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Critics: Rich Polluters—Including U.S.—Should Face Sanctions for Rejecting Binding Emissions Cuts

StoryDecember 08, 2011
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Patrick Bond

South African climate activist and professor. He is the director of the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. He is author of two new books, Durban’s Climate Gamble: Playing the Carbon Markets, Betting the Earth and Politics of Climate Justice: Paralysis Above, Movement Below.

Pablo Solon

Bolivia’s former ambassador to the United Nations. He also served as Bolivia’s chief negotiator on climate change.

Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu

chair of the Africa Group, representing 54 African nations at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa. Mpanu-Mpanu is from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Talks at the United Nations Climate Change Conference are in their second to last day, but little progress appears to have been made on the key issues of extending the Kyoto Protocol or forming a Green Climate Fund. The United States is refusing to accept any deal involving binding emissions cuts before the year 2020 despite dire warnings that the world can’t afford to wait. We get analysis from Pablo Solón, Bolivia’s former ambassador to the United Nations and former chief negotiator on climate change, and from Patrick Bond, a South African climate activist, professor and author. "The main issue, that is the number, the figure of emission reductions of rich countries, is not really being raised," Solón says. "It’s very, very low... You cannot be silent when you see that genocide and ecocide is going to happen because of this kind of decisions." Solón also says the U.S. "blackmails" developing countries into dropping demands for binding cuts by threatening to withdraw climate aid. Bond says the next round of climate talks should include the idea of sanctions against major polluters, like the United States, that reject binding cuts. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the climate change talks, we’re joined right now by two guests. Pablo Solón is Bolivia’s former ambassador to the United Nations, also Bolivia’s former chief negotiator on climate change. Also with us is Patrick Bond from Durban. Patrick is a South African climate activist and professor, director of the Centre for Civil Society at the University in KwaZulu-Natal here in Durban. He is author of two new books, Durban’s Climate Gamble: Playing the Carbon Markets, Betting the Earth and Politics of Climate Justice: Paralysis Above, Movement Below.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Ambassador Solón, well, actually, you’re not ambassador anymore. You’re here really as an activist on the ground. We saw you in Cancún, before that at the People’s Summit in Bolivia. What is happening here right now? As we wrap up, as this conference, the COP 17—it’s officially called the Conference of Parties, others call it the "Conference of Polluters." What’s taken place, and what do you make of what Todd Stern, the chief negotiator, said?

PABLO SOLÓN: The key thing is that the main issue, that is the number, the figure of emission reductions of rich countries, is not really being raised. It’s very, very low, like it was in Copenhagen, like it was in Cancún. What they are committing themselves is to reduce only 13 to 17 percent by the year 2020. This will lead the world to an increase in the temperature of more than four degrees Celsius. And that goes beyond any kind of projection that scientists did. Four to six degrees Celsius means a different world by the end of the century. And they are going to do nothing in this decade until 2020.

AMY GOODMAN: You were alone at the Cancún summit, the climate change summit, representing Bolivia in opposing the Cancún Accord, if there was one. Why?

PABLO SOLÓN: Because of this reason: you cannot be silent when you see that genocide and ecocide is going to happen because of this kind of decisions, because, actually, last year, 350,000 persons died because of natural disasters that have to do with climate change. And in my country, in Bolivia, we have lost one-third of the glaciers of our mountains. So, this is already happening. And we haven’t even reached even one degree Celsius of increase in the temperature. Can we imagine what is going to happen if we reach four to six degrees Celsius of increase in the temperature in this century?

AMY GOODMAN: You heard Todd Stern just now, the U.N. climate negotiator, saying this is all a myth, this is simply a false perception that the U.S. is delaying anything until 2020.

PABLO SOLÓN: The U.S. is not only delaying, the U.S. is doing nothing during this decade. Their pledge on the table is only a 3 percent emission reduction from the levels of 1990. So, it’s almost to do nothing. We are going to lose this decade because the U.S. doesn’t want to go on board. And they are pushing so that everybody accepts a new deal that will mean not a stronger Kyoto Protocol, but a weaker Kyoto Protocol.

AMY GOODMAN: What kind of leverage do developing countries have?

PABLO SOLÓN: Developing countries are asking for an emission reduction from 40 to 50 percent. That will secure that at least we are not going to go beyond 1.5 degrees to two degrees Celsius an increase in the temperature. Developing countries have great power in these negotiations, but there is one problem. The U.S. blackmails developing countries. They cut aid when a developing country raises its hands and does discourse against their proposals. This happened to Bolivia two years ago: after Copenhagen, they cut an aid of $3 million. It happened to Ecuador. And it has happened—

AMY GOODMAN: Aid for what? Cutting aid?

PABLO SOLÓN: Aid for climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: For not agreeing with the Copenhagen Accord?


