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Meet the Climate Lawyer Who Helped Write 2015 Paris Agreement & Superglued Herself at Shell’s U.K. HQ

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Image Credit: Twitter: @ExtinctR (photo right)

We speak to Farhana Yamin, one of the most prominent climate lawyers in Britain, who has been deeply involved in international climate negotiations for decades, including the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, and has also engaged in direct action to effect change. Yamin is currently working with the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group that represents 48 of the countries most threatened by the climate crisis, at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow. We last spoke with Farhana in 2019 after she was arrested for supergluing her hands to the ground outside Shell’s headquarters in London as part of an Extinction Rebellion action. She applauds the demonstrators outside the conference who are bringing political pressure on those inside. She says the net zero emissions goal that many global leaders are discussing “has to have emissions that are real, and those emissions cannot be bought at the expense of vulnerable people and countries.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

As closed-door negotiations continue at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, climate justice activists are taking to the streets outside the COP demanding United States and other large polluters agree to drastic cuts in carbon emissions to save the world from a climate catastrophe. On Wednesday, police arrested at least five people as hundreds of Extinction Rebellion members held a protest against corporate greenwashing at the COP.

We turn now to one of the most prominent climate lawyers in Britain, who has been deeply involved in international climate negotiations for decades but has also engaged in direct action to effect change. Farhana Yamin is in Glasgow, where she’s working with the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group that represents 48 of the countries most threatened by the climate crisis. We last spoke with her in 2019 after she was arrested for supergluing her hands to the ground outside Shell’s headquarters in London as part of an Extinction Rebellion action.

FARHANA YAMIN: Stop lobbying governments to delay action. These prove to me that the legal process is pretty broken right now. And we’re having to break law rather than make law, because of the inaction of 30 years now of these companies.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Farhana Yamin in 2019. She’s joining us now in front of the rotating globe suspended over the U.N. climate assembly in Glasgow, Scotland.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Farhana. It’s great to have you with us. As we watched you in that action, talk about what it means to be out on the streets supergluing yourself, protesting the fossil fuel giant Shell, and then being inside — you’re passing, I assume, many of those same fossil fuel lobbyists — but your two-pronged approach, inside and outside, as you helped to negotiate the Paris Climate Agreement.

FARHANA YAMIN: Thank you. Well, thank you for having me back.

I really salute all those who are taking the actions in the streets and demanding real accountability, demanding climate justice. Climate justice — you know, my nerdy legal self — is actually in the Paris Agreement. It’s a paragraph here in the preamble. We are trying to make good on that preambular paragraph, and we’re trying to hold corporations and countries to account, that the net zero emissions goal, which was a very important goal, is not just greenwashed, it has to be made good. It has to have emissions that are real, and those emissions cannot be bought at the expense of vulnerable people and countries — in effect, displacing emissions. And they must have strong accountability for their actions, which must result in actual changes, not just, as I said, greenwashing and buying offsets from others.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Farhana, as we mentioned, Extinction Rebellion members — Extinction Rebellion members have been protesting against corporate greenwashing at the COP. Could you explain what historically the role of corporations has been in these climate conferences, and the fact that some of the largest oil, gas and coal producers have yet to outline how they intend to decrease fossil fuel use?

FARHANA YAMIN: Well, the role historically of the large oil and gas companies has been to lobby countries to delay action, to stop the science being acted on. And that’s what’s happened for 30 years. And the frustration that I had, you know, back in 2019 was to see how well organized, how well funded, how well orchestrated that lobbying, marketing, behind-the-scenes manipulation was, that has resulted in the delays here.

So I’m very happy that groups like Extinction Rebellion and many others are now outing these companies, and we are learning more and more, through investigative journalism, of the role that has been played in stymieing action by these companies. So, I really welcome a torch being shone on their very clever orchestration.

