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Climate Change and the Global South: A Roundtable Discussion

StoryDecember 07, 2009
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We host a roundtable discussion with three guests who have extensively studied how climate change is affecting poor populations around the world: Saleemul Huq, a Bangladeshi-born scientist and lead author on parts of the last two reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Lidy Nacpil of Jubilee South; and Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to three guests who have extensively studied how climate change is affecting poor populations around the world.

Saleemul Huq is a Bangladeshi-born scientist who now heads the climate change group at the International Institute for Environment and Development. He was a lead author on parts of the last two reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The Nation magazine recently wrote, quote, “Saleemul Huq has done more to help poor people and countries prepare for climate change than perhaps anyone else in the world.”

Lidy Nacpil is also with us. She is from the Philippines. She’s the international coordinator of Jubilee South and vice president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition of the Philippines.

And Tom Goldtooth is with us. He’s executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. It’s headquartered at Bemidji, Minnesota, so he doesn’t think it’s as cold as everyone else. He is Diné and Dakota.

I want to start with Saleemul Huq. The significance of this meeting today?

SALEEMUL HUQ: Well, I think it’s highly significant. It’s the fifteenth Conference of Parties of the Framework Convention, but in the last fifteen years of the Framework Convention we’ve never had this heightened level of either awareness or political engagement. We’ve usually had the annual meetings — even the highest-level meeting would be the ministers of environment from the various countries. This time it’s a summit meeting with the heads of state from all over the world, over a hundred of them coming, so it imbues it with a much higher level of political significance. And hopefully they’ll come out with a good deal at the end.

AMY GOODMAN: And just for some terminology, “Conference of Parties,” that’s why it’s called COP15.

SALEEMUL HUQ: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: And fifteen, because…?

SALEEMUL HUQ: It’s the fifteenth that’s been held since the original Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in 1992.

AMY GOODMAN: And President Obama saying that there would not be any kind of binding agreement that will come out of this in the next two weeks?

SALEEMUL HUQ: Well, an agreement signed and agreed by heads of state is a very highly significant political agreement in itself. Whether it’s then ratified into a legally binding treaty, like the Framework Convention or the Kyoto Protocol were, remains to be seen. They won’t be able to do that here in Copenhagen. But if they can agree at the heads of state level on the actions that they all undertake to take, then I think that would be a significant achievement in its own right.

AMY GOODMAN: Lidy Nacpil, you’ve came a long way to be here, from Manila, Philippines. What are your expectations? And do you think that they’re going to be met here?

LIDY NACPIL: Well, from what we’ve seen in the previous meetings, in the intersessionals, it has led us to think that perhaps we will not be able to get from Copenhagen what the world leaders must decide on. The signs have not been very encouraging. But we believe we need to really make our demands very clear, that they need to come up with clear and binding agreements, because there’s very little time to do what must be done.

AMY GOODMAN: Tom Goldtooth, as we talk about, in a minute, the Global South, in a sense, oddly, you represent what has come to be known the Global South in North America. You are head of the Indigenous Environmental Network. You’ve come here — why? And what do you think of what’s been stated as the possibility of what will come out of it?

TOM GOLDTOOTH: Yes, we have fifteen people within our delegation that come from North America, from the top of the earth, what we call Alaska, people who are directly impacted — and one of the representatives is Colleen from Kivalina, and in that community you can see photographs of that community sliding, literally sliding, into the ocean from erosion from the seas and melting ice — two people from the tar sands in Canada. So we have people that are living on the front lines of the expansion of fossil fuels. While we’re talking about addressing targets to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases and cutting our carbon dioxide emissions, we have the expansion of fossil fuel that’s happening in these local communities.

