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“We Can’t Rely on Our Leaders”: Inaction at Climate Summit Fuels Call for Movements to Take the Helm

StorySeptember 24, 2014
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Two days after the largest People’s Climate March in history, more than 120 world leaders gathered in New York City for a one-day United Nations climate summit. Tuesday’s meeting took place ahead of the larger, 200-nation summit in Paris in 2015, when delegates will attempt to finalize an agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. In a series of speeches, world leaders made nonbinding agreements to slow global warming and keep the rise in ocean temperatures below two degrees. Several leaders from the most carbon-polluting nations skipped the climate summit, including China, India and Russia. In one commitment to come out of the summit, more than 30 countries set a deadline to end deforestation by 2030. If successful, this could reduce carbon emissions by an estimated eight billion tons per year — the equivalent of emissions by all of the world’s one billion cars. But Brazil, which has the largest continuous rainforest in the world, refused to sign on, saying the plan conflicts with its own laws and targets. We are joined by two guests: Bianca Jagger, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Ambassador for the Bonn Challenge, which seeks restore 150 million hectares of the world’s degraded and deforested lands by 2020, and founder and chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation; and Asad Rehman, head of international climate for Friends of the Earth.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn right now to the historic moment on Sunday, the moment that could change the world, or not, depending on whether the march marches on. Nermeen?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Two days after the largest climate change march in history, more than 120 world leaders gathered here in New York for a one-day United Nations climate summit. Tuesday’s meeting took place ahead of the larger 200-nation summit in Paris in 2015, when delegates will attempt to finalize an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hosted Tuesday’s summit.

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: Today was a great day, a historic day. Never before have so many leaders gathered to commit to action on climate change. I thank every one of you who came to New York with ambition and commitment. A new coalition of governments, business, finance, multilateral development banks and civil society leaders announced their commitment to mobilize upwards of $200 billion for financing low-carbon and climate-resilient development. As we walk together on the road to Lima and Paris in December 2015—December 2014 and 2015, let us look back on today as the day we decided, as a human family, to put our house in order to make it livable for future generations. Today’s summit has shown that we can rise to the climate challenge.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Hollywood actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio also addressed the U.N. summit on climate change on Tuesday. He was recently named a United Nations Messenger of Peace.

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: Now must be our moment for action. We need to put a price tag on carbon emissions, and eliminate government subsidies for oil, coal and gas companies. We need to end the free ride that industrial polluters have been given in the name of a free market economy. They do not deserve our tax dollars. They deserve our scrutiny, for the economy itself will die if our ecosystems collapse.

This is the most urgent of times and the most urgent of messages. Honored delegates, leaders of the world, I pretend for a living, but you do not. The people made their voices heard on Sunday around the world, and the momentum will not stop. But now it is your turn. The time to answer humankind’s greatest challenge is now. We beg of you to face it with courage and honesty.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: While 120 leaders took part in the U.N. climate summit, the leaders of several key nations, including China, India and Russia, opted not to attend. President Obama addressed the summit.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Because of the almost unprecedented effort of this coalition, I think we now have an opportunity to send a very clear message that the world is united, that all of us are committed to making sure that we degrade and ultimately destroy not only ISIL, but also the kinds of extremist ideologies that would lead to so much bloodshed.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn back to President Obama.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As one of America’s governors has said, we are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it. So today I’m here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second-largest emitter, to say that we have begun to do something about it. The United States has made ambitious investments in clean energy and ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions. We now harness three times as much electricity from the wind and 10 times as much from the sun as we did when I came into office. Within a decade, our cars will go twice as far on a gallon of gas, and already every major automaker offers electric vehicles. We’ve made unprecedented investments to cut energy waste in our homes, in our buildings, in our appliances, all of which will save consumers billions of dollars. And we are committed to helping communities build climate-resilient infrastructure. So, all told, these advances have helped create jobs, grow our economy, and drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly two decades, proving that there does not have to be a conflict between a sound environment and strong economic growth.

AMY GOODMAN: Also on Tuesday, more than 30 countries set a deadline to end deforestation by 2030. But Brazil, which has the largest continuous rainforest in the world, refused to sign on, saying the plan conflicts with its own laws and targets. If successful, the plan could reduce carbon emissions by an estimated eight billion tons per year—the equivalent of emissions by all of the world’s one billion cars.

