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Guardian Reporter John Vidal: With Climate Talks on Verge of Collapse “You Could Argue that America Has Done Very Well Out of This”

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On the final scheduled day of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, negotiations remain deadlocked, and negotiators are scrambling to come up with some form of agreement to prevent the talks from collapsing. We speak to John Vidal, the environment editor at The Guardian newspaper. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is climate countdown, and we are broadcasting from Cancún, Mexico. I’m Amy Goodman.

Today is the final scheduled day of the U.N. climate summit here in Cancún. Negotiations remain deadlocked. U.N. negotiators are scrambling to come up with some form of agreement to prevent the talks from collapsing. Thousands of delegates from around the world have been meeting at the plush Moon Palace seaside resort, which has been surrounded by a tightly controlled security cordon.

More than 20 miles away, in downtown Cancún, thousands of peasant farmers, indigenous people and social movements from across the globe have gathered at an alternative summit organized by Via Campesina. Bolivian President Evo Morales spoke at the Via Campesina gathering last night before a festive crowd. Democracy Now! was there to cover Morales’s speech.

As we drove over from the U.N. summit to the rally, we were joined in the car by John Vidal, the environment editor at The Guardian newspaper. He spoke about the state of the U.N. talks but began by talking about the differences between the United Nations summit and the Via Campesina gathering.

JOHN VIDAL: There’s two worlds. There’s the world of lobsters, which people eat in large quantities out in what I call the Hall of Doom, which is where the U.N. is having these climate talks, and there’s world the beans, which is where we’re going now. And there, people live on floors in an old converted basketball camp, and they’re having an extraordinary meeting about climate change, but seen very much from the grassroots, from the victim’s point of view.

AMY GOODMAN: How are these kept apart, these worlds, at the COP16 that’s supposed to be — well, supposedly, bridging them?

JOHN VIDAL: The world of lobsters and the world of beans are kept apart by the military, by the police, by money. You have no access remotely to the U.N. talks. They’ve deliberately kept people away from it. And there’s very little access, even for civil society groups, let alone the indigenous peoples and the marginalized peoples who are left to — without any money at all, to stay where they can in one of the poorest parts of this burgeoning city.

AMY GOODMAN: Via Campesina, this group that President Morales is addressing today, explain who they are.

JOHN VIDAL: Via Campesina is a network of about 150 groups from around the world of small farmers, of indigenous peoples and activists, on every continent. It’s grown. It started off in Belgium 20-odd years ago. It is now based in Indonesia, and it’s become very much a developing country movement, very powerful intellectual voice for the sustainable farming and the, if you like, the peasant movement of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: And where we are right now in these talks, though it could change at any minute — you have been covering these talks extensively — what do you know?

JOHN VIDAL: Well, the more you think you know, the more you realize you don’t know very much, actually, because, I mean, the only information we get coming out of it are people flitting from meeting to meeting, and they — you know them, and they tell you a little bit. And then that’s contradicted by somebody else who will tell you something different. So it’s very hard to actually grasp what’s happening. A few governments are giving briefings to journalists, the local journalists or whatever, so you’re getting some sense, but that’s always with the governments’ spin on it. The NGOs have access to some of their delegations, and that’s good.

What is happening right now is that we’re talking on a ministerial level. There are small groups of ministers meeting and preparing, we think, draft texts, which are going to be presented either later tonight or tomorrow. And on this, the whole thing will depend. If they get it right, there is just a chance that they’re going to get it through. It doesn’t look very good. I mean, my bet is, actually, as our environment secretary said this morning, basically we could be in for a big car crash.

AMY GOODMAN: What does a car crash mean at the global warming summit?

JOHN VIDAL: Well, initially, it means a total failure of the talks and no agreement whatever. And that has enormous repercussions right the way down the line, because that would be the second of two major climate summits in a row, and a lot of people would then start to argue whether the U.N. process is enough, is up to actually working out something as complex as climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that is on purpose, that the U.N. is being subverted?

JOHN VIDAL: I think there are good points to be made about how difficult it is to reach consensus of 193 different countries. I mean, but if that’s what it takes — nobody has come up with a better solution to this one. And so, in the absence of that, you have to go through the U.N. process. And I think that is no problem whatever. And I think it’s absolutely right that every country in the world should have a say. What we’re seeing at the moment in these talks is a lot of countries are not having a say. And so, how they respond to what is proposed by the U.N. or by the Mexican presidency later today will be very interesting.

AMY GOODMAN: The significance, John Vidal, of Japan saying it will not sign on to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol?

JOHN VIDAL: I think Japan is — I mean, it’s not a new position by Japan, but it was a position which was restated, and restated very, very vehemently at a very critical point in the talks. And it has thrown everybody into some confusion. It is the most extreme statement which we’ve heard from anywhere. And they are now under intense pressure to soften their views. And we heard this morning that perhaps they are ready, because they do not want to be seen to be the country, the one country, which has effectively brought the talks down. And so, they’re deeply embarrassed. And I happen to know that world leaders, including our great Cameron, is on the phone to the —- in fact, he’s planning to wake up the Japanese prime minister to personally beg him to get out of bed and sort this one out. The trouble is Japan has taken the position and finds it very, very difficult to back down now. So -—

AMY GOODMAN: And why is it so significant that they have taken this position?

JOHN VIDAL: It’s very convenient, shall we say. I mean, I think Japan is terrified of China, of the economic growth, and they do genuinely believe that if China is allowed to get away without emission caps and cuts and pledges, then Japanese industry will be under severe disadvantage. And I think this makes the point that these talks, in the end, are nothing really to do with climate change. These are very, very convenient talks, which are actually about enormous geopolitical significance and the way that countries and regional blocs develop over the next 20, 30 years. So these are talks really about money, about capitalism, about the future of countries’ economics over the next 20, 30 years. That’s why so much is at stake. That’s why they can’t get agreement. That’s why the talks could well fail.

AMY GOODMAN: The role of the country not signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, the United States, in all of this?

JOHN VIDAL: Can’t believe its luck. It’s just sitting back like the big fat cat, sort of sloughing the cream. It’s having all its work done for it. It’s just waiting for the thing to fall apart. It’s waiting to the last minute. The Copenhagen Accord, the slightly dodgy deal, which was put forward at the end of the last major meeting, will be presented effectively, and it will be part of U.N. policy, which is exactly what America has wanted. You could argue that America has done very, very well out of this.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the Guardian environment editor John Vidal speaking to us here in Cancún, Mexico, at the U.N. climate change talks. The Guardian newspaper, for whom he writes, is a British newspaper that is one of the partners with WikiLeaks in releasing the State Department cables.

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