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Who Should Pay for Climate Crisis? Global South Demands “Loss and Damage” from Wealthy Nations

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We are broadcasting from COP27, the U.N. climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where poorer countries in the Global South that are weathering the worst effects of the climate crisis are calling for wealthy nations to pay reparations in the form of climate financing. “We need a global plan to phase out fossil fuels in a just and equitable manner,” says Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy with Climate Action Network and global engagement director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. He adds that the United States is the main impediment to “loss and damage” climate financing. “Money is available, but [the] U.S. has always blocked money going to poor people who are suffering from climate impacts,” he says.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

A major split remains between wealthy nations and the Global South on what financial responsibility larger polluters should take for causing the climate crisis. A group of more than 130 developing nations and China have proposed establishing a loss and damage fund to provide money to countries impacted by the climate crisis, but the United States has said it would not support a, quote, “legal structure that is tied to compensation or liability.”

To talk more about this, we’re joined by Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy with Climate Action Network and with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, a global initiative to phase out fossil fuels and support a just transition. We’re going to talk to him in a moment, but first I had a chance to walk through part of the U.N. climate summit with Harjeet earlier today to get his observations on what’s happening.

AMY GOODMAN: Harjeet, if you can take us into the pavilion, where it used to be so many climate justice groups had set up booths? So, you see this as an expo for the very fossil fuel philosophy and companies that climate justice groups are taking on.

HARJEET SINGH: Absolutely. So, you know, we have been coming to this space to fight for climate justice. It’s such an important conference. It’s not a travel junket for us. It’s a space where we — where we demand that we need to be reducing our consumption. We need to make sure that private companies do their part. But what we find, that it has been turned into an expo, and there are more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists who are selling their products, which is fossil fuel, which is going to exacerbate the problem. So, they have turned these conferences into a place where the problem is going to get more worse because of the increasing fossil fuel investments.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network, or CAN. He joins us now live on our set inside COP27.

Harjeet, welcome back to Democracy Now! We’re right outside the plenary. Before we talk more about that corporate capture that many are concerned about at the climate summit, give us the latest on these negotiations that are taking place. It is Wednesday. The talks supposedly end Friday; they often go an extra day. What’s happening here?

HARJEET SINGH: Thank you so much, Amy, for having me on. It’s a pleasure to join you here.

At this moment, there is a logjam on the issue of loss and damage finance, something that developing countries have been demanding, because impacts are everywhere, and it’s poor and vulnerable people around the world who are seeing their homes getting washed away, and their crops are getting destroyed, but they are not getting any support from the U.N. climate system.

And there is no mention of fossil fuels in the draft cover text which is going to come out of this COP, which is deeply worrying, because after 30 years of fighting, we got fossil fuels mentioned for the first time in Glasgow at COP26, and now there’s a fight to have them back again. And, in fact, many developing countries and some developed countries are also demanding mention of all fossil fuels — coal, oil and gas — because we can’t just mention coal, which was the case in COP26 Glasgow, and we have to talk about phasing out, in a manner that is just and fair, and finance needs to be provided. But things are stuck, and we have seen climate finance issue not making progress at all.

AMY GOODMAN: I think many people around the world listening to you right now would be very shocked that in the draft of the final statement of the U.N. climate summit there is no mention of fossil fuels?

HARJEET SINGH: Absolutely. So, when I talk about 600 lobbyists moving around and the interest of fossil fuel industry and governments are causing, for them, that’s the result. So, imagine the global energy continues to depend on fossil fuels to the tune of 80%. No, that’s not by accident, because we did not do enough to move away from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy, because Paris Agreement did not even mention coal, oil and gas.

And that’s exactly the reason we are demanding a global framework to fix that big hole in climate policy. And that’s why the demand for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, because you can’t just talk about fossil fuels on the corridors. If you keep that issue on the sidelines, it’s going to fall off the table.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk with you about the fossil fuel treaty. But I want to first turn to the U.S. presidential climate envoy, John Kerry. In September, he spoke at a New York Times event, where he was questioned by a member of the audience who happened to be Farhana Yamin, a leading environmental lawyer who helped negotiate the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement.

FARHANA YAMIN: What will you be doing to step up and actually put money into loss of damage? And what will you be doing to stop the inaction on procedural and legal and institutional wrangling, which the U.S. is at the heart of, I have to say? You can remove all of that and establish the facility on loss and damage at COP27, which is the will of the vast majority of developing countries. And all I can say is, you’re bringing a lot to the table, and we really applaud that, but the most important thing that the U.S. can bring right now is honesty to COP27.

JOHN KERRY: Well, in all honesty, the most important thing that we can do is stop, mitigate enough that we prevent loss and damage. And the next most important thing we can do is help people adapt to the damage that’s already there. And we have a limited — we’re not — you tell me the government in the world that has trillions of dollars, because that’s what it costs. So, we’re now trying to mobilize the trillions of dollars. And I’m not going take a feeling guilty.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the U.S. climate envoy, John Kerry, being questioned by [Farhana] Yamin. Your response, Harjeet, to what he was saying then? Because actually his position has changed.

HARJEET SINGH: Absolutely, because the kind of pressure we have been mounting on the U.S., being the biggest historical emitter and also the biggest blocker on the issue of loss and damage finance. And the reason we are facing loss and damage right now is because of the inaction of the last 30 years, led by the United States. And U.S. has blocked every discussion on loss and damage finance, which means helping people recover from climate impacts.

And when Secretary Kerry says that, you know, we cannot achieve it in six weeks, and we don’t have trillions, but we do see trillions going to military. We do see trillions going to bail out banks. And we also see trillions being made available to fight the COVID crisis or even now for the Russian war in Ukraine. So money is available, but U.S. has always blocked money going to poor people who are suffering from climate impacts.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain why. Explain the difference between loss and damage and John Kerry’s concern that that would lead to liability and compensation.