For more, we’re joined by two guests here in New York. Bianca Jagger is with us, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s ambassador for the Bonn Challenge. Their goal, to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s degraded and deforested lands by 2020. Bianca Jagger joined the people’s march Sunday with the indigenous bloc. She’s also founder and chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation.

And Asad Rehman is with us, head of international climate for Friends of the Earth. We last spoke with him at the U.N. climate summit in Doha in 2012.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! The significance, Asad, of the people’s march on Sunday, 400,000 people marching, flooding Wall Street, thousands on Monday, and then the U.N. people’s summit on Tuesday?

ASAD REHMAN: Absolutely. I think it’s a pivotal moment, an historic moment. Over the last few years, we have seen the climate movement growing again. We see it at the local level in the resistance we see to fracking, to oil exploration, to even the solutions, in terms of community energy, around the world. But this was a moment where we could bring all of those voices together, to express them, to make sure that we were calling for the kind of action that people not only require, but that the planet requires. So, it’s a beginning, and it’s a start, but it’s a long history. And I think anybody who went on that demonstration could only walk away energized and more committed that the power lies in our hands and not in that building here in New York, in the U.N. summit.

AMY GOODMAN: Bianca Jagger, your feelings? You’ve been working on this issue for years.

BIANCA JAGGER: I feel that we cannot rely upon the leaders of the world. Climate change is the greatest challenge that we are facing in this century. And I feel that the reason why people’s attention was galvanized and that people came out in the street, and you saw at least 400,000 people in that march, is that we understand clearly that it’s not going to be the leaders of the world who will make the decision to have a globally binding treaty by the time that we have the UNFCCC or the U.N. conference on climate change, but that unfortunately will have to be us. And that is the reason why I accepted to be the IUCN ambassador for the Bonn Challenge.

And what is the Bonn Challenge? The Bonn Challenge is the largest commitment for restoration of land in the world. It’s a hundred—the objective is 150 million hectares of land by 2020, and 350 [million] by 2030. So, what is the difference between reforestation and restoration is that restoration, you know, includes and works together with communities. And it is to improve the livelihood, to improve security, to improve water, to improve—so, each one of those communities in those different countries will have a say as to what it is.

And what we did is that, in Brazil, at the Rio+20, we had 20 million hectares that were pledged. Among those were 15 [million] by the U.S., and President Obama spoke about it in his speech yesterday. But yesterday we had countries like the Congo, Niger, Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Uganda, and it amounted to 35 million hectares of land that they have pledged to restore. That comes to 55 million hectares of land that we already have the pledge. Now, if we are able to achieve the 150 million hectares of land, restore that land, what it will amount to is to—we will remove one billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere, which will reduce the emission gap by 11 to 17 percent. That is enormous.

But what is really important to understand about restoration, because a lot of people understand what is reforestation but don’t understand what is restoration, is that it is working together with communities, with the people. They are the ones that are being consulted as to how they want to do it.

And you were asking about, for example, Brazil, even though the government has not done. That is, in the Rio+20, we had the Mata, the Mata Atlântica of Brazil, that made a pledge, and it is a combination of government, business and private sector. So, it’s not only governments that can make a pledge. You can have a pledge, as well, by landowners and by businesses and people who are owners of land. And I think that it is a hope, because we cannot really rely upon leaders to do what is necessary. I don’t believe anymore that they have the will to do what is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change; therefore, we need initiatives like the initiative of the Bonn Challenge.

AMY GOODMAN: And, by the way, a hectare is about two-and-a-half acres.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Bianca Jagger, could you explain how it is that the Bonn Challenge will feed into, if at all, whatever possible U.N. climate agreement might be reached, and specifically on this question of restoration?

BIANCA JAGGER: Well, I don’t know how it will. It will, of course, because it has to do with the reduction of CO2 emissions. But it is an initiative that is outside of, you know, the U.N. agreement. It may be that by the time we come to Paris, it will be part of it, but it is an initiative that—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Does the IUCN not work with the U.N. on these questions?

BIANCA JAGGER: Yes, of course it works. In fact, let me maybe explain a little bit about how it came about. It was in Bonn, and it was a meeting of governments, of civil society, of grassroot organization, of business, together came up with the idea that it was important to have the Bonn Challenge to restore 150 million hectares of land. Of course, that is, you know, it’s always working with the U.N. But I don’t know if this will be part of the treaty, on all the negotiations that we will have in the U.N..

