At COP21, U.S. Allows Mention of Climate Reparations -- Only If It Doesn't Have to Pay Them

December 11, 2015


Yoke Ling Chee

legal adviser to the Third World Network based in Malaysia.

Ruth Nyambura

Kenyan political ecologist, part of the African Ecofeminist Collective.

Kandi Mossett

indigenous activist from North Dakota and an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.

The United States will allow the words "loss and damage" in the Paris accords only if it is agreed that the U.S. is not liable for paying for it. "Loss and damage" refers to compensation for countries already suffering from the impacts of climate change caused by more industrialized nations. We discuss the role of the U.S., China and other major countries at COP21 on this issue and on REDD, a mechanism meant to stem deforestation in countries such as Indonesia. "REDD is labeled as a solution to the climate crisis," says Ruth Nyambura, Kenyan political ecologist, part of the African Ecofeminist Collective. "But it has given polluting countries in the developed world, and corporations, the ability to say, 'I will continue to pollute as long as I pay for forest rehabilitation in the Global South.'"


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

AMY GOODMAN: Just before we went to broadcast, I spoke with Lord Nicholas Stern, the prominent British climate economist, the former chief economist for the World Bank. I asked him about how the United States will allow the words "loss and damage" in the Paris accords only if it’s agreed that the U.S. is not liable for paying for that loss and damage.

LORD NICHOLAS STERN: We’re back to the difference between voluntary and formal. Voluntary in this context is much more powerful. We, as rich countries—I count—I’m from the U.K. I count the U.K. as a rich country, along with the United States—have grown rich on high-fossil fuel economies, high-carbon economies. We have some responsibility. We’re richer, and richer people have some responsibility, and we are better equipped with technologies. All those things give us, I think, a moral responsibility to be helpful. And I think that is what is going to drive the collaboration to help with adaptation, to help with the damage. That’s the way to go. Formal structures, in my view, in this context, can produce conflict, contrariness, and can be counterproductive.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Lord Nicholas Stern, the prominent British climate economist. We’re going to hear more from him later. But, Chee Yoke Ling, you are Malaysian, with the Third World Network, but you’re based in Beijing. Can you talk about what loss and damage is?

CHEE YOKE LING: Loss and damage is very much what we just heard Kandi talk about. I mean, when we say that climate change impacts on us, and we have to adapt, but there is a point where you cannot adapt anymore. For example, when the sea level rises on the coastal areas of small islands or Bangladesh or India or China, and the agricultural lands can no longer be used for planting our food, and it’s a permanent damage, there’s no way you can adapt. That’s loss and damage. When we have glacial melting, and there’s no way you can replace the ice because we have warmed it up too much, that’s loss and damage. And this is a specific aspect of permanent loss. Some of it, it can be slow over time.

And this is something that we fought hard three years ago to get as an acknowledgement that loss and damage has to be treated as a separate form of reparation. But the United States has refused at all to even allow the words "loss and damage" to appear. And the only way there may be a general reference will be to have a permanent waiver by countries here of any liability or compensation notion.

And I just want to quickly add, from what Kandi was saying, one of the things that Mr. Kerry said last night in the closed-door negotiations is that it is regrettable, but he cannot go back to Washington with a legally binding agreement that has got legal binding cuts in emissions or legally binding finance. So, we see the struggle for us in the South for reducing emissions, the same struggle as our brothers and sisters in the North, because what Kandi is talking about is, if we don’t have legally binding, then she is weaker in her fight in the United States, as we are in the rest of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, he’s saying that they’ll never get a treaty passed in Congress, so they’re trying to prevent it from being legally binding.

CHEE YOKE LING: Yes, exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about China. It just issued its first-ever red alert for pollution.


AMY GOODMAN: The capital, where you live, is engulfed in smog—


AMY GOODMAN: —poisonous chemicals that can make residents sick simply by walking outside. What responsibility does China have here?

CHEE YOKE LING: Well, I think it’s—you know, I live there. And one of the things I’ve been amazed, really, is that if you live—if you are in a country like China, 1.3 billion people, and the government has actually started taking very serious steps more than 10 years ago, because it’s not just about global warming, it’s pollution in your face, as you say. So, if you look at China’s climate actions in the last six, seven years, they have had five-year plans as part of their development plan. And they have submitted to the United Nations here a very ambitious plan in the next 20 years to 30 years. They have no choice. They have to cut emissions and make, you know, pollution go away. But for a country that’s very dependent on coal, for 1.3 billion people who are still—of which 200 million are very poor, it will take a lot to switch over to renewables. They are doing it, and we all recognize they’re doing a lot—not enough, but everybody must do. We don’t see fair actions by Japan or the United States. We need everybody to work. So China is doing its part, but we need everybody to do their part. And we don’t see that happening at the moment among industrialized countries, not enough.

AMY GOODMAN: Ruth Nyambura, can you address the issue of REDD and REDD+? This is something that I think most people in the United States haven’t even heard what it stands for, what it means.

