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Climate Cliff: As Global Emissions Peak, Hopes for U.N. Climate Deal in Doha at All-Time Low

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We broadcast from the United Nations climate change talks in Doha, Qatar, where expectations for a binding agreement on limiting greenhouse gases are low despite global emissions at a record high. The two-week conference comes at the end of the last year that the binding emissions cuts agreed to under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol are in effect. Despite the Kyoto Protocol, a new scientific report out Sunday found global emissions of carbon dioxide reached a record high in 2011 and are likely to take a similar jump in 2012. We’re joined by two guests: Wael Hmaidan, director of Climate Action Network International and founder of IndyAct; and Asad Rehman, climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth England. On Saturday, Fahad bin Mohammed al-Attiyah, chair of the Organizing Sub-Committee of the 18th U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP 18), spoke briefly to participants of a march led by the Arab Youth Climate Movement. Moments later, he took questions from members of the media including, Democracy Now! producer Mike Burke. [includes rush transcript]

Correction: During the broadcast, Democracy Now! misidentified Fahad bin Mohammed al-Attiyah as Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah. We regret the error.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the U.N. climate change summit here in Doha. Yes, this is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. This U.N. conference, the two-week conference, is here in Doha, Qatar, the talks taking place at a critical time. The two-week conference comes at the end of the last year that the binding emissions cuts agreed to under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol are in effect. Despite the Kyoto Protocol, a new scientific report out Sunday found global emissions of carbon dioxide reached a record high in 2011 and are likely to take a similar jump in 2012. Last month was the 333rd consecutive month that global temperatures were above the 20th century average.

Here at the summit, there seems to be little hope that the world’s nations will agree to new binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions. So far, no large nation has announced new measures to slow rising temperatures and help avert projected floods, droughts, heat waves and rising seas.

The summit is being held in Qatar. The oil-rich nation has the highest per capita emissions in the world and the highest per capita GDP in the world. Qatar is also the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas.

On Saturday, the newly formed Arab Youth Climate Movement organized the first-ever climate march in the country. Later in the show, we’ll bring you voices from that march, but we’re going to begin today with two guests here in Doha. Wael Hmaidan is the director of the Climate Action Network International, also founder of IndyAct, an organization that started in Lebanon in 2007. Asad Rehman is a campaigner with Friends of the Earth England.

And we welcome you both to Democracy Now!

ASAD REHMAN: Thank you.

WAEL HMAIDAN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Asad Rehman, I want to begin with you. Tell us—this is the 18th COP, as they call it, COP18, the climate change summit, yet people feel more frustrated this year than we have ever seen coming to these conferences. Democracy Now! was in Copenhagen. We were in Cancun. We were in Durban last year. What do you expect will happen? What do you want to see happen?

ASAD REHMAN: Well, what we expect to happen, unfortunately, is a lack of an action by rich, developed countries. You’re right, this Qatar COP is a critical COP, because what it will do will decide the level of climate action that we will see over the next decade. And we are seeing, with our own eyes, with the reports, countless reports every single day, it seems, showing that the planet is in a planetary emergency, and we need deep emissions reductions. Unfortunately, what we’ve seen here is that the main developed countries, such as the European Union, have come here with emissions targets of 20 percent, which sounds like a lot, except for when you realize that they’ve already reached that target. So on the two critical issues of both emissions reductions and climate finance, rich, developed countries are offering nothing. And that really is a critical issue that we hope to resolve, but unfortunately the voices in these negotiating rooms are telling us it’s not going to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Wael Hmaidan, this is the first time the U.N. conference has taken place in the Arab world, and it’s here in Qatar, which has the largest greenhouse gas emissions of any place on earth—also happens to be the wealthiest nation. But lay out for us, for people who don’t believe that climate change exists, what exactly is at stake.

WAEL HMAIDAN: Well, as you mentioned, at the end of the century, we are—might face a 6-degree warming world. There is a wide scientific view that a 4-degree world will mean the collapse of human civilization. So, facing a 6-degree world is even—it’s not any hope for having a safe climate. If we don’t do rapid action in the coming five to seven years, we are not going to meet our 2-degree target and come closer to a 4-degree world.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is 2 degrees Celsius.

WAEL HMAIDAN: Two degrees Celsius, exactly—and come closer to the 4 degree, which is the collapse of human civilization. So, it’s—obviously, every year the COP is going to be more urgent. Why? Because of the scientific fact that we’re coming closer to the dangerous levels that can mean catastrophic impacts on global economy and global communities.

Being here in Qatar, we think it is very valuable, because we cannot rely on the developed countries. They are the primary reason that we have this crisis, but we cannot put all our eggs in one basket. Unfortunately, we are starting to feel failure from reliance on the U.S. and other countries. That’s why all countries have to pitch in, including the countries of the region. They have a lot of wealth. They have high emissions. It doesn’t matter where they are. What is important, where they are planning to be. That’s why the Arab civil society are demanding leadership from this region. We want them to put pledges to commit to reducing their emissions, and hopefully they will do it this week here in Qatar.

