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"The Paris Agreement Will See the Planet Burn": Former Bolivian Climate Negotiator Pablo Solón

StoryDecember 01, 2015
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Pablo Solon

former chief negotiator on climate change for Bolivia, as well as the country’s former ambassador to the United Nations.

He once sat at the same table as the world leaders gathered in Paris to hammer out a U.N. agreement on global warming. Now he stands on the outside. We speak with Pablo Solón, former chief negotiator on climate change for Bolivia, as well as the country’s former ambassador to the United Nations. "The target was: We shouldn’t go beyond an increase of 2 degrees Celsius," Solón says of negotiators’ failed attempts to limit an increase in global temperatures. "And now to be speaking about 4 or even 5 degrees Celsius is, to put it in other terms, to burn the planet."

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

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting live from the 21st COP. That’s the conference of parties, the U.N. climate summit. They once sat at the same table as the world leaders who have gathered here in Paris to hammer out an agreement over global warming. Now they stand on the outside. Today we speak to two former climate negotiators. Later in the show, we’ll hear from Yeb Saño, the former chief climate negotiator for the Philippines. But first we turn to Pablo Solón. He’s the former chief negotiator on climate for Bolivia, as well as Bolivia’s former ambassador to the United Nations. I caught up with him on Sunday, shortly after thousands of climate activists lined the streets of Paris to form a human chain after French officials canceled a major climate march.

PABLO SOLÓN: I have been in two very important summits—the one in Copenhagen and then one in Cancún. And here, what we are going to have in Paris is the third climate agreement. We have had two climate agreements. One was the Kyoto Protocol, and the other one was the Cancún Agreement. The Cancún Agreement is for 2012 until 2020. And now in Paris, we are supposed to have a third agreement for 2020 until 2030.

Now, the Paris agreement is going to be as bad as the Cancún Agreement. Why? Because in reality, we are not here to negotiate the emission cuts of any country. The way negotiations are is each country says, "I’m going to do this," and that’s it. So the U.S. says, "We’re going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 25 to 28 percent by 2025," and that is their pledge. That is not under discussion. So, already, all the countries have presented their pledges until the 1st of October. So we already know the result of Paris.

There is an official document from the UNFCCC that says, OK, after receiving the contributions of emission cuts of all the countries, where are we now? And that official document says we are going to be around an increase in the temperature between 2.7 to 3.9 degrees Celsius. So that is almost twice what we had to limit, because the target was we shouldn’t go beyond an increase of 2 degrees Celsius.

And now, to be speaking about 4 degrees or 5 degrees Celsius is, to put it in other terms, to burn the planet. So the Paris agreement is an agreement that will see the planet burn. I think this is a really bad agreement. And we are here in a show to try to sell the world a good outcome that’s going to kill humans and life as we know it.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re standing here, actually, on Sunday, the day before the U.N. summit opens, the day where hundreds of thousands of people were supposed to march, but the march was canceled after the terror attacks of November 13th. Your thoughts on the environmental activists agreeing to no marching?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, I think that there should have been a march. No? I think that the terrorist attacks are being used to undermine the climate mobilization and are going to be used in order to have a bad agreement. It remembers me a little bit like, you know, the ministerial of the WTO, the World Trade Organization, in Doha after 9/11. You know, before that, we had Seattle. Seattle was the moment where the anti-globalization movement came out very strongly. But then came 9/11, and then this was used to, "Hey, you have to agree on this agreement," which is a very bad agreement, the one that we have now in the Doha round until now. And the same thing is happening here. The attacks are being used to say, "OK, don’t do mobilizations, and we want to have that agreement ready before the end of the COP next week."

AMY GOODMAN: One of the people in the human chain said they still are protecting the 130 world leaders who are coming. They have—they didn’t tell them, "Cancel your visit. It’s too difficult here. We have to deal in the aftermath of the terror attacks." So they say they’ll protect the world leaders, but not civil society. They prevent them from expressing their views.

PABLO SOLÓN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, and you have many public spaces where thousands of people gather here in Paris, and they don’t have any protection. So, to say you cannot have this march, but at the same time you can go to public spaces where you also don’t have any kind of protection, so it’s really to undermine the free voice of the people. My guess is that they are using fear in order to hide what they are doing. So, we have a very bad combination here in Paris.

One of the key things, for example, that is not being discussed in the negotiations at all is to put a limit to fossil fuel extractions. So this is—there is not one single leader, one single country, that has put text to be negotiated that says you have to leave 80 percent of fossil fuels under the ground. And if you don’t leave fossil fuels under the ground, how are you going to limit greenhouse gas emissions that come mainly from fossil fuel extraction? So, you don’t have the real key topics being discussed. And on the other hand, you have an ambiance of fear that is being created in order that at the end you say, "OK, this is the best we can do. Let’s accept it. It was fine."