And it’s time also that advertising companies, the Edelmans of the world, the PR, marketing and other professions that are aiding and abetting this obstruction — it’s time that they realize that those delays that have resulted have also resulted from their own actions. You know, you cannot now accept clients who are basically putting the Earth in peril as clients, and still say that you support sustainability.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, in August, the IPCC report was quite staggering in its warnings about what the world will face if extremely swift and large-scale actions are not needed. The U.N. secretary-general called this a “code red” — called the report “code red for humanity.” You’ve attended 23 of the 25 COPs. What have you seen change as the urgency of the situation has so manifestly grown?

FARHANA YAMIN: Yeah, it’s 24 out of 26. But what’s changed for me is actually a huge amount of energy, a huge appetite for change, and a demand for action coming from our young people, from our Indigenous people, from women, from our trade union, from workers from around the world. And that is being stymied, is being stopped and is not coming into the energy that’s needed in this room.

I stress the word “energy,” because it is energy that — the energy that we need is political energy, because it’s really the politicians who are behind the science. The politicians are listening and in the pockets sometimes of the vested interests that I spoke about, from the fossil fuel industry to large agribusiness.

And I think that that’s what has shifted here, is that realization that we have to act together. And these corporations, those who are most powerful, especially the G20 countries, they have to act, and they cannot hide behind any more excuses.

AMY GOODMAN: Farhana Yamin, in 2015, you helped negotiate that landmark Paris Agreement. President Biden, when he was at COP this week, apologized for the previous president, Trump, pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement. What message do you have now for the U.S. Congress, where you see this major division within the Democratic Party, let alone the Republicans, around the issue of a Green New Deal and providing enough money to transition the U.S. off of fossil fuels? What message do you have for them right now, among those Senator Manchin, who is the largest oil, gas and coal recipient of campaign funds in the U.S. Congress, who has almost single-handedly stopped the climate accord in Congress from moving forward?

FARHANA YAMIN: Well, we can only appeal to all of those in Congress, including the senator, who must listen to his conscience, must not only put his constituents’ short-term interests, but listen very much to the hearts and pleas of all of those who are gathered here, and help the U.S. retain its credibility. We know that the U.S. wants to do the right thing, but we would like the U.S. government to be more joined up here and to deliver on the financial pledges and to deliver on action at home. And the U.S. is an incredible leader, and it needs to regain the trust and work as an ally with others.

So I appeal to his constituents directly to, please, you know, lobby him, instead of him being lobbied by the fossil fuel industries and receiving this money. I would urge all of those citizens in the rest of the U.S. to pile in and put the pressure on, because it really matters. The U.S. really matters. And its delivery on its promises, its pledges, really matter here.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Farhana Yamin, finally, before we conclude, talk about the work that you’re doing with the Climate Vulnerable Forum. We were just speaking to former Maldives President Nasheed, and the Maldives was, of course, one of the founding members. Can you explain the work that you’re doing with this group?

FARHANA YAMIN: Well, we’ve been working to get the whole of this conference to adopt a climate emergency pact framing that delivers on an annual, year-by-year ambition cycle, instead of the five-year cycle that we had in Paris, to deliver on the $500 billion, which is the total sum, if you add up what was owed from 2020 to 2024. We want the money to go to adaptation, which is basically a Cinderella still, and for the money to go 50/50 to mitigation and adaptation, and, lastly, to also fund and recognize the harm that’s already happening, and, again, to fulfill the promise of Article 8 here on loss and damage.

So, the Earth is, you know, requiring us to repair the harm done. And we would like this conference to acknowledge that harm is happening, and to fund and support the pillars of the Paris Agreement that are about loss and damage.

AMY GOODMAN: Farhana Yamin, we want to thank you for being with us, international environmental lawyer —

FARHANA YAMIN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: — who helped write the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement.

Next up, we remain in Glasgow and speak with Harjeet Singh of the Climate Action Network, who’s helping to lead a campaign for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. Stay with us.

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