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Emissions-Cutting Deal Reached at COP 20 Lima, But Will It Help Prevent Catastrophic Climate Change?

StoryDecember 15, 2014
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After more than 30 hours of extended talks, a global agreement on climate change was reached over the weekend at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru. Negotiators from nearly 200 countries agreed to a new deal that forms the basis for a global agreement on addressing climate change. Supporters say it marks the first time all nations have agreed to cut back on carbon emissions. The final draft says all countries have “common but differentiated responsibilities” to deal with global warming. The countries most dissatisfied with the outcome in Lima were those who are poor and already struggling to rebuild from the impacts of climate change. We host a roundtable with guests from three continents: in Peru, Suzanne Goldenberg, U.S. environment correspondent for The Guardian; in London, Asad Rehman, head of international climate for Friends of the Earth; and in New Delhi, Nitin Sethi, associate editor at Business Standard.

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

AMY GOODMAN: After more than 30 hours of extended talks, a global agreement on climate change was reached over the weekend in Lima, Peru, at the United Nations climate conference. The talks were scheduled to end Friday but lasted two days into overtime. Shortly before 2:00 a.m. Sunday, negotiators from nearly 200 countries agreed to a new deal that forms the basis for a global agreement on addressing climate change. The final deal will be decided next year in Paris. This is the president of the talks and Peru’s environment minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal.

MANUEL PULGAR-VIDAL: [translated] Allow me to tell you all that, as with all texts, this is not perfect, but respects the positions of the parties and aims to be a product of its own, which is one that is based on what has been proposed to the president of COP. And with this text, we all are winners, no exceptions. I have heard from all of the groups, and I have the absolute assurance that with the text we are to receive, we are all winners.

AMY GOODMAN: The new climate agreement is called the Lima Accord. Supporters say it marks the first time all nations have agreed to cut back on carbon emissions. The final draft says all countries have, quote, “common but differentiated responsibilities,” unquote, to deal with global warming. The deal is not legally binding and gives each country until next March to announce the amount it will agree to cut. The countries most dissatisfied with the outcome in Lima were those who are poor and already struggling to rebuild from the impacts of climate change.

For more, we host a roundtable. In Lima, Peru, Suzanne Goldenberg is with us, U.S. environment correspondent for The Guardian; in London, Asad Rehman, head of international climate for Friends of the Earth; and in New Delhi, Nitin Sethi, associate editor at the Business Standard.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Asad Rehman in London, can you first respond to what was concluded in Lima? What is the Lima Accord?

ASAD REHMAN: Well, thank you, first, Amy, for allowing me to be here. What was agreed here was meant to be a roadmap towards the Paris next year, which was meant to be a comprehensive agreement, to do two things—first of all, to actually increase the level of ambition in the level emissions reductions that were needed in the pre-2020, the most critical period, because these climate talks, as we all know, took place in the context of super typhoons hitting again Philippines, droughts and floods around the world, climate scientists telling us we need to take much more urgent action, and 2014 being the hottest year on record. Now, the first component of that, in terms of taking action now, we saw very, very little. In fact, we saw nothing. We saw no revisiting of targets. We saw no increase in ambition.

The second part of the framework is meant to be what is going to be agreed from 2020 onwards. And there again, you know, the president of the COP said everybody was a winner. Well, it was a face-saving compromise that maybe was a winner for the politicians and for political leaders, but it was a total and absolute failure for planet and for people. It didn’t reduce emissions. There was no finance put on the table, no clear roadmap. It was weak language. It was lots of shalls, nor shalls. It was all—it was basically full of loopholes.

AMY GOODMAN: Nitin Sethi, you’re speaking to us from India, from Delhi. Can you talk—you’re with the Business Standard. You had reported that a leaked secret Lima draft decision was delayed, but now we’ve come to the end. It’s called the Lima Accord. Your assessment from India?

NITIN SETHI: I think one of the things that’s rather clear out of what’s happened at Lima is that the developed countries have promised to renege on all their existing commitments and are working already, even before we hit the negotiations for the 2015 agreement, into passing on their obligations into a new era where the burden gets shifted onto the shoulders of larger developing economies. And I think that’s the trend we saw through the fortnight, which is why we had this huge stalemate, which is why we saw this attempt to bring out the secret document, but eventually failed because a lot of developing countries—Africa Group and LMDCs and others—came together to defend what they think is most essential: survival.

AMY GOODMAN: We seem to have lost you, Nitin. I want to turn to Ian Fry, a climate negotiator for the Pacific island of Tuvalu, who criticized the disappearance of loss and damage commitments from the COP 20 text.

IAN FRY: This is a crucial issue for the poorest and most vulnerable. Our communities suffer from floods and droughts, storm surges, sea level rise. Often these poor communities are left with nothing. They have lost their crops, lost their livestock, lost everything. We need a permanent arrangement to help the poorest of the world rebuild from the impacts of climate change. It would be an absolute tragedy if we denied the needs of the poorest. I implore everybody in this room not to allow this COP to be the one we denied the poorest in the world. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Ian Fry is a climate negotiator for the Pacific island of Tuvalu. I want to bring in Suzanne Goldenberg, who is still in Lima, Peru, the U.S. environment correspondent for The Guardian. You were there as the talks wrapped up. The significance of the so-called Lima Accord? And what is this firewall?

SUZANNE GOLDENBERG: Well, the Lima Accord is important, basically, because it keeps moving things forward towards Paris, and we now—and because it begins to shape the deal that we’re going to see at Paris. There’s a few important things there.

One, there is now an obligation or commitment from the bigger developing economies, such as India, China, Brazil, that they will have to cut their greenhouse gas emissions going forward, and they’re going to have to begin putting their plans on the table by March, although there is wiggle room on those deadlines, in India, in particular, [inaudible] taking it.

