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COP28: Asad Rehman on Funding a “Just Transition” Off Fossil Fuels & Limits on Protest in UAE

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As Democracy Now! broadcasts from the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, we get an update on negotiations and more from Asad Rehman, executive director of War on Want and lead spokesperson for the Climate Justice Coalition. He says developing countries must be compensated by rich countries for the impacts of the climate crisis and to allow for a “just transition” away from fossil fuels around the world, not just in the Global North. The annual United Nations conference opened Thursday with delegates agreeing to adopt a new “loss and damage” fund to help poorer nations deal with the disproportionate impact of the climate crisis, but it has raised just a fraction of what activists say is needed to address the annual cost of climate catastrophes. The United States only pledged $17 million for the fund. Meanwhile, COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber is facing a new wave of criticism after claiming there is “no science” backing the need to phase out fossil fuels. Al Jaber is also the head of the UAE’s state oil company ADNOC.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, the summit opening Thursday with delegates agreeing to adopt a new “loss and damage” fund to help poorer nations deal with the disproportionate impact of the climate crisis. Initial funding starts at something like $429 million — just a fraction of what’s needed to address the annual cost of climate catastrophes. Governments from the Global South and climate activists welcomed the fund but underscored its deficiencies.

The themes here at COP28 today are finance, trade, gender equality and accountability. Sunday, the focus was health, the disease that is generated by the pathogens, the challenges to global health that are generated by climate change.

We’re joined now by Asad Rehman, the executive director of War on Want, lead spokesperson for the Climate Justice Coalition that held this unusual protest. It’s not unusual for the world, Asad, and I know from where you come from, in London, there have been massive protests, as there have been in the United States, against Israel’s assault on Gaza. But here the rules are very strict. We did not once hear Israel, a country, named. Talk about why.

ASAD REHMAN: Well, first of all, you’re right: It’s a unique protest. And we have to say it’s a unique protest also in Dubai generally. There are no protests allowed, and there have been no protests on Palestine allowed. In fact, the last protest on Palestine was back in 2008.

This is a U.N. body, and the U.N. body has certain rules. Those include you can’t name or shame a country; you can’t use somebody’s flag — which are usually rules that, of course, we all abide by. But this year there’s been even added pressure. And this is largely because we are talking about Israel, and we’re talking about Palestine, where very, very powerful countries — in fact, the same powerful countries who are blocking the action we need on climate change — have been pressuring that there should not be a voice raised on Palestine. In fact, we’ve been explicitly told, “Why is Palestine being raised in this climate space? This is inappropriate for us to be raising the issue of Palestine,” when, of course, this is the most appropriate place, because we are talking about the rights of people, in solidarity with people, and our vision is not just of the past, the present and, as I said, of the future.

AMY GOODMAN: And, I mean, this intersectionality we saw last year in Sharm el-Sheikh — right? — with the climate justice advocates standing together with the Egyptian human rights activists, demanding people be released from prison, etc., saying that you can’t talk about justice and climate separately.

ASAD REHMAN: Absolutely. We held our protest, actually, on the day that this place talked about human rights. And so you had many countries writing words in the drafts and preambles about the importance of human rights, and yet when we were raising human rights, when we were saying that there can be no climate justice without human rights, we were being told that that was unacceptable, inappropriate. And so it’s been a real challenge, and particularly for many Palestinians who are unable to attend and who have been unwilling to attend for a whole number of reasons. They have looked towards the global civil society to use this moment, because we are — as we meet here, as your correspondent was talking from Gaza, the bombs are dropping, people are dying, and the international community is unwilling to act. And we know we could stop this bombing by some very powerful countries, particularly the U.S., saying, “No. Ceasefire now.”

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting that the former U.S. presidential candidate, former U.S. senator, the U.S. climate envoy here, drove by the protest as it was taking place. That was John Kerry.

ASAD REHMAN: Indeed, absolutely. And, you know, last year, I mean, it’s interesting. The U.S. delegates last year walked out of one of the plenary rooms when the Russian representative spoke, in their expression of solidarity on Ukraine. But yet we are told speaking up and showing solidarity with the Palestinian people in the face of an ethnic cleansing, ongoing clearly genocidal intent — and we’re seeing now what’s happening with more and more Palestinians pushed closer and closer to the Rafah border, starved of food, water, medicine, and inevitable nowhere to go. And what the consequences of that is likely to be is going to be horrendous. And so, this is the moment we have to speak out.

AMY GOODMAN: Inside the summit, the issue of Israel’s assault on Gaza was raised by Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, by Gustavo Petro of Colombia and other world leaders.