AMY GOODMAN: We saw the WikiLeaks documents that came out around the Maldives. Maldives were extremely strong, an extremely vulnerable island, in laying out their case. And in the WikiLeaks documents, it showed they were getting $50 million. And they sort of weakened they’re very public stance.

PABLO SOLÓN: Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. In Cancún, most of the delegations knew that what we were saying was the truth, but they said, "We now have to save the climate negotiation at the multilateral level. In Durban, we will save the climate." But we have come here, and the numbers of emission reductions are the same as the ones that were in Copenhagen and in Cancún. So, it’s really unsustainable.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to one key negotiating bloc here at the U.N. climate talks in Durban, the African Group, representing 54 African nations. I spoke with the chair of the African Group—his name is Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu—from the Democratic Republic of Congo and asked him about the refusal to support binding emissions cuts, the U.S. refusal, ’til 2020.

TOSI MPANU-MPANU: 2020, I mean, Africa will be very—in a very dire situation. African farmers today have a hard time coping to the adverse effect of climate change, to which they haven’t contributed. Very severe water stress. They cannot predict rainfall. They have problems with drought, inundations. And it’s about their survival. I’m not sure if by 2020 they will be able to continue with this livelihood they’ve had for many centuries. So we may be—for the sake of good standards of living in the West, a way of life which might not be negotiable, we may be really threatening those poor people, the one billion Africans which have not contributed to this problem. So, by 2020, I think we may see some conflicts in Africa, because some people will have to venture further to get water, muddy water, and where they will go, people will not wait for them with open arms. So there will be conflict because of climate change for which they didn’t contribute.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question: what do you want to see come out of these talks?

TOSI MPANU-MPANU: We want to leave Durban with an ambitious outcome. We know that many issues, especially under the convention track, are not ripe for a legally binding outcome. So maybe success in Durban could be in the form of a clear pathway to reaching this outcome, which will help us resolve part of the problem. The other track of negotiation has been ripe for many years. It’s the track of the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed by the U.S. but never ratified. That Kyoto Protocol—we believe that the parties to the Kyoto Protocol need to commit to a second commitment period of that Kyoto Protocol, because, for us, it represents the instrument of the international climate governance that reflects the highest level of ambition. So we don’t want African soil, we don’t want Durban, to become the graveyard of the Kyoto Protocol. We want to leave here with a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. We want to leave here with an agreement on the Green Climate Fund, and clarity on the whole funding will be mobilized. We want predictability in the climate finance. And, of course, we, as African countries, are willing to do our fair share, as long as we are ensured that means of implementation, in terms of finance, capacity building and technology transfer, will be available. But we are willing to undertake action, although there is no obligation on us.

AMY GOODMAN: The chair of the Africa Group, Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Patrick Bond, you live here in Durban, South Africa. You’re a climate change activist. Talk about the Africa Group.

PATRICK BOND: Well, that’s a very, very telling statement, that our city could be a travesty, the death of the Kyoto Protocol’s binding emissions requirements. And, you know, like the Seattle WTO in 1999, the World Trade Organization again in Cancún 2003, Barcelona climate negotiations 2009, the Africa Groups really can stand up and threaten to walk out and delegitimize the process. That’s really the hope, if, as Pablo says, there’s really no progress, you know, in other words, to really say this is climate injustice. And unfortunately, South Africa may be siding with the North, particularly with the E.U., which wants to maintain a little sort of surface-level appearance of binding, but basically go with a U.S. agenda of very, very weak cuts, no commitments that are binding, and then a failure to deliver with the money, the climate fund and technology and intellectual property rights. So, it looks like a disaster here in Durban.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of the South Africa-Ethiopia bloc, in a way—President Meles Zenawi here and, of course, the president of South Africa, as well.

PATRICK BOND: Yeah, it’s true, Amy. And you were mentioning WikiLeaks. And thank goodness that Bradley Manning, who allegedly leaked those, was so strong in making sure we all know what happens in the State Department. The group around Todd Stern, Jonathan Pershing, also went to Meles, to the Ethiopian tyrant, who has killed a couple of hundred of his democracy protesters, and also pushed him to do a U-turn and support the Copenhagen Accord in February 2010. So he’s really not trusted. Matika Mwenda, the head of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance here, has called Zenawi a sellout of the African agenda. So it’s a very dangerous bloc—South Africa, Ethiopia—against what we anticipate would be, at least up to the last minute, African countries resisting with this terrible deal coming down.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this discussion. Patrick Bond, among his books, Politics of Climate Justice: Paralysis Above, Movement Below, and Pablo Solón, the former ambassador to the United Nations from Bolivia and the chief climate negotiator, until now, for Bolivia. This is Democracy Now! Back with us.


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