So we’re here as a delegation of the First Peoples, as the native people, the indigenous peoples of United States and Canada to give a strong message that we need a binding agreement. We can’t wait. You know, with new projections coming from climatologists saying that the sea ice is going to be melting a lot quicker than what previously was known, this is a human right issue. It’s literally a life-and-death issue for our people in the belly of the beast. You know, we’re experiencing a lot of the same issues that our brothers and sisters in the Global South are facing. And so, that’s why we’re standing, you know, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, in this big global movement around climate justice.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and then we’ll be back. We’re here in Copenhagen, Denmark at the UN climate summit, what some have called the most important diplomatic meeting in history. And we’re broadcasting live here for the next two weeks. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We have three guests with us today who have been extensively dealing with the effects of climate change and organizing around it. Saleemul Huq is a Bangladeshi-born scientist who now heads the climate change group at the International Institute for Environment and Development. We’re also joined by Lidy Nacpil. She is from the Philippines. She’s the international coordinator of Jubilee South and vice president of Freedom from Debt Coalition of the Philippines. And Tom Goldtooth is with us, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, which is headquartered in Bemidji, Minnesota.

Saleemul Huq, talk about the impacts of climate change on the Global South.

SALEEMUL HUQ: Well, the impacts of climate change are now not just something that are being projected into the future. The last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the scientific body that assesses the scientific evidence of climate change, made it very clear in 2007, the fourth assessment report, that climate change is already happening.

We are seeing it happen in the increased frequency and intensities of cyclones and hurricanes in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean; in the increased intensity and frequency of droughts in mid-continents in Africa, Asia, Latin America; in the increased incidence of floods in the major river deltas in Asia and Africa and other parts of the world; and the ice melting in the cryosphere, both at the northern and southern ice polls and the glaciers around the world. So we are seeing it happen all over the world.

And people are realizing that we are now already living in a world that has warmed by 0.7 degrees Centigrade over the last century. And it’s inevitably going to warm by another 0.7 degrees over the next decade or two, because that’s locked into the system because of the lags in the physical system in the atmosphere.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet there is a lot of questions being raised now because of what’s being called “Climategate,” these emails that were hacked out of the University of East Anglia. Some people may have heard of this; others might not. But just explain what it is. It’s being characterized as global warming by global warming deniers as the leading global warming scientists saying, “Let’s fix the data, and let’s keep those who feel that there isn’t the evidence for climate change out of the peer-reviewed literature.”

SALEEMUL HUQ: Well, what happened was that one of the leading scientific bodies at the University of East Anglia, the Climate Research Unit, had its computers hacked and emails of some of their scientists, I believe thousands of emails, taken illegally. And those emails were then mined for information by some people, presumably the climate deniers, and they brought out a couple of snippets, which they felt were damning evidence that things were being fixed.

One of them was an exchange of emails with other scientists on some evidence that had come out of another group, which was not — was indicating that instead of warming, the temperatures were dropping, and saying that we need to think about how to explain that.

And the other one was relating to whether or not this evidence or publication should be included in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And the emails gave the view or the indication that these scientists would try and prevent that from happening.

Now, these are two very minor incidents in the scientific debate. First of all, this isn’t the only center that has the evidence. The evidence is very, very clear, and it goes across many different centers. So the Climate Research Unit in East Anglia is not the only place. Secondly, temperatures will go down. Nobody is saying that every year and every day the temperatures are continuously going to go up. It’s the trend that matters. And there may be years in which temperatures will go down. But overall, we are seeing, as I said, there’s been a 0.7 degree increase over the last century, and that’s a real increase.

The other point with respect to the IPCC is that, even if they wanted to keep something out of the IPCC, the IPCC is an open process, and it can’t be kept out. It’s reviewed by government. So anybody could have pointed out that this paper was not included and insisted that it be included.

AMY GOODMAN: This is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, chair Rajendra Pachauri, addressing the controversy today.

    RAJENDRA PACHAURI: Given the wide-ranging nature of change that is likely to be taken in hand, some naturally find it inconvenient to accept its inevitability. The recent incident of stealing the emails of scientists at the University of East Anglia shows that some would go to the extent of carrying out illegal acts, perhaps in an attempt to discredit the IPCC.