Two, following that very passionate and moving address from Ian Fry, there is actually a provision now written in the document for loss and damage. That means countries that could lose everything with climate change, like these low-lying states, you know, that can’t save themselves by putting up a little sea wall or something, there is going to be a commitment to help them bear.

I can’t say that this is a great agreement. No one’s going to say that. But I think it keeps things moving forward. And I think it keeps some important principles alive. One is that we are all in this together, everybody’s got to do their part; two, that, you know, we have to help everybody out, including those most vulnerable states, like Tuvalu.

And, three, I think it’s important that even the leaders here acknowledged that there’s not very much in the way of teeth in this agreement. It depends on something they’re calling peer pressure. And I think that gives a really big role to the public to put pressure on these leaders and show that they have to do something.

AMY GOODMAN: Nitin Sethi, you’re shaking your head in New Delhi. Can you talk about India’s particular role and Suzanne Goldenberg’s assessment?

NITIN SETHI: I see—I see slightly different from Suzanne in the sense what we really saw was a passing of burden away from developed countries to developing countries, and not even a sense of evolving common but differentiated responsibilities.

Let me suggest the three things that I witnessed. One was a complete passover on the conversation on finance; two, a reference to loss and damage in the preamble section which just says, “Ooh, we remember last year we talked about loss and damage, we shall continue to talk about it next two years”; three, absolute red line saying the phrase, “Equity should not enter any dialogue in the future on climate change”; four, absolute red line saying, “Intellectual property rights and how to look at reducing the costs of green technologies for the poor countries cannot be mentioned in any new agreement.”

Now, what it suggests to you is that developed countries do not wish to really either part with finances or technologies, but they do want to part with their existing commitments and pass it on to the post-2020 era, where the developing countries also take it, as Asad was saying. There is no action that’s going to happen between now and 2020. All of that was to be done by the developed countries. They basically have just said at Lima that “we are not going to do any more than what we’re doing so far, and the burden can shift onto the post-2020 era, where other developing countries have to share it.” So, to me, it indicates really negotiation in bad faith.

AMY GOODMAN: As negotiations drew to a close Friday, civil society groups organized a die-in action at the COP 20, on the military base, El Pentagonito, where the COP, the summit, was held. It was led by members of frontline communities in the Global South. Participants tapped their chests to create a heartbeat rhythm. Among those who spoke at the protest was Gerry Arances from the Philippines.

GERRY ARANCES: My friends, governments, under the Conference of Parties, have failed us for 20 years. And here in Lima, they are failing again. The people of Asia, the people in my country, my brothers and sisters in the Philippines, are dying as governments here discuss the fate of my people and the people of this world.

AMY GOODMAN: Gerry Arances of the Philippines, and he was speaking at a die-in on the last—what was supposed to be the official last day of the COP. The chief negotiator of the Philippines, Yeb Saño, to the shock of many, did not attend the U.N. summit, was not invited by his government to be the chief climate negotiator, so well known for breaking down at the summit last year and demanding, “If not here, where? If not now, when?” Asad Rehman, if you can talk about what happens next and the significance of this die-in?

ASAD REHMAN: Well, two things. First of all, on the Yeb Saño issue, I think what we’re seeing here is rich countries bullying poor countries. We saw it before in the run-up to Copenhagen. We’re seeing it again—powerful, the moral voices for developing countries no longer being on delegations, delegations being weaker. Even here in Lima, what we saw over the two weeks was poorer countries were basically bullied into accepting a weak outcome, which actually is going to be catastrophic for the majority of their citizens.

The three key things that were meant to be delivered here was the emissions reductions to save the planet and people, the finance—and let’s look at the finance. $2.5 billion have been pledged for each year for four years. That is how much people are putting forward. And when you put that into the context of that we’re spending $2.7 trillion on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and over $3 trillion in terms of bailing out the banks, it gives you a sense of the importance that developed countries are putting on supporting poorer countries to be able to grow cleanly, but also bring their populations out of poverty. And that’s a real chiller issue here. As Nitin said, the burden is being shifted from the rich to the poor. The poor, even India, which has still got an average per-person income of only $3,000, whereas in the United States we’ve got an average of $40,000, 5 percent of the population on $40,000 a year, and in India, with nearly 20 percent of the world’s population, on $3,000 a year. It is not a fair system.

So, what we required and what that protest did and what the protests are looking to on the streets in Peru is, we need to build a movement, a powerful movement. Yes, we all need to do our fair share, but it has to be a fair share. It has to be based on who’s responsible, who’s got the historic responsibility for causing this climate crisis, who has the wealth, who’s accumulated the wealth, and who has the poor. How do we help the poor be able to grow cleanly, but able to access energy? There’s two billion people without access to electricity around the world, a billion who don’t have access to fresh water. So these are real challenges for poorer, developing countries. They need the finance. They need the technology. But they need developed countries to take a lead.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Asad Rehman, in the last 10 seconds—

ASAD REHMAN: And what needs to happen now is a global movement—

AMY GOODMAN: In these last 10 seconds, what this means for Paris, what this means for next year?

ASAD REHMAN: Well, what it means is—what it means is that people are the only hope, that we need a powerful movement built here in Europe and around the world that holds our leaders accountable, that puts their feet to the fire, that sends them with a mandate to Paris to actually negotiate in good faith and to deliver an agreement that is good for the planet, good for the poor, and actually changes the kind of economic system which is driving us towards this climate catastrophe.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, and I thank you so much for being with us, Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth; Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian, speaking to us from Lima; and Nitin Sethi, speaking to us from New Delhi, of the Business Standard in New Delhi, India.

That does it for the show. I’ll be speaking December 16, Tuesday night, in Washington, D.C.

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