Obama Accused of Giving Poor Nations a "Poison Chalice" by Skirting U.S. Climate Responsibility

December 10, 2015


Asad Rehman

head of international climate for Friends of the Earth.

Antonia Juhasz

journalist covering COP21 for Newsweek. Her latest article is "Suicidal Tendencies: How Saudi Arabia Could Kill the COP21 Negotiations in Paris."

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced plans to double the funding that the United States provides to help developing countries adapt to climate change to around $860 million a year. Critics including Asad Rehman, head of international climate for Friends of the Earth, say the United States is trying to keep an alliance of wealthy developed countries together and rewrite legal rules. "Many people talk about President Obama’s legacy in terms of climate change," says Rehman. "Unfortunately, the legacy he will leave is a poison chalice to the poor, to make them pay for the impacts of climate change. I don’t see much difference between the United States now and the United States in Copenhagen."


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

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announcing plans to double funding the United States provides to help [developing] countries adapt to climate change to around $860 million a year.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: So I am pleased to announce today that the United States is committing to double our public grant-based adaptation investments by the year 2020. And we are—we are prepared to do our part, and we will not leave the most vulnerable nations among us to quite literally weather the storm alone.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday as we were broadcasting the show. A doubling of funding, is that right, Antonia Juhasz?

ANTONIA JUHASZ: This is staying consistent with the same plan that the U.S. was already on, but making an announcement that it’s a doubling of the commitment. So, it’s good that there is this money on the table, of course, but it’s not a doubling of what the U.S. had already planned. It’s the same plan we had coming into the COP.

AMY GOODMAN: Asad Rehman, you’re particularly critical of this issue of loss and damage. And again, especially in the United States, these climate change negotiations are hardly being covered. When you say "loss and damage," explain what that means in real terms.

ASAD REHMAN: That means the support for the most vulnerable, the poorest people, who are really losing their lives and livelihoods and who are going to deal with ever-increasing climate impacts, mostly because of the responsibility of rich, developed countries who have grown fat and rich from carbon pollution. Now, what we’re seeing in the halls behind us is the biggest [inaudible]. Now you’ve got the United States, also backed by the European Union, saying, "We actually support loss and damage—as long as loss and damage doesn’t mean that we have to provide support for those most vulnerable." So, what we’re saying is that they’re willing to accept the words, but put a caveat in that they are no longer responsible. We see the same thing on the 1.5-degree target: Rich, developed countries, who have never had any indication that they would support such a meaningful target, are saying they support it, but without delivering any of concrete ambition that’s needed now, not tomorrow. The same with climate finance—they’re not paying their fair share.

AMY GOODMAN: Say what you mean by "climate finance."

ASAD REHMAN: So, rich countries have got a legal—and it’s a legal, as well as a moral—obligation to help poorer countries deal with the existing climate impacts and to be able to grow cleanly. We remember, we live in a deeply unequal world, where poorer countries are still struggling with many of the challenges of [inaudible] poverty. And rich countries, who are responsible for this crisis, have taken on a legal obligation. What’s happening behind us in these halls is those rich countries now want to shift the burden of responsibility from the rich to the poor. So they want to pass the tab to the poor. And that’s what’s being fought over. Many people talk about President Obama’s legacy in terms of on climate change. Unfortunately, the legacy he will leave here is a poison chalice to the poor, to actually make them pay for the impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, I don’t see much difference between the United States now and the United States in Copenhagen.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, "a poison chalice to the poor." Explain what you mean about what the U.S. role is here and around the issue overall of climate change.

ASAD REHMAN: Well, the United States here is primarily the bad guy. They are keeping an alliance of countries together of mainly the rich, developed countries. They brought on the European Union together with them. What they’re trying to do is rewrite the legal rules that are taking place here.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, I wanted just to clarify a big news headline came out yesterday. There’s the high ambition group. It was kept under wraps, secret for six months, and they unveiled themselves in the last few days—over a hundred of the world’s countries, so more than half the countries, led by the United States.

ASAD REHMAN: Yeah, smoke and mirrors. I mean, a high ambition alliance of countries who are not—have got no ambition. The United States, which is doing one-fifth of its fair share, the European Union, which is doing one-fifth of its fair share, they’re not doing any of their fair share in providing the finance or the technology or the support. So, how they can call themselves the high ambition alliance? What this really is, is about trying to shift blame. If we go back to Copenhagen, we knew that the blame then was on India. Now the blame is on India and other—I mean, on China. Now the blame is on India.

AMY GOODMAN: So, wait. On this issue of who’s in the coalition and who’s not, China and India are not in this coalition.

ASAD REHMAN: No. So, what the United States has managed to do, and, of course, they—look, this is geopolitics. We’re talking about one of the most powerful countries in the world. It’s managed to get people to sign up to a paper agreement. It actually doesn’t mean anything. In reality, what we’re seeing, and we saw last night in the halls here, is every single developing country come out very, very strongly, saying they oppose the attempt by the United States to rewrite the legal rules here, to rip up the legal protection, because what we are talking about is the protection to the poor, the most vulnerable and the poorer countries around the world. They want to rip up that protection. They want to take the responsibility of that pollution and put it onto the poor. That was rejected by developing countries. And in the next 36 hours, what we’re going to see is either a lowering of expectations, a bullying and bribing of poorer countries to shift the blame. But in reality, there is a crime scene on there, but the criminal here is the United States.

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