    But the panel has a record of transparent and objective assessment stretching over twenty-one years, performed by tens of thousands of dedicated scientists from all corners of the globe. I am proud to inform this conference that the findings of the AR4 are based on measurements made by many independent institutions worldwide that demonstrate significant changes on land, in the atmosphere, the oceans, and in the ice-covered areas of the earth. The internal consistency, from multiple lines of evidence, strongly supports the work of the scientific community, including those individuals singled out in these email exchanges.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Rajendra Pachauri, who was addressing this issue, this controversy that Yvo de Boer, the head of the climate change conference, has called extremely damaging.

Lidy Nacpil, anything you want to add on this issue? It’s certainly become, to say the least, an issue at this time when this critical meeting is taking place.

LIDY NACPIL: Yeah, well, perhaps it’s not very surprising that some quarters will try to undermine the credibility of scientists, as well as the leaders of governments that are now meeting today. But I think we should not give much credence to these kinds of attempts to undermine the issue. I think we have reached a point, after many years of debates, that most, if not all, of the world leaders are convinced that the issue is indeed very urgent and that nothing must distract the leaders, as well as the movements around the world, from addressing the issues now.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about extreme weather in the Philippines just in the last few months.

LIDY NACPIL: Well, I think everyone has seen in YouTube, as also in mainstream news broadcasts, in September we suffered in the Philippines in metro Manila one of the — an unprecedented disaster, and that was caused by a typhoon named Ondoy, where when we actually experienced rainfall we normally experience in thirty days, happened in six hours. So it actually transformed metro Manila, which is the capital of the country, to like raging rivers and lakes all around. So millions of families had to be driven away from their homes. Thousands of — hundreds of millions of dollars were actually worth of destruction happened, in terms of cars, buildings, infrastructure. And I wish we could show the video right now, because it really shocked everyone about how this could happen.

And, of course, there’s a lot of factors, but you cannot deny that climate change has something to do with it. There’s government neglect, of course. Infrastructures were not well maintained. But how can you otherwise explain something like this? And then it didn’t stop there. Another typhoon came the following week. It caused massive destruction in the north, landslides. Also hundreds of people were killed. And this hasn’t happened to us ever. And this is now part of what we are seeing as very frequent disasters and worsening of typhoons in the last several years. So we can’t say that climate change is not a factor to this.

AMY GOODMAN: What is climate debt, the issue of reparations, in a sense?

LIDY NACPIL: Well, it has been an issue we have been raising in the last few years that we should see the problem of climate change as a debt that is owed by the rich countries to the rest of the world, to the developing nations especially, but also to the South and the North in the northern countries. This rests on our — on what is clearly the responsibility of rich countries, of corporations, for creating the problem, for taking up the atmospheric space more than what they are entitled to, so that the rest of the world, the developing world especially, is deprived of that space and now have to deal with the impacts of the problem that they created.

AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! producer Mike Burke briefly had a chance on Sunday to question Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. He had just finished an interview with NBC and was racing to his next appointment, when Mike and Elizabeth Press caught up with him.

    MIKE BURKE: Sir, could I ask you one question? We’re working on a segment regarding the issue of climate reparations, and I want to know, is this something you support with the United States?

    YVO DE BOER: Reparations? What do you mean?

    MIKE BURKE: This is, you know, the concept of a climate debt, that the United States and other wealthy nations owe a debt to African nations and other developing nations?

    YVO DE BOER: Well, I think the fact that we’re talking here about very significant money to help African countries adapt to the impacts of climate change and change the pattern of their economic growth is exactly intended to address those concerns that developing countries have.

    MIKE BURKE: And how much money is needed?

    YVO DE BOER: Over the short term, I think we need $10 billion a year for 2010, 2011, 2012.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Yvo de Boer, the head of the climate change conference.

Now, interestingly, as we’re going to air, it was announced that the US Ex-Im Bank, the Export-Import Bank, has just given $3 billion to an Exxon-led consortium constructing a liquid natural gas plant in Papua New Guinea. Saleemul Huq, talk about the money that is going into subsidizing corporations’ large projects versus this idea of debt and reparations?