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion, also talk about the issue of fracking, a concern of people all over the United States. Prime Minister Cameron had words about fracking, certainly not against it, as President Obama has spoken in the past. Our guests are Bianca Jagger, who is the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s ambassador for the Bonn Challenge, as well as Asad Rehman, who is head of international climate for Friends of the Earth. There’s also a controversy around whether Friends of the Earth has endorsed—changed its position on nuclear power, and we want to ask him about that. Stay with us.

[break]

NERMEEN SHAIKH: As we continue our coverage of the U.N. climate summit, we turn to British Prime Minister David Cameron, who spoke on Tuesday.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: We have created the world’s first Climate Change Act. And as prime minister, I pledged that the world I lead would be the greenest government ever. And I believe we’ve kept that promise. We’ve more than doubled our capacity in renewable electricity in the last four years alone. We now have enough solar power to power almost a million U.K. homes. We have the world’s leading financial center in carbon trading. And we have established the world’s first Green Investment Bank. We’ve invested a billion pounds, one-and-a-half billion dollars, in carbon capture and storage, and we’ve said no to any new coal without carbon capture and storage. We’re investing in all forms of lower-carbon energy, including shale gas and nuclear, with the first new nuclear plant coming on stream for a generation. Now, as a result of all that we are doing, we are on track to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In his address, British Prime Minister David Cameron also called for technologies like fracking and nuclear energy to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels. So, Asad Rehman, Friends of the Earth, could you respond to what Prime Minister David Cameron had to say?

ASAD REHMAN: Well, David Cameron’s speech, like many other speeches made in the U.N., was very high on rhetoric, but very low in terms of actual, real ambition. To have a prime minister come to here to make a statement on the climate summit, when we know what the science is telling us—we know, from our own realities, from our own experiences now, when we look at the impacts around the world that are happening—we know 80 percent of fossil fuels, of known fossil fuels, have to be kept in the ground if we want to keep temperatures well below two degrees or at 1.5—for a government then to give a green light to unconventional gas, oil exploration, I think is not only criminal, I mean, it is like selling cigarettes in a cancer hospital. It’s at that kind of level.

And so, what we have argued and very involved at a grassroots level in, in the U.K., like many other places around the world, is mobilizing people to say no to fracking. It’s a false solution. What we really need is investment in clean, renewable energy, community energy. We need to harness our solar, our wind and our tides. And we can both be much more efficient, we can transform our energy sector, and we need to transform the energy sector now, within the next 10 to 15 years. Having never-never goals in 2050 will do nothing to tackle the climate crisis, and in fact will lead to definitely a breaching of the two-degree target.

So, our message to David Cameron, who claimed that he was leading the greenest government, when last week MPs in the British Parliament gave him a red card for the greenest government, for a prime minister who came here, who talked about and lectured governments about tax subsidies to dirty energy corporations, when his government has given over $2 billion in tax subsidies to fracking and oil exploration, I think, is deeply hypocritical. And what we should have come here is real concrete demands in terms of—and commitments to energy efficiency, to renewable energy and to the ambitious kind of targets that are required to keep temperatures well below two degrees.

AMY GOODMAN: Bianca Jagger, this issue of fracking, Prime Minister David Cameron is not alone. President Obama has talked about it as a means to energy self-sufficiency in the United States.

BIANCA JAGGER: What is shocking to me is that Prime Minister David Cameron has in his advisory—in an advisory position, the head of one of the most important fracking companies in the U.K. He has come out openly to support fracking, despite the fact that we have, you know, very conclusive evidence, scientific evidence, that it is affecting people’s water, the environment, their health. How is it possible that we can continue to have governments and presidents and prime ministers who are advocating fracking, when we know that it is in violations of people’s right and that it will affect their lives and their health? The Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation is going to put out a report calling for an assessment of the effect that it will have on people’s human rights in the U.K.

And what I want to say is, the other night I heard an empowering speech by Al Gore about the need—the fact that we need to embark—and this is my word—upon a renewable energy revolution. The time has come for us to move away from fossil fuels, from coal and from nuclear power. And all this rubbish about carbon storage, and all the funds that the U.K. government have spent in trying to find carbon storage for coal, we know so far that it hasn’t worked. Why hasn’t he put all that money into renewable energy, is the question that I have for David Cameron. He is an embarrassment. And this is not going to be one of the great greenest government, as he pretends.

