A Global Climate Deal is Within Reach, But Only Public Pressure Can Ensure It Meets Earth's Needs

December 09, 2014


Pablo Solon

Bolivia’s former ambassador to the United Nations. He also served as Bolivia’s chief negotiator on climate change. He is now executive director of Focus on the Global South. Earlier this week, he was a presenter at the International Rights of Nature Tribunal which took place here in Peru.

As we broadcast from the U.N. Climate Conference in Lima, Peru, where delegates from around the world are meeting on a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, the first text of this year’s draft has been released. We are joined by Pablo Solón, Bolivia’s former ambassador to the United Nations and former chief negotiator on climate change. Now the executive director of Focus on the Global South, Solón was a presenter of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, which also took place in Peru.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting live from the U.N. climate summit here in Lima, Peru, where delegates from around the world are drafting a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. The summit is being held at the Peruvian army headquarters, known as "El Pentagonito." It’s a site with a dark history. It was built in 1975 by the dictator Juan Velasco Alvarado. The army, under President Alberto Fujimori, later used the base to torture and interrogate political prisoners. On Monday, the first text of this year’s draft was released in this well-fortified facility.

For more, we’re joined by Pablo Solón, Bolivia’s former ambassador to the United Nations. He has also served as Bolivia’s chief negotiator on climate change, but now he lives in Thailand, in Bangkok, where he’s director of Focus on the Global South. Earlier this week, he was a presenter at the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, which took place here in Lima.

Now, because this area is so well fortified, where we are broadcasting from at El Pentagonito, much of the activities of indigenous and citizen activists from around the world is taking place miles away, sometimes more than an hour drive, where thousands have gathered to take on these critical issues of the day. Pablo Solón is one who bridges the two worlds, as a former Bolivian diplomat now representing civilian society around the world with his new organization.

Pablo Solón, welcome back to Democracy Now! Here we are in El Pentagonito. It took a while to get inside—you’ve got to have all sorts of credentials. Also a site of terrible pain, a pain you have known. Your brother disappeared in Bolivia under another dictator, Banzer. Talk about where we’ve come, both on human rights and the issue of climate change, and how you see them related.

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, I think that if we want to address climate change, we should look other places to have these meetings, more close to the people, more close to nature, and very far away from authoritarian regimes. That is key. Only if we are able to hear nature and hear the people, we are going to be able to solve this critical issue.

The main question is: Are we moving forward, or are we moving backwards? And let me just put one fact on the table. We all have heard that the U.S. and China have come to an agreement, and the U.S. has said that they are going to reduce between 26 to 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2025, taking into account the levels of 2005. And they have presented this as something very important, a move forward. But do you know much they already pledged in Copenhagen five years ago? They pledged 30 percent by the year 2025. So, in reality, instead of increasing the pledge of the U.S., they have decreased the pledge of the U.S. in this agreement with China. So, we are not having stronger pledges, commitments from developed countries now.

And this is happening, I would say, not only in the case of China and the U.S., but with all countries. China is saying that they are going to peak their emissions only in 2030. That is too late. All scientists are saying that global emissions should peak this decade—means before 2020. And this is not going to happen, because that agreement is saying that this will only take place in 2030. So, this is where we are. In reality, we are not moving to a better agreement, more stronger than the Kyoto Protocol, with more teeth, with a strong compliance mechanism. We are moving to a more softer agreement, more voluntary, more based on pledges, and with no mechanism to enforce those pledges.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something—when you were the climate negotiator at the COP for Bolivia, there were other climate negotiators. This year, one of them is not here, Yeb Saño, who is the former chief negotiator for the Philippines. He is home in this typhoon-ravaged country of the Philippines. Bernarditas Muller, also a well-known Filipina climate negotiator, no longer represents the Philippines; she is there under the badge of Bolivia, your country. What happened? Many are saying—pointing the finger at the U.S. and other outside interests, saying they put pressure, because they have become known so much as the voices of climate change, Yeb Saño breaking down last year, going on a fast so that there would be some kind of action.

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, this is not the first time that this happened. During Copenhagen and in the next meeting after Copenhagen, Bernarditas was also kicked out of the Philippine delegation. And if I’m not wrong, she was under the delegation of Sudan.

