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Key Architect of Paris Climate Accord: “We Cannot Combat Climate Change with More Coal”

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For more on the final assessment of this year’s U.N. climate summit, we speak with one of the key architects of the landmark 2015 Paris climate deal, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal. He was previously the environment minister in Peru. He is also the former president of COP20 and a key architect of the Paris Agreement.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We are broadcasting live from the final day of the U.N. climate summit in Bonn, Germany. Bonn is the former capital of West Germany. It’s also the place where, on October 10th, 1981, Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., addressed one of the world’s largest peace demonstrations to date. As many as 300,000 people came out to call for an end to the nuclear arms race with Russia.

As the climate talks wrap up here in Bonn, environmentalists and students in the United States are gearing up for a national day of action Saturday. The Day of Dedication protests will include nearly two dozen rallies at state capitals and city halls, where protesters will dedicate time capsules that depict the current state of the fight against climate change.

For more on this year’s negotiations, we’re joined by one of the primary architects of the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement. Manuel Pulgar-Vidal was the president of COP20 in Lima, Peru, three years ago. He’s also the former environment minister in Peru, now the leader of the Climate and Energy Practice of WWF, the World Wildlife Fund.

It’s great to have you with us.

MANUEL PULGAR-VIDAL: No, thank you. It’s a big pleasure.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what’s happening here today and, of course, on this, what’s expected to be the last day. We have seen all week what it looks like when the U.S. begins to pull out of a major global deal.


AMY GOODMAN: What’s happening here at the COP?

MANUEL PULGAR-VIDAL: Let me say that to understand this COP, it is really important to say that this is the real first COP in which we are working on implementation, because the Paris Agreement entered into force just before of the COP in Marrakech, but in this one we are preparing all the implementation rules to have a very strong 2020 time, in which the first review phase of the NDCs, the national contributions, are going to be presented.

So what we do expect with this COP, it is to have a clear and a strong design of the Terra Nova dialogue. And let me say, Amy, to Democracy Now!, that this is more than a dialogue. What are expecting in this Terra Nova dialogue, it is to have the countries—a stock taking, how much they have advanced in their NDCs, their pledges, their climate pledges, and how they are thinking to enhance it. So this is the time in which we are really going to connect our global effort with clear domestic action.

But that moves me to the second. What we do expect to have here, it is a first draft with the guidelines for implementation. And why this guideline? Because remember that the first contributions, or national contributions, to the climate change were presented three years ago with no rules that had been developed before. So, for the enhancing, what we do need, it is to say, OK, the next phase of the climate pledges of the countries should be based in a strong base target, should be based in transparent processes, in reporting processes and in monitored processes. So the idea of the guidelines, it is to move the world toward a more strong ways to define. We are going to achieve, but also we are going to define new commitments.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what is it like this year with the U.S. pulling out? And what is your message to President Trump?

MANUEL PULGAR-VIDAL: There are many things to say. The first one, it is that despite the U.S. announcement of President Trump to withdraw to the Paris Agreement, the We are Still In initiative has shown that the process, it is irreversible and unstoppable. Remember, Amy, that the We are Still In, it is a climate action movement that it has shown that the business sector has already committed new action, because they know that the only way to assure a sustainable future for the business, it is by looking to the long term, but includes, fortunately, the academia. And this is the time for the science, because if we wish to enhance NDCs, surely we do need to have a strong scientific information and data. So, to have and to engage universities and academia, it is important, plus the civil society. Currently, the We are Still In initiative has already engaged more than 2,500 organizations or institutions. And it is amazing also how much the subnationals are working on that. Governor Brown from California, the governor from Ohio, mayors from different places, from the Hill, the—one of the members, Whitehouse, among some others. So, despite the political announcement, there is climate action in the U.S. And let me add something of this.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about the We are Still In coalition.

MANUEL PULGAR-VIDAL: We are Still In, sure. But let me add this. In this COP, civil society, plus some government, has already committed to end coal, because, Amy, we cannot combat alcoholism with more alcohol, as we cannot combat climate change with more coal. So what it is clear, and it was in the first Saturday before of the starting day of the COP, that the people said to Germany, among some other leaders, “We do need to have a clear deadline to phase out coal,” as, fortunately, yesterday, this “high-ambition coalition” told to the world, “We should define clear ways and time frame to phase out coal.” So that is against of what President Trump is trying, that it is to go back to coal facilities. We do need to show to the world that there are no way to continue having extraction of coal and coal as a source of energy, because also the clean energy has shown to be sustainable, with a good price, and it is the only way to move it toward a carbon-neutral economy.

