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“The Most Important Event in the Struggle Against Climate Change”–Nigerian Environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey on Bolivia Climate Conference

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Among those who spoke at the inauguration ceremony for the World Peoples’ Climate Conference was Nnimmo Bassey, the prominent Nigerian environmentalist and chair of Friends of the Earth International. By contrast, at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December, his group, along with several other mainstream environmental organizations, was barred from the talks. “Here you get a real sense that government wants to speak to people,” Bassey says. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: Among those who spoke at the opening ceremony for the World Peoples’ Climate Conference was Nnimmo Bassey. He’s the prominent Nigerian environmentalist and chair of Friends of the Earth International. By contrast, at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December, his group, along with several other mainstream environmental organizations, was barred from the talks.

Democracy Now! producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous spoke with Nnimmo Bassey outside the conference gates here in Tiquipaya. He began by asking to talk about the significance of the Bolivian summit.

    NNIMMO BASSEY: I’m here because this peoples’ summit is the most important event in the struggle against climate change. And it’s been so inspiring to find people from all around the world gathered with the same objective. We don’t have corporate lobby — maybe they’re hiding, but certainly they are not openly lobbying as they did in Copenhagen. So this is a real opening for fresh breath, for peoples and governments who are sensitive about the issues to talk to one another and forge a way forward.

    SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And you were at the Copenhagen summit, the UN summit. Friends of the Earth was expelled, as were you. Now you’re here. Your thoughts on the difference between the two?

    NNIMMO BASSEY: The difference between the two, Copenhagen and Cochabamba, is so huge. In Copenhagen, I was kicked out, locked out a number of days. And here, you see a real sense that government wants to speak to people, wants to listen to people. In Copenhagen, this was not possible. Copenhagen was the question of secret dealings in secret rooms called “green rooms,” which are more like grey rooms. And there was no openness. They asked us to raise our voices, but then they muffled us. So this is so — the only thing that is similar between Cochabamba and Copenhagen is that both start with letter C, and they both have ten letters. Otherwise, the difference is so huge.

    SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what do you think the point of this conference is? There’s no binding agreement that will come out of it, and the United States and the world’s biggest polluters are not being represented here in a government form. What do you think is the point of the conference?

    NNIMMO BASSEY: Yeah, I think the point of this conference is not to come out with an agreement, the type that we fought for in Copenhagen, which did not happen. The point of this is to provide a space for the environmental justice movement, for peoples’ movements, [inaudible] movement, environmental movement, to take a step ahead of what they did on the streets of Copenhagen and really organize, to show that this is the real alternative, this is the real space, and the voice of the people just must be listened to.

    SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And Africa is on the front line of climate change. How has your continent been affected by global warming?

    NNIMMO BASSEY: You know, Africa is the most vulnerable continent. And what came out of Copenhagen was Copenhagen Accord, with no binding agreement with suggestions about emissions cut. Governments could do whatever they want to do. From what I’ve heard, the acknowledgement we got is that if Copenhagen Accord stands, we’re going to have global temperature increase of more than four degrees, and this will mean for Africa over four degrees Centigrade. That will mean roasting Africa, destroying African people, destroying African environment, and simply, possibly, just having a continent on the map with nobody in it. So Africa has — we have real interest in this conference to make our case and then to get people from around the world to stand together and really, really take this struggle of climate change.

    SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And you just came from speaking at the main inauguration rally at the stadium. There’s been some criticism of the Bolivian government, which is looking to expand oil and gas extraction, expand lithium extraction. What are your thoughts about the fact that Evo Morales, the President, is hosting this conference, and yet continuing to extract raw materials which may hurt the environment?

    NNIMMO BASSEY: You know, we love Evo Morales. We love the government of Bolivia. The positive things that the government is doing is much — very inspiring. But when it comes to the issue of extracting further, deepening and widening extension of fossil fuels, like gas and so on, of course that’s also a concern. And we believe that, like any other government, that issue, they have to struggle with. And we are going to press for leaving the oil in the soil, coal in the hole, tar sands in the sand. It doesn’t matter which government, no matter how much we love the government, we will look at the government of Bolivia in the face and say, “No, this is one way you should not go.”

    SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Thank you very much.

    NNIMMO BASSEY: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Nnimmo Bassey is the chair of Friends of the Earth International. He was speaking yesterday at the opening of the World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Mother Earth in the Bolivian indigenous languages of Aymara and Quechua, it’s Pachamama.

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