SALEEMUL HUQ: Well, I think one of the biggest issues that we have to confront here, and hopefully Copenhagen will put us on that path, is how to wean ourselves globally off a very dangerous fossil fuel-dependent global economy — coal, oil and natural gas — which we’ve invested trillions of dollars in and which corporations have invested trillions of dollars in and want to continue to protect their investments. We do need as a globe to move away from this into a cleaner, greener technology and energy pathway, and at the same time protect the most vulnerable citizens on this planet from the inevitable and unavoidable impacts of climate change.

So we’re talking about two sets of investments: firstly, investments being moved from fossil fuel into new cleaner energy, which in climate change jargon we call mitigation; and secondly, we are also talking about giving money to the poorest people on the planet to deal with the impacts that are not their making, but is the making of the rich, and hence the notion of debt, and that’s, in the climate change jargon, called adaptation. So we’re going to need money for mitigation and money for adaptation in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, for example, the United States has at this moment not pledged anything.

SALEEMUL HUQ: Well, they’re beginning to pledge. They are talking about it. In fact, Congress has recently allocated funding for international climate finance, part of it for adaptation funding, so — which wasn’t the case under the Bush regime. So, the Obama regime has actually reversed its antipathy to paying anything, but they haven’t paid a lot yet, and they are going to have to up the ante as long as — along with other developed countries who are going to have to pay.

When you think of the hundreds of billions of dollars that are going to be needed for this, one might think, at one level, that they’re very large. But if you then compare them with the trillions of dollars that were produced out of thin air to pay banks in the recent recession, then saving the planet doesn’t seem that expensive anymore. It surely is worth more than saving a few banks.

AMY GOODMAN: Tom Goldtooth, can you talk about what seems to be a confusion of numbers that’s coming out of the United States, different than for the rest of the world when it comes to a commitment for reducing the whole issue of carbon emissions, of global gas emissions? What are these numbers? Some talk about 2005; some talk about 1990.

TOM GOLDTOOTH: Yes, yes. And I think that the public and civil society really need to zero in on the numbers that are being tossed around. The acceptable number, as far as a baseline level that we’re utilizing within these international negotiations, is looking at 1990 levels. OK? So that’s why, like within our position, what we call the Red Road platform in Copenhagen, is standing behind the developing countries’ position as far as what the emission reduction targets that they’re demanding from Annex One countries, which is the developed countries, recognizing the alliance of small island states, who are asking for a 45 percent reduction level by 2020 at 1990 levels. And we’re elevating within our network, standing with the Indigenous Peoples Caucus here, standing behind our indigenous brother, the president of Bolivia, who is demanding 49 percent reduction by 2020 at 1990 levels.

Now you compare that with what one of the climate legislation that’s on the table back home in the United States, the Kerry-Boxer legislation. It’s using 20 percent reduction by 2020, but at 2005 levels. So it looks good to the American people.

AMY GOODMAN: [inaudible]

TOM GOLDTOOTH: And when you use — when you compute that to 1990 levels, it comes out to about four percent, four percent reduction level.

So, for those of us that have been engaged, coming from the belly of the beast now, it’s very embarrassing to have leadership coming from our country who we stood behind — we stood behind because he represent a lot of the injustices, and he was going to address these injustices with our communities, our native communities, our people of color communities, poor folks. But to come to this negotiations with the proposal of possibly four percent reduction by 2020, when we need something that’s more drastic, the Mother Earth needs something more stringent than four percent.

But these are things that we have to really be cognizant of, because it’s very important, as we’re looking at numbers here, is what is the commitment of developed countries to reduce, you know, our dependency on a fossil fuel economy? It’s that drastic. So we’re bringing not only Western scientists within our delegation who have been trained in the universities, but we also have our own indigenous scientists, have already — they come from the land. They come — and they’re witnessing all these patterns, but also traditional knowledge that can be a solution to the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, and I want to thank you very much for being with us, Tom Goldtooth, head of the Indigenous Environmental Network; Lidy Nacpil with us from Jubilee South, came from the Philippines. And thank you very much to Saleemul Huq, who is with the International Institute for Environment and Development.

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