AMY GOODMAN: Which was head of the—

PABLO SOLÓN: Which was head of the G77. And the reason at that time was precisely because of the pressure that the U.S., mainly, and also Europe put in order to get rid of these negotiators that are not comfortable for their positions, because they want to show that things are moving forward, and these negotiators are showing, "Hey, come on, in reality, we are moving backwards." Bernarditas will—if you invite her, she will tell you, "Hey, they promised us $100 billion for developing countries, that are not responsible of climate change, but that are suffering climate change, by the year 2020. And now the reality is that there isn’t those $100 billion at all, not even half of that." So, this is why you’re going to see, and we’re going to see, more of this, more pressure in order to get rid of those negotiators that can be uncomfortable for the proposals of the U.S. and also Europe.

AMY GOODMAN: Pablo Solón, what can you do outside, in civilian society, that you couldn’t do here at the COP? And now that you have this perspective, if you were here, what you would do as a climate negotiator?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, I think this is a false reality. It’s created to hide what is really happening in the government. So, in reality, here you’re not negotiating. Everything is being solved outside of the COP in small meetings at very high level, and a final agreement is going to come from outside. I would say that after being here, I know that you spend a lot of time—you think that you’re creating a change by changing a comma, changing a word, but in reality, that is not changing the agreement. I firmly believe that only if we have a very strong social mobilization, social pressure, like the one that we had in New York, 400,000 persons marching, that is more—

AMY GOODMAN: The People’s Climate March in September.

PABLO SOLÓN: The People’s Climate March, yeah, that is more important than what you can do lobbying here. What we need to do is not only have a march like in New York, the People’s Climate March, that says take action, but we have to be more concrete: What kind of action do we want? And the issue is that here we are discussing about greenhouse gas emissions, but we don’t discuss here about extractive industries, about fossil fuel that has to be left under the soil. So how are you going to address climate change if you only discuss the issue of the temperature, but not the issue of the fossil fuels?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, what about these extractive industries? I mean, you know from your home country, Bolivia, Evo Morales, considered a progressive president, now, though overwhelmingly re-elected, you know, talking about health clinics, not climate change, talking about the economy being improved, but isn’t that coming from sort of runaway extractive industries, the money that’s gotten from the fossil fuel industry and from extracting minerals from the soil, something especially the indigenous people are extremely angry about? We see the same thing happening with President Correa in Ecuador.

PABLO SOLÓN: I totally agree and think that we have to move away from extractive industries in Bolivia, in Ecuador and all over the world, if we want to address climate change, and that if President Morales is going to lead the defense of Mother Earth and the rights of Mother Earth, we have to have a transition to get out of extractivism. We cannot base our economy in extractivists. And this is, I think, something that has to change in the case of Bolivia. Now they are discussing to have fracking in Bolivia, and I think this is a new danger. So, yes, there is a contradiction between what is said and what is done. And it is time to change this. And progressive governments should really do what they say in practice.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, John Kerry—it surprised many, it came out on Twitter—was coming here, the first U.S. secretary of state to come here since Hillary Clinton in 2009 in Copenhagen. Foreign ministers are here. We hear music in the background. They’re preparing for the big opening ceremony with Ban Ki-moon at 10:00 this morning. What do you have to say to John Kerry and President Obama on this issue?

PABLO SOLÓN: That they shouldn’t do too little, too late, because that is really what they are bringing here. It will not save the planet. And it can damage life. To make it in perspective, they say, "But we are doing something." But if you have a child and that child needs 1,000 milligrams of an antibiotic, and you say, "OK, we are going to do something: We are going to give him 100 milligrams"—I mean, but you’re not going to save him with 100 milligrams, because he needs 1,000. So, we’re not saying that they are not doing a little, but that little would not save that child. In this case, it will not save life as we know it in planet Earth. And I think Kerry is coming here, and Obama will probably be in Paris next year, to try to sell something that we know is not going to solve the issue of climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there, Pablo Solón, but we’re certainly not leaving it; we’ll be at the U.N. climate summit all week—Bolivia’s former ambassador to the United Nations, served as Bolivia’s chief negotiator on climate change, but now is in Bangkok, usually, except for here in Lima, executive director of Focus on the Global South.

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