AMY GOODMAN: As someone who was a key architect of the Paris accord—the year before, you were the president of the COP in Lima. Peru, you know, is home to the Amazon, lungs of the planet. You were involved in shaping the agreement. In order to keep the U.S. in, and maybe you would say some other countries, you—this was a voluntary agreement. If you knew what we know now, that the U.S. was going to pull out anyway, do you think that this should have been made a binding agreement?

MANUEL PULGAR-VIDAL: No, I don’t think so. You know that this idea, Amy, of binding or nonbinding, it is very subtle, because you can have a strong international bodies that, even though are not binding, are really strong. And you can have the opposite. So, the issue of binding or nonbinding has a lot of different steps in between.

My point, it is that the Paris Agreement, it is enough strong. But also we should remind that to get the Paris Agreement, we had developed before a lot of different instruments. Let me say some of them. Good science, that is a key element. Financial pledges, sure, it is important. Also, the NDCs, these climate pledges, that had created, before the Paris Agreement, a good atmosphere of confidence. The nonstate actors’ agenda, that was really important.

And let me say one more thing: political will. And in these cases, there were two political wills before of the Paris Agreement. Peru, France, working together, that was amazing, first experience in which two presidencies of COPs were hand-to-hand working toward an agreement. But also, all these statements of—I remember U.S.-China do a statement, France-China, Brazil-China, among some others, saying to the world, “We are willing to move this forward.”

So, if we try to replicate that in this implementation time, I think that we should. And we can. Let me put an example. The next year is going to be the release—sorry, this September. I am confusing. It’s going to be the release of the 1.5 IPCC report, the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, that it is going to say to us, “Let’s move the agenda. Let us strengthen ambition.” So that is going to be the first element for the next step.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S.'s only major public meeting here was to endorse coal, nuclear and gas, with a representative of President Trump, his climate adviser, and Vice President Pence. When I asked David Banks, the Trump climate adviser, why they didn't include at least renewable energy, he said they were trying to level the playing field here. What about the U.S.’s endorsement of coal?

MANUEL PULGAR-VIDAL: I think that it is against what it is the trend. And the trend, it is to phase out coal, to adopt more strong measure of carbon pricing, to talk about the elimination of subsidies of fossil fuels, to move it toward how we are planning to incentivize renewable energy to develop more strongest way to strengthen energy efficiency and to guarantee, through different mechanisms, universal access to energy. So, we know that, unfortunately, politically, until now, the U.S. has not put on the table clear signal that they are moving this agenda toward that kind of element. But, fortunately, on the other hand, what it is happening in the world, with the evolving of the technology, with the dropping of the price, with records of all the time of the building process for renewable, is showing that, Amy, there are no way to turn it into fossil fuels, because the change that—sorry, the world has already started to change.

AMY GOODMAN: You see the power of grassroots activists.


AMY GOODMAN: You go from the diplomatic world to grassroots activism. When you were environment minister, you endorsed as safe Southern Copper’s Tia Maria copper mine, despite widespread criticism. You came under a lot of criticism then. Do you regret that decision? And do you respect the activists who were saying, “No, close it”?

MANUEL PULGAR-VIDAL: All the time, I am used to respecting the activists, because remember that I used to be, before of being appointed minister, member of a civil society group, an environmental group, because I am a lawyer by training. Let me say that in case of this mining extractive activity, Tia Maria, the most important discussions were about how much the mining could affected the farmers’ places. So what we tried to do—and, personally, I tried to do—it was to try to find ways to create a balance in between, so to have the mine not affecting the agriculture, and the agriculture also to find a way to have, because it is filled of rices, to have them doing their activities through a sustainable use of water. Didn’t work, in the sense that the mine has not opened yet. So I think that we should continue promoting the dialogue, because what we do need as Peruvians, it is to create, through the dialogue, ways to build consensus.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, leader of the Climate and Energy Practice of World Wildlife Fund, previously environment minister in Peru, also the former president of COP20, key architect of the Paris Agreement.

When we come back, in the United States, Keystone pipeline has spilled more than 200,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota. We’ll speak with Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, and Isabella Zizi, Native American activist with Idle No More from Richmond, California, home of Chevron. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: The grand finale of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from Symphony No. 9 by the Berlin Philharmonic. Again, Beethoven born here in Bonn, profoundly deaf when he composed Beethoven’s Ninth, his final complete symphony. After the premier performance of the piece, he had to be turned to see the thunderous applause from the audience, which he couldn’t hear.

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