AMY GOODMAN: What has been the role of the United States, Asad, clearly the most powerful country when it comes to these negotiations and the past ones?

ASAD REHMAN: Well, unfortunately, the United States has played a very, very destructive role here in the climate talks. Not only has it been a block on seeing any progress from itself, in terms of its domestic emissions reductions, but what it’s actually managed to do here is drag other countries, like New Zealand, Japan and Russia, to join it in a race to the bottom. And that has not only taken away the urgency of action from the rich, developed countries, who, after all, have contributed 75 percent of the greenhouse gases that we see in the atmosphere and are primarily responsible, both legally and morally, for tackling the climate crisis and providing the climate finance for poorer countries to be able to transition away from using dirty fossil fuels, but also deal with the impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, the United States hopes that inaction, deregulation, of tackling climate crisis is the way forward. But as we saw—seen from Hurricane Sandy in the United States, whilst politicians may hope that they can ignore the climate, the climate isn’t ignoring us, and it isn’t ignoring humanity.

So, what we’ve seen here in terms of the United States is not only just a lack of leadership, but actually the wrong kind of leadership, a very destructive kind of leadership. Only now, minutes ago, we’ve heard from New Zealand, one of the allies of the United States here in these negotiations, blocking any progress on a target for 2050. So, not only are they intent on blocking any action and progress here in this coming decade, but it unfortunately looks like they’re intent on blocking action for the coming decades. And that’s primarily because they’re looking after their own short-term economic interests, the interests of the oil-rich, of fossil fuel companies. And until we here, in these corridors, have got the voices of human beings, of humanity and ordinary people being affected, and we’ve got governments listening to those and not the polluting corporations, unfortunately, these climate talks are never going to deliver the kind of action that we need to see.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Fahad bin Mohammed al-Attiyah, the chair of the Organizing Sub-Committee of the 18th U.N. Climate Change Conference. On Saturday, he briefly spoke to participants of the march led by the Arab Youth Climate Movement. Moments later, he took questions from members of the media, including Democracy Now!’s Mike Burke. [Editor’s Note: During the broadcast, Democracy Now! misidentified Fahad bin Mohammed al-Attiyah as Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah. We regret the error.

REPORTER: You think this will—this will be a movement in Qatar, there will be more people? Because—

FAHAD BIN MOHAMMED AL-ATTIYAH: I mean, first of all, it’s organized by local NGOs, and that’s the—that’s the—that’s the major difference. It is a catalyst for change. And so—

REPORTER: How much is changing in Qatar, has been changing?

FAHAD BIN MOHAMMED AL-ATTIYAH: A lot. I mean, there are a lot of government policies that are in the pipeline, and some are already in implementation. Over the next few days, you will get to—you will get to see some announcements that will happen. We—the conference comes to mark an important milestep—milestone into—into how this country wants to plan its growth in the future.

REPORTER: So, Qatar is one of the biggest polluters per capita, right?


REPORTER: Do you think this will change in the—

FAHAD BIN MOHAMMED AL-ATTIYAH: Of course. It has to change. There is no other option.

MIKE BURKE: How is the country cutting its emissions?

FAHAD BIN MOHAMMED AL-ATTIYAH: Through a series of programs. Carbon sequestration is one of them, capping these emissions through technologies, filtrations. There’s a whole range of systems that are going to be implemented over the next couple of years. And this is not just because the conference is in Doha. It’s just because we have—we are committed—we do have our social pressures, too, to address these issues. And so, if you look at the Qatar National Vision, it clearly says we have to—we have to do our environmental obligations. And it is enshrined in our constitution.

MIKE BURKE: Now, why—the country now has the highest emissions per capita of any country in the entire world.

FAHAD BIN MOHAMMED AL-ATTIYAH: That is because it’s a small population compared to the level of industry. I mean, it’s not because we consume that. A lot of that goes to the export markets. The population of this country is about two million people. Its industry—this is disproportionate to the number of people that live within it, hence the numbers that come up as the highest emissions per capita. Having said that, that is not a call for complacency, but it’s a call for more action.

MIKE BURKE: Now, I understand that you have free electricity in this country, which is unheard of—at least, you know, I’m from the United States, and it does not encourage consumers just to use an unlimited amount of power.

FAHAD BIN MOHAMMED AL-ATTIYAH: There isn’t free electricity. I think the part that you’re referring to is the electricity that goes to about 10 percent of the population, whom are the indigenous people, or the locals, as we will put them. These tariffs and electricity—if you look at how they lived before, they lived without water and electricity. So this is a transitional phase. One day or the other, they will be facing the prospect of putting a price to that service. And by all means, they, by their nature, by their desert culture, their—their value system supports them to protect that precious resource.

We have launched, six months ago, an initiative called Conserve, which is targeting a reduction of water and electrical consumption by 30 percent. There are measures that are being taken, not only that this is an initiative and a campaign, but it will be followed by regulations. It will be followed by a standardization of certain appliances. And hopefully, within the next five years, we should be cutting down on our consumption patterns.

