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As U.N. Calls for Urgent Action on Climate Change, U.S. Seeks to Dilute Pact to Cut Carbon Emissions

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U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres issued a dire warning Wednesday that nations must act now to save humanity from devastating climate change. Despite this call to action, talks here in Katowice have been hindered by the United States and the world’s other biggest polluters, who are promoting fossil fuels and focusing on reducing emissions in developing countries but not their own. Talks are supposed to conclude Friday, but negotiators have expressed little hope in meeting the deadline. “It’s really hypocritical that the United States is here, negotiating in what I would characterize as bad faith,” says Meena Raman, of the U.S. role in climate talks at COP24. “[The U.S.] is seeking to dilute further what was a very delicate treaty that was concluded.” Raman is coordinator of the climate change program at Third World Network.

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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 summit in Katowice, Poland, where U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres issued a dire warning Wednesday that nations must act now to save humanity from devastating climate change.

SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: To waste this opportunity in Katowice would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change. It would not only be immoral, it will be suicidal. … Failing here in Katowice would send a disastrous message to those who stand ready to shift to a green economy. So I urge you to find common ground and to allow us to show the world that we are listening, that we care. Developed countries must scale up their contributions to jointly mobilize $100 billion U.S. annually by 2020.

AMY GOODMAN: Despite this call to action, talks here in Katowice have been hindered by the United States and the world’s other biggest polluters, who are promoting fossil fuels and focusing on reducing emissions in developing countries but not their own. Talks are supposed to conclude on Friday, but negotiators have expressed little hope in meeting that deadline. Meanwhile, climate experts warn inaction on global warming will devastate developing nations, that are the most affected by climate change but have done the least to cause it.

Well, for more, we’re joined by Meena Raman. She’s coordinator of the climate change program at Third World Network and is honorary secretary of Friends of the Earth Malaysia.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Meena. It’s great to have you with us. Can you talk about the progress in the talks, in these summits, and who you feel is getting in the way of where you want these talks to be?

MEENA RAMAN: Well, I think we are acting far too slowly. Those of us who were in Paris wanted movement much faster. And we are here negotiating guidelines to implement the Paris Agreement. And here, what we see, unfortunately, is the United States, which has announced that it has no intention to be a party to the Paris Agreement, negotiating the rules for implementation.

So, it’s really hypocritical that the United States is here, negotiating in what I would characterize as bad faith. And the reason why I say this is that the deal was already done. The political deal was done in 2015. Here, the governments are supposed to help each other implement the agreement that was achieved. Now, what you see the United States do is to renegotiate the Paris Agreement. It’s seeking to dilute further what was a very delicate treaty that was concluded.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what the U.S. is doing here? Trump has said that the U.S. is pulling out. He’s pulling the U.S. out of the agreement, although it takes a few years to do that.

MEENA RAMAN: Yes, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, they clearly are behind the scenes here, here in force, beginning with—and this wasn’t behind the scenes—working with Saudi Arabia. They’re a close ally, despite what it’s done in Yemen, despite its dismemberment of a Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, working hand in hand with Saudi Arabia to undercut the U.N.’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientific body, the IPCC, and their new report on the devastating effects of climate change.

MEENA RAMAN: Well, the U.S. has very clearly said, in Songdo, when the IPCC report was adopted, that it doesn’t agree with the scientific findings. And yet it is here. And it has already announced that it’s going to pull out, and yet it’s negotiating. So, the confusion for us is: What is the U.S. up to?

And what it’s trying to do here is to deny those countries who are asking for climate finance, where the—under the Paris Agreement, it was already agreed that climate finance will be provided. So they come here, and they say, “We are not willing to commit to any new discussion on finance if the donor base is not widened.” So this is renegotiating. I think what they mean is that if China doesn’t come on board, the U.S. is not willing to put any money on the table. But it’s not even clear whether the U.S. will do anything at all, because it is a climate denier.

So, what we worry is for those nations who have already put their climate actions on the table as to what they would do when the Paris Agreement kicks off in 2020, post-2020, and they very clearly indicated that we can do more, but we will need technology transfer, we would need finance. But these are non-negotiable as far as the U.S. is concerned. So there’s no money on the table, no indication of any discussion for new money. There is no commitment to discuss real technology transfer.

AMY GOODMAN: What do mean by “technology transfer”?

MEENA RAMAN: Well, it means that this is a global problem. Developing countries would need to transition from dependence of fossil fuels to a low-carbon future. Now, in order to do that, they will have to shift dramatically and not repeat the mistakes of the developed world. So, in order to do that, we need renewable energies of massive scales. We need all the technologies that are environmentally sound, that are able to allow the developing countries to move from fossil fuel dependence to non-fossil fuel dependence.

AMY GOODMAN: Meena, can you talk about what survival emissions are?