AMY GOODMAN: Bianca mentioned nuclear. The BBC recently made news when it said Friends of the Earth has dropped its opposition to nuclear power in a major policy shift. Friends of the Earth said that’s not true. Asad Rehman, you’re with FOE, what’s going on?

ASAD REHMAN: Let me say categorically that Friends of the Earth opposes nuclear power. We, as an environmental organization, an environmental justice organization, with a long and proud tradition of being involved in the anti-nuclear movement, have always said that we base our positions on robust policy, and we always re-examine all of our policies in light of the planetary emergency. And what we came—we did an analysis, and we came out and said, absolutely, on every single ground, whether it’s on health, on safety, on pollution, and also on cost, and on—is it an actual solution in terms of the time frame that we’ve got? Well, it actually says no. The amount of billions that you need to subsidize the nuclear industry, the time it takes to build nuclear, even if you could deal with all of the other issues about the nuclear waste, the health issues, the pollution issues, it’s still a no-go. What is much better, is cleaner, is safer, is better, is to invest in renewable energy, energy that ordinary people can own.

And that’s why, you know, out of this demonstration, I would think what was very clear in terms of the demonstration on Sunday, all around the world, where people were saying no to dirty energy, yes to community power, they were saying yes to the right to food, no to some of the proposals that have been put in terms of attacking the right to food, and they were talking about justice, justice in terms of the impacts for people, like the people who have suffered here in New York in terms of Hurricane Sandy, or in the Philippines, but also justice for the people in terms of just transition, good clean jobs that are required. All of those voices are coming together in the coming months, over a week of action, between October 10th and 18th, around the world, saying, “We are calling for no to dirty energy,” a reclaim power week. And that, I think, is, as Bianca said, is where the next part of this movement is going—back onto the ground, back building and making sure that our leaders, when they come here, actually come here with concrete proposals, concrete commitments, that actually train the trajectory away and ensure that we actually have the real climate solutions, because at the moment, we heard a lot of hot air at the United Nations over the last day and very little in terms of real commitment.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that that contributed to global warming, the hot air?

ASAD REHMAN: I think it did, because what it does is it creates an illusion that those governments are actually taking action, where what they’re doing is delaying and delaying. It’s like Nero fiddling while Rome is burning.

BIANCA JAGGER: Some countries—if I may say, some countries are willing and came up with some pledges that were important during the summit. But countries, such as the U.K., the U.S.—and the pledge that President Obama did is nothing. It cannot, in any way, keep the climate change increase by two degrees. That is the most important sign. You know, the World Bank issued a very important report at the last COP that was “Turn Down the Heat.” And in this report, they talked about the possibility of an increase by three to four degrees by the end of the century. That is what we are facing. That is the reality that we have to confront, and that these presidents and prime ministers and world leaders are not confronting. And that’s why I feel that the time has come to give power to the people. And we need to be in power to understand that it’s up to us to avoid catastrophic climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, your home country, Bianca, is Nicaragua. Asad, your home country, though you live in Britain, is Pakistan. In 20 seconds, what’s happening in Pakistan as a result of climate change?

ASAD REHMAN: Well, at this very moment, large sections of Pakistan, in Kashmir, in Indian Kashmir and in Pakistan part of Kashmir, are huge floods. Over the last couple of years, 30 percent of Pakistan was underwater. We’re seeing a huge increase in temperature. We’re seeing threats in terms of agricultural output. And we’re seeing the adverse weather impacts that are happening, that are devastating people’s lives and livelihoods. It is a very, very clear example that climate is happening, that we need a kind of action, and that the real energy solutions are out there.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Bianca Jagger, Nicaragua?

BIANCA JAGGER: Well, Nicaragua, of course, is suffering, as well, from climate change. But if I may just mention, President Daniel Ortega has a plan to build a canal across Nicaragua, which will be an environmental crime, which will cause terrible—a terrible impact, an irreversible impact on the environment, and that will affect communities and indigenous peoples, because they will try to confiscate or to pay for that land. And it’s something that I am fighting against in Nicaragua.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you for being with us. Of course, this conversation continues. Bianca Jagger, International Union for Conservation of Nature’s ambassador for the Bonn Challenge. Their goal, to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s degraded and deforested lands by 2020. Also, Asad Rehman, thanks so much for being with us, head of international climate for Friends of the Earth. And if you want to see our three-hour exclusive live coverage from the People’s Climate March Sunday, go to democracynow.org.

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