HARJEET SINGH: Absolutely. So, for U.S., it’s an issue of compensation and liability. And at a principal level, it is. But we come to this U.N. space to have a more cooperative mechanism and have a principle of solidarity in this space. But the U.S. has always acted in bad faith. We got a mechanism in 2013 called Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, which does mention loss and damage finance, but they did not allow that discussion to move forward.

They fear that any progress on loss and damage means more litigation cases. I would argue that if you don’t operate in the coop as a — operate as — you know, cooperate more in the space, you will see more litigation cases going up. It’s like a seesaw. So, if you provide support through this system, litigation cases are going to go down. In any case, they have multiplied, because we have not seen sufficient action from the U.S. and the developed countries.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’ve made the argument that, actually, if the U.S. got involved with loss and damage, they would be less liable. Talk about the lawsuits that are being brought around the world, sometimes one farmer against a whole corporation.

HARJEET SINGH: There are hundreds of lawsuits we are seeing. You know, we have seen how Shell company was taken to court in the Netherlands. We have seen even the German government was taken to court by young activists. We are seeing a German company being sued by a Peruvian farmer. These cases are multiplying all over the world, because nothing has progressed in the climate space that is responding to the scale of the crisis. So we need U.S. to be on the table, respond to the proposal that developing countries have put forward, so that we can actually have a more cooperative mechanism to help people who are facing climate emergency.

AMY GOODMAN: You represent the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. Tuvalu has become the first country to use the U.N. climate summit to demand an international treaty like this, which would gradually eliminate the use of coal, oil and gas. Explain what this is all about and how countries are responding, from the Global South and the biggest polluters, like the United States and China.

HARJEET SINGH: So, the biggest challenge is that we have not mentioned fossil fuels in the Paris Agreement, no reference to coal, oil and gas, the major cause of the climate crisis that we are facing right now. It’s because of the influence of the industry. And there’s also a reality that many developing countries are dependent on fossil fuels for their revenues. There are millions of workers involved. So we need a global plan to phase out fossil fuels in a just and equitable manner.

And this system here is not talking about fossil fuels the way it should be. So we need a global framework in the form of a treaty that complements the Paris Agreement and helps people and economies move away from fossil fuels, which are causing multiple crises, climate crisis, health crisis and even the global energy crisis — which is not an energy crisis, it’s a fossil fuel crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: So, earlier today, Harjeet, you took me on a tour of the pavilions. Now, these are places where often you have climate justice groups using stalls as spaces to have conversations about how we move forward with sustainability. You have Greta Thunberg deciding that she was not going to come to this climate summit because of greenwashing. Explain what this pavilion or pavilions all over have become.

HARJEET SINGH: It’s really painful to see this climate conference turning into an expo. That’s not the purpose of this conference. We come here to fight for climate justice. You know, there are thousands of activists who somehow raise resources to influence negotiations, to hold polluters to account. And you see polluters setting up their shops to sell more fossil fuel products. You see NGOs are being squeezed into small tiny boxes where they can talk about the amazing work that they are doing on ground. And you see massive — these pavilions from governments and private companies, who can afford to pay.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re talking about, for example, the large pavilion of OPEC.

HARJEET SINGH: Exactly. So, civil society does not have those kind of resources to represent their work and to make their demands heard. And this is where the U.N. secretary-general must step in and decide how this place is going to be run. Is it going to become an expo? And the next COP is going to happen in Dubai, which is an expo city.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have Sharm el-Sheikh, as well. And because of the thousands of lobbyists, the corporate representatives, the governments, from the UAE to the United States to Saudi Arabia, I mean, the prices for climate activists even to be here — I mean, do you think these COPs have become obsolete or destructive, or do you think there’s still a value in people gathering from around the world, no matter how much the fuel costs are to get here?

HARJEET SINGH: This U.N. space is the only space where we see all countries are theoretically equal. Tuvalu is as powerful as the U.S. Malawi is as powerful as the European Union. We cannot depend on G7s and G20s, which are a club of big economies. This is the place where we fight for global justice. But this place is being turned into a commercial space and not a space where civil society organizations and developing countries can equally demand human rights and justice. And we need to reboot the system to make sure that the U.N. is made fit for purpose to respond to multiple challenges that we are facing right now. Climate crisis is one of the biggest crises that we are facing at this moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Before, when I said Tuvalu is the only country, at least it’s Tuvalu and, becoming the second nation, Vanuatu, calling for this Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. Talk about what’s happening to these island nations. I mean, you have the latest news out of Tuvalu that they are making a digital kind of rendition of their islands, a digital version of itself, replicating islands and landmarks, preserving its history and culture, as rising sea levels threaten to submerge the entire Pacific nation.

HARJEET SINGH: They knew it. Pacific nations raised this concern 30 years ago, that we need a global response to the crisis that we are going to face in future, particularly sea level rise. But nobody listened to them. And when we talk about the issue of loss and damage, it is exactly that. It’s about helping them deal with those climate impacts. When they call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, it’s because of the desperation and the inaction that they have seen in the last 30 years. They are doing anything and everything possible to demand justice and climate action, and they are not getting adequate support.

AMY GOODMAN: Harjeet Singh, I want to thank you for being with us, head of the global political strategy with Climate Action Network and with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, a global initiative to phase out fossil fuels and support a just transition. Usually he’s in New Delhi, India, but today in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where the U.N. climate summit is taking place.

Next up, “Climate Collateral: How military spending accelerates climate breakdown.” Stay with us.

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