in the—
AMY GOODMAN: R-E-D-D.
NNIMMO BASSEY: OK, REDD is Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Forest Degradation. That’s what it’s meant to mean. That’s what it—I mean, it’s a concept that nobody will really oppose, but when you look at the practice on the ground, it’s just a carbon market mechanism, where polluting industries and rich nations, instead of stopping pollution at its source, will secure and buy up forests in Africa, in Latin America, somewhere else, and even some forests in the Global North, so as to permit them to pollute. REDD is a mechanism that permits the polluter to continue polluting.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, explain how it works. For example, the state of California can invest in an area in Brazil, which we’re going to talk about in a minute, in Acre, and what happens to that area? So then California can pollute further. But what are they doing in Brazil?
NNIMMO BASSEY: Well, what they would do in Brazil is that the forests would be—the forest-dependent communities would now be more or less displaced from having access to the forest, forest resources and also their territories. If I take this back to Africa, right as we speak, the displacement of communities in the Sengwer—of the Sengwer people in Kenya, who have been displaced from their forests because the REDD project is about to set in there. We’ve had displacement of thousands in Uganda already. In Nigeria, my own country, the Cross River forests, part of it is being secured for REDD projects.
AMY GOODMAN: So people are forced out of their communities?
NNIMMO BASSEY: Essentially, this is happening. People are being forced out with military power, military might, so as to secure carbon. Forest trees are being seen as carbon stocks, not as trees anymore. And the fearful thing is that with the discussions in REDD, this may move on to issues of not just carbon in trees, but carbon in agriculture. So farmers will be farming carbon rather than growing food for people to eat. And unfortunately also for the United Nations, a forest is—a plantation is accepted as a forest. So, REDD is set to kind of accelerate plantations across the tropical world. This would mean more displacement of communities, more displacement of farmers from farming land. And, of course, it’s going to compound the food crisis in the region.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Nnimmo Bassey, I want to thank you for being with us. Nnimmo Bassey is a Nigerian environmental activist and the director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation. We’ll be speaking to him more later in the week. He’s the author of To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa. As we turn now to the late Nigerian environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed in 1995. Before we go, the significance, nine—what, 19 years later, of Ken Saro-Wiwa, who fought for the Ogoni people in Nigeria?
NNIMMO BASSEY: Yes. First of all, let me preface by saying that Ken Saro-Wiwa actually inspired me to become committed to environmental justice activism. So, 20 years down the—almost 20 years down the line since the execution, I’m glad to say that the Ogoni people and the peoples of the Niger Delta, where all this oil degradation has gone on for over 50 years, the people are more resolute than ever, and they’re demanding that their lands be cleaned up.
Now, for the Ogoni people, three years ago, the United Nations Environment Program issued an assessment of the Ogoni environment and validated everything Ken Saro-Wiwa stood for and fought for, kind of indicating that what we have in Ogoniland is nothing short of ecocide, destruction of Mother Earth, a kind of destruction that’s almost irreversible. Now, UNEP found pollution is on places—many places in Ogoniland that has gone as deep as five meters into the ground, hydrocarbon pollution. The water is found to have benzene, which causes cancer, up to 900 times above World Health Organization standards. But three years after this report, there’s been very little movement, unfortunately, by the Nigerian government and by Shell, who has been the major polluter in the region.
AMY GOODMAN: Nnimmo Bassey, thanks so much.