RUTH NYAMBURA: All right, so, REDD refers to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. So this is under the U.N., which basically—it’s basically a mechanism that deals with—that basically deals with forest loss and the amount of—you know, just basically forest loss, deforestation, all over the world, but specifically in the Global South, countries like Indonesia and Brazil, for example, which have had immense amounts of forest loss, be it from illegal loggers or just conversion of—just change of the use of forests to agriculture and to homes.

So, REDD is labeled as a solution to the climate crisis. That’s what we’ve—that’s what the United Nations, that’s what parties here would love us to believe. But it hasn’t been a solution to the climate crisis, because what we’ve seen is that it has given polluting countries in the developed world, and corporations, the ability to say that "I will continue to pollute, as long as I pay for forest rehabilitation in the Global South," for example, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So fracking companies in North Dakota, for example, Kandi, could continue to do that, if they pay to protect a forest in Southeast Asia, for example, or Africa.

RUTH NYAMBURA: Exactly, exactly. So, at the very heart of it, before you even go further, the climate crisis has been caused by greenhouse gas emissions. So, it does not stop greenhouse gas emissions, because it clearly gives them—it gives them a path to say that "I will continue polluting, as long as I can solve something elsewhere." So what we’ve seen, for example, in the case of Kenya in the Sengwer community, we’ve seen that indigenous people, mostly, are getting evicted from their land, because you’re getting in situations like the World Bank, the United Nations, countries—for example, Norway, you know—coming into governments and saying that "We’re going to give you this amount of money, $10 million, you know, for you to conserve the forest in this particular area." But the way—we have to question the conservation model that we now have.

AMY GOODMAN: And how do they conserve it?


AMY GOODMAN: By moving people out who have lived there?

RUTH NYAMBURA: One is moving people out. Two is—two is, actually, because, you know, the United Nations considered monocultures and tree plantations as forests, which is absolutely false. A forest is a rich ecosystem. It’s not just trees that you plant. Most of the trees also being planted are not indigenous to the area. It’s trees like pine and eucalyptus that take up so much water and completely change the ecosystem in the area.

And another thing, with conservation efforts, type such as this, it’s basically—and I’m sure Kandi would agree with this, this whole idea that indigenous people or local people or people from the Global South don’t know how—don’t value nature, don’t value their ecosystems. We’ve been protecting our ecosystems for thousands of years. So it’s basically coming in and saying that "We know what is best. You don’t know what is best."

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, where you go from here? The famous line among civil society: "It’s not the road to Paris, but through Paris." Will any of you be out on the streets tomorrow, despite the state of emergency and ban on protests?

KANDI MOSSETT: Yes, definitely.

AMY GOODMAN: Kandi Mossett, you were on the human chain—


AMY GOODMAN: —instead of the protest that day.

KANDI MOSSETT: I was in the human chain. I went to the 21 "Solutions," and we shut that down. And I almost got arrested, but that’s OK. And tomorrow, we’re potentially risking the same thing, because we understand that we literally have to put our bodies on the line. We, as indigenous peoples, are drawing a red line. We’re actually going to be meeting for a ceremony in the morning at Notre-Dame. We’re going to be marching over to the lock bridge and doing a bit of a theater and staged event there that we’re inviting people to. And it will be an—it will be something to see, because we’re going to draw the red line against this, and we’re going to educate people on what they need to know about how to solve the climate crisis.


RUTH NYAMBURA: Definitely going to be there. I mean, for me, it’s basically, one, I live in a space where the effects of the climate crisis can be felt. But also, adding onto that, you cannot criminalize the right of people to protest. You cannot do that. So, for us, beyond saying that we must stand for climate justice, that we have the solutions, we have the alternatives, it’s basically also speaking up—speaking out against the criminalization of dissent, that we can see in this building, because it’s heavily militarized—it’s almost like entering a police station—in this space, the COP, the militarization by corporations and also by our governments back home. So it’s saying no to that.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally?

CHEE YOKE LING: There’s a lot of talk about transparency. But one of the most awful things that has happened in Paris started in Bonn in October. It’s cutting observers from the negotiation rooms. When we’re not there to watch which country is saying what—the real truth and not the media hype that’s going on—it’s very important for us to fight to be able to know what’s happening inside, so that we can all, inside and outside, really let the people know which are the real blockers among the different countries and governments and who—where the corporate power is so strong. So our work will continue to be inside and outside, but we will have to mobilize a lot of public opinion, definitely.

AMY GOODMAN: Chee Yoke Ling, I want to thank you for being with us, based in Beijing. Third World Network is her organization, which is based in Malaysia. Ruth Nyambura, with the African Ecofeminist Collective in Kenya, and Kandi Mossett, indigenous leader from North Dakota in the United States. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be speaking with a leading glaciologist, and we’ll be talking with a leading climate economist. Stay with us.

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