MEENA RAMAN: Yeah. For the poor of the world, who had no contribution to emissions—for instance, large amounts of people in India are denied any access to energy—now they are being told that they have to reduce their carbon emissions. Now, these are people who emit nothing. They have to survive. They have to eat. They have to go to school. They have to have healthcare. But all this is not possible, because they don’t have access to energy. Now, we are saying that these people, who have very little contribution to any emissions, they are being asked to contribute to reducing emissions. I mean, it’s hypocritical, because the United States does not want to acknowledge that it is the largest historical emitter in the world. Now, you don’t have enough carbon space to allow countries like the United States to continue to emit. You need the survival emissions for people who actually are able to transition and develop. And this is what the big fight is about.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s the comparison of what a U.S. citizen expends in using emissions versus people in India, for example, or in the developing world?

MEENA RAMAN: Well, you know, all the cars and the gasoline—

AMY GOODMAN: How much bigger is the carbon footprint?

MEENA RAMAN: Well, I don’t know the latest numbers, but I know for a fact that the U.S. per capita emissions is something like 24 tons or so, and you have countries like India who are less than one. So you see the scale is massively different. And so you do need to—the poor—this is like a deal—

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re not talking about the whole population of India; you’re talking about the poor in India and other countries.

MEENA RAMAN: No, no, I’m talking about the poor, the large numbers of poor, in India, who actually have very little to live on. And so, you see, if you want to limit temperature rise, there is a finite carbon space that is left. So, for countries like the United States, who have grown wealthy due to their emissions, without any constraint on their carbon, they have become wealthy. And for the poor, who remain poor, and for them, you say, “No, you cannot emit, and you can’t have any alternative,” you are condemning these people to poverty, condemning them even to death, actually. So this is why what we say is, the climate problem has to be addressed in a differentiated manner: Those with greater historical responsibility must act.

AMY GOODMAN: What role is China playing?

MEENA RAMAN: China is playing a very constructive role.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s the largest polluter now, is that right?

MEENA RAMAN: Yes. Yes, it is. But—

AMY GOODMAN: As opposed to the U.S. being the largest historical.

MEENA RAMAN: Correct, correct. But if you take per capita emissions, China is still much, much, much lesser than the United States. So this is why you do need to acknowledge that you cannot treat all people in the same way, because this is where the common but differentiated responsibility from Rio—you remember when George Bush, when, in 1992, he said that the lifestyles of the Americans are not up for negotiations. But—

AMY GOODMAN: George H.W. Bush, who just died.

MEENA RAMAN: George H.W. Bush. What you have to remember is, there is finite resources. The rich cannot continue to take and take. And so, if you remember what Gandhi said: If we all follow the American lifestyle, we will need another six planets. And so, this is not how the future of the world should be. So the poor have to be able to survive. They have to be enabled to move to a transition in a way that doesn’t replicate the lifestyle of the Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: Meena Raman, you’ve said that approaches such as carbon markets are rooted in colonialism and environmental racism. What do you mean by that?

MEENA RAMAN: The carbon markets, as far as we are concerned, are mechanisms to actually not do the real domestic reductions that are needed.

AMY GOODMAN: What are carbon markets?

MEENA RAMAN: Well, these are just markets which trade in carbon, where they believe that—like, for instance, in Malaysia, we are a massive forest country. And so, there are companies that go around our part of the world and say that the more that you protect the forest, those credits that allow the saving of the carbon dioxide, we will quantify them, and then we will trade them in the international market so that you will get money for them. And the offsets, the reductions that we do, will count to the domestic reductions of the developed countries. So what they’re really telling us is, we will pay you cheaply to do the emissions reductions for us, and the developed world doesn’t have to do the domestic reductions that they have to do. So this is actually not the solution. The solution is everyone has to decarbonize.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, what needs to come out of these talks?

MEENA RAMAN: Well, we must have rules that are fair and just. For instance, the Paris Agreement cannot just be about reporting. The United States just wants everyone to report better, in terms of what actions they are doing. But what we actually need to do is to see finance on the table, a real commitment to deliver on finance. For instance, the Green Climate Fund is in need of massive replenishment. The United States pledged $3 billion initially, under the Obama administration. Only $1 billion is there. The $2 billion that was committed under the Obama administration is no longer there. So, developing countries is looking at the Green Climate Fund to deliver on the kind of actions that they need to do. So, if the Green Climate Fund is a vehicle for undertaking the transformation in developing countries, then massive replenishment of resources has to happen now, has to happen today.

The other thing that has to happen is, basically, the technology that needs to be transferred. Here, what the United States says is that technology is in the hands of the private sector, so it’s a commercial venture. This is not about a commercial venture. This is a global problem. And so we need affordable, accessible technologies, so that developing countries don’t have to go in the same pathway as the developed world. So, the United States is halting progress on all of this, and it’s a climate denier, and it’s preventing those who want to do action from taking action.

AMY GOODMAN: Meena Raman, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Meena Raman is the coordinator of the climate change program at Third World Network, and she’s the honorary secretary of Friends of the Earth Malaysia.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be joined by Nnimmo Bassey, a leading environmental activist from Nigeria. Stay with us.

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