MIKE BURKE: Do you have a record yet of actually cutting consumption?

FAHAD BIN MOHAMMED AL-ATTIYAH: We have a record of cutting consumption in different industry—in the industry, but not at the household level, simply because we’re in the process of developing these standards. We have developed now what is called the—something compared to the LEED standards, which are local to this region. It’s called the GSAS. This is going to be going mainstream by 2012—not—June 2013, which means that every building that will be constructed from now on will have to apply these standards—water efficiency, electrical efficiency, construction material, where it should be sourced. So, there are measures that are being addressed by our policymakers.

REPORTER: Still, the economy is highly dependent on fossil fuels. Do you think this will change?

FAHAD BIN MOHAMMED AL-ATTIYAH: It’s a single-sector economy. It means that we all depend on one type of economic activity. There is a goal to diversify from that by 2030. You probably should go and visit our research facilities, our educational facilities, which gives you an indication of where are we heading from now until 2030.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the chair of the Organizing Sub-Committee of the 18th U.N. Climate Change Conference, the COP conference here, Fahad bin Mohammed al-Attiyah of Qatar, speaking to reporters, including Democracy Now!’s Mike Burke.

Wael Hmaidan, we are here in the wealthiest country in the world. And the significance of this taking place here? We’re in the second week. What you want to see happen this week, since it looks like we’re looking at, at this point, deregulation overall? The country is moving away from serious regulation, as the Kyoto Protocol—well, tell us what happens to it.

WAEL HMAIDAN: Well, first, Kyoto Protocol does not affect what developing countries do, for countries like Qatar. It’s mainly asked developed countries, who have the primary responsibility and historic responsibility for climate change, to take action. But we still believe that developing countries need to take the lead. We think leaders—leadership from developing countries, like Qatar, would actually increase the pressure and show what we want—what kind of leadership we want from developed countries. We hope this would be an example—the developing countries’ leadership would be an example for countries like the U.S. The region’s countries need to prove that they take climate change seriously and prove that they’re going to be leading, especially when they have the intention to host the U.N. climate change negotiations, COP18, here in Qatar. There is still a lot of room for them to do it this week. We hope that they would step action and provide this leadership, an example of leadership that we want to see from developed countries who are primarily responsible for this problem we are in.

AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of finance, in the United States, the country that is clearly the engine that drives much of what happens here, the discussions are not about this climate change summit, Asad; they are about the so-called fiscal cliff, a country that is hugely in debt, so it’s cutting basic services to Americans. How do you talk to those in Congress to say what finances mean and how ultimately it could save Americans money?

ASAD REHMAN: Well, first of all, we only need to look at the economic cost of inaction. Nicholas Stern, in his report, said that the cost of inaction was five times the amount of if we spent taking action now. So, we know that we are inevitably going to have to spend the finance. We’ve seen that from the experience in the U.S. with Hurricane Sandy, but also the experiences of developing countries all around the world, of having to spend large amounts of money tackling the impacts and effects of climate change. It’s far better to be able to put that money now and take meaningful action, but also to actually say the amounts of money that we’re talking about are still actually quite tiny compared to the amounts of money that we’re spending on, for example, military expenditure, on subsidizing fossil fuels, on bailing out the banks. So, we’re still talking. I mean, today—

AMY GOODMAN: And people see, certainly on the East Coast with Superstorm Sandy, they see the massive amount of money they have to pay—

ASAD REHMAN: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: —as a result of climate change.

ASAD REHMAN: And we’re seeing here, for example, developing countries are asking for only $200 million in the Adaptation Fund, which is—the United States spends $350 million purely on its military bands. And what we’ve seen is developed countries blocking progress on that. So, what we’re seeing here in terms of—is not about the fact that the United States and other countries actually aren’t—don’t want to spend their money in terms of tackling climate change, because this is not about them doing some—the developing countries a favor; it’s not—it’s both a legal and a moral obligation, not only for the developing countries, but also for the whole planet as a whole.

As we’ve heard from all of the reports, we’re heading towards a warming of the planet of 6 degrees. That, whilst it might impact on developing countries more immediately, it is going to impact on every single person. So it is up to the United States, like the European Union, as well, to actually come here with real commitments of climate finance and to be able to spend them, so that we can’t have this transition, because we have—do have real solutions. You know, Friends of the Earth groups, global campaigns all around the world are trying to force their governments to shift away from their addiction to dirty fossil fuels, invest in renewable energies, which gives us new jobs, clean growth, and can actually take us out of this financial cliff, because whilst there may be some ways out of the fiscal cliff, there is absolutely no way out of the climate cliff. And that’s why the urgency and action is required.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us. I know you both are racing off to meetings. Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth International, based in Britain now, from Pakistan, and Wael Hmaidan, thank you so much for being with us, director of Climate Action Network International. He’s also the founder of IndyAct, an organization that started in Lebanon in 2007. Thank you both.

ASAD REHMAN: Thank you, Amy.

WAEL HMAIDAN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, you’ll hear from people in the streets marching here in Qatar, demanding urgent action on climate change. Stay with us.

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