AMY GOODMAN: So, what is happening in Bolivia? I mean, in the midst of all these official U.N. summits, from Cancún to Copenhagen, Doha, Durban, Peru, Poland, there was the People’s Summit on Pachamama, on the rights of the Earth, that was held in Bolivia, led by the president, Evo Morales. What is happening there today?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, just a couple of months ago, we had the second Tiquipaya. It didn’t have so much cover from the media. It was organized by the government, and very few climate activists from the world came. And the issue is that in Bolivia we see more and more a contradiction between what the government says and what the government does. So, one of the big discussions that we had with Evo Morales during the summit now was that he said, "We cannot be park rangers—no? Guardabosques, we say in Spanish—for the capitalist countries of the North.

And from our point of view, we have to preserve forests, because forests are the lungs of Mother Earth. We cannot imagine a world without forests. And so, the rules, the laws that are being pushed forward in Bolivia are going to increase deforestation. So that is why, for example, here during these days, we are going to have a big event on zero deforestation until 2020 in all countries, because there is a schizophrenia in the U.N. In the sustainable development goals, all countries have agreed that by 2020, they have to halt deforestation. But in the UNFCCC, those countries are still going to continue deforestation beyond 2020, and, like my country, they say they are going to deforest 3 million hectares until 2030. So these are the contradictions between the discourse and what is being done in the practice.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in Bolivia, what is the issue around mineral and fossil fuel extraction? What is President Morales doing?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, the issue is that—well, I thought that when the prices of oil went down, then the government was going to react and say, "OK, we have to move away from gas extraction in five, 10 years." But instead, what they said is, "If the prices have fall half, now we have to export twice." So they are searching for even more gas and more oil. So we are becoming more addicted to fossil fuels than before, when we should be already beginning to think how we’re going to phase out of fossil fuels. So this is another critical issue in the case of Bolivia.

AMY GOODMAN: What about nuclear power?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, nuclear power is also another problem, because we say, "OK, let’s look for another kind of alternatives." And then the government has said nuclear power. And we are absolutely against, because it’s dangerous for nature, for the people. And in our constitution, there is a ban to any kind of nuclear waste. So if there is any kind of nuclear plant in Bolivia, according to our constitution, the waste of that nuclear plant cannot be deposited inside Bolivian territory. So, it’s something very complicated. But even though there is a lot of pressure from civil society, the government has done an agreement with Russia, and they are planning to begin with a center of nuclear investigation, and they are going to invest $300 million just as a first step. And this is something that really is against everything we have fought for.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the scale of the size of the nuclear plant that is planned for Bolivia?

PABLO SOLÓN: That is another thing, because the government doesn’t speak very frankly about what is the final goal. They are holding 20 hectares; now they are saying 40 hectares. It’s going to be a plan that will go beyond 1,000, 2,000 megawatts. I don’t know. And you can’t find that information. That is also something that it should never happen, because if you have a plan like that, you have to share in a very transparent way what you want to do, and you have to consult the people. That is not happening.

AMY GOODMAN: How has the Yasuní struggle in nearby Ecuador impacted Bolivia? Or just talk about the significance of that. And for people who have never heard of Yasuní, what was the trajectory of this extremely diverse place that seems so deeply threatened now?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, between the Yasuní in Ecuador and the different national parks that we have in Bolivia, there are many connections, because the problem is that you can find probably oil or gas in these national parks, like Yasuní, like TIPNIS in Bolivia and others. And indigenous people that live there say, "Hey, we don’t want you to destroy our home. We don’t want you to destroy the biodiversity here," in these different national parks.

At the beginning, the proposal of Ecuador was, OK, we are not going to dig, we are not going to extract the fossil fuels. But then they said, "Oh, because international community is not going to give us a grant that is big enough to cover what we are not going to extract"—

AMY GOODMAN: To pay for it not to be developed or drilled, that was the idea that Correa, the president, put out.

PABLO SOLÓN: Yes, exactly. So, they have received the money. And instead of digging, they do whatever they have to do with that money that they have received. But now President Correa has said we’re going to dig anyway, because that money is insufficient. And this has created a whole protest inside Ecuador. It is the same case in Bolivia. And we are all saying, "Come on, you’re going to do this in order to get fossil fuels."

How much does it cost to deforest one hectare? What is the cost of losing that biodiversity? It’s huge. So why are we going to destroy forests, national park, to find something that we already know is killing us? Because climate change is mainly due to fossil fuels that are being burned. So, instead of going this way, we should begin to learn and live with the forest. There are many ways where we can get resources with the forest without affecting the forest. So, I think that in the case of Bolivia and Ecuador, the struggle against climate change is the struggle against deforestation. You have the combination of oil extraction plus deforestation as the most greatest challenges of climate activists in our countries.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Pablo Solón. He’s the former chief negotiator on climate change for Bolivia, as well as Bolivia’s former ambassador to the United Nations. I spoke to him Sunday in the streets of Paris, where he joined the human chain and then the protest at the Place de la République. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we go to yet another chief climate negotiator who has now taken his cause to the streets. Stay with us.

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