ASAD REHMAN: Absolutely. And world leaders were allowed to speak and raised it, and they were very welcome, and we’re glad that they did. But we, as civil society, have had very, very many challenging conversations to be even able to say the word “ceasefire.” We were not allowed to talk about apartheid. We’re not allowed to say the word “settler colonialism.” You may have noticed that those banners had certain other variations of words on them. And this is because our own language was being policed. And we say that that’s totally inappropriate. It’s not for the U.N. to decide. In fact, we are using language that the United Nations itself uses, its own human rights experts use. Its own U.N. agencies are saying there is a system of apartheid, ethnic cleansing is taking place.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to go to someone who was allowed to speak, and that is Gustavo Petro, the president of Colombia. This was what he said when he addressed the U.N. climate summit here in Dubai.

PRESIDENT GUSTAVO PETRO: [translated] I invite you to think about a fusion, a combination of events: the climate crisis and the genocide of the Palestinian people. “Are these events disconnected?” is my question. Or are we seeing here a mirror of what is going to happen in the future? The genocides and the barbaric acts unleashed against the Palestinian people is what awaits those who are fleeing south because of the climate crisis. …

Most victims of climate change, which will be counted in the billions, will be in those countries that do not emit CO2, or emit very little. Without the transfer of wealth from the North to the South, the climate victims will increasingly have less drinking water in their homes, and they will have to migrate north, where the melting glaciers will make it possible for people to have drinking water. The exodus will be in the billions. …

There will be pushback against the exodus, with violence, with barbaric acts committed. This is what is happening in Gaza. This is a rehearsal for the future. “Why have the major carbon-consuming nations made it possible for the systemic killing of thousands of children in Gaza?” is my question, because if they do not kill them, they will invade their country to prevent them from consuming their carbon. We can therefore see what the future will look like. There will be a shrinking of democracy and unleashed barbaric acts against our peoples, those of us who do not emit CO2, those of us who are poor.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaking here at the U.N. climate summit in the United Arab Emirates, in Dubai. Asad Rehman, so, let’s talk about this climate summit. If you can talk about issues of loss and damage? And just remember, for a global audience, people don’t even know what “loss and damage” means. There’s a lot of jargon that keeps people out of understanding what’s taking place.

ASAD REHMAN: Absolutely. So, we started this climate summit with a warning that we’re currently headed at least to 2.9-degree warming. And if we think about the violence and the impacts that happen in the United States, all over the world, that’s all happening at just over 1-degree warming. So, 2.9 is going to be devastating. Some estimate we’re closer to heading towards 4 degrees, if all the new fossil fuel expansion, particularly by countries like the U.S., U.K. and the European Union, comes on stream.

The big question here is, basically: Will rich countries live up to their responsibility to act? And instead, they’ve been pushing that action on to other countries. Now, those damages that are happening — and those are economic and social — and just to put into a context, if we remember the floods in Pakistan that happened last year, they cost Pakistan $35 billion. That was the damage. And developing countries have been saying for a long time to rich countries, “You’ve caused this problem. Are you going to help us deal with its impacts?” And rich developed countries have been saying, “No, we don’t.” But finally here, we got a fund. But then the big question came: Who’s going to put money into it? And developed countries said, “We are not going to be liable.” In fact, the United States put a paltry $17 million into that fund, the very next day announced billions in arm — in money for missiles and bombs to Israel and to Ukraine. So, it shows you the disparity of what’s going on. And this has been a long-standing issue.

The second thing, and big thing, that’s happening here is what they call a global stocktake. And this is really the idea of you see how far we’ve come in progress, and then you decide how much more do we need to do. And again, rich countries have come there and said, “Forget what’s happened in the past. We might not have acted in the past. Forget all of that, that we’re responsible for all that. Now we just have to look towards the future.” And developing countries are saying, “But hold on. The majority of what’s happened now is because of your past, because you’ve polluted so much. You have to take responsibility.”

And that falls into the conversations about finance. And, of course, it — and interestingly, and what a lot of commentators, a lot of civil society are looking at is a new conversation happening here, which is called the just transition pathway. In the United States, we’re seeing the IRA, the idea of transitioning the economy. And this calls for that to be happening at a global level. But the U.S., the U.K., the European Union are saying, “We are going to take responsibility for our transition in the North, but we’re not going to take responsibility in supporting you in the Global South.” And lots of Global South countries say, “But without your support, without the technology, without the finance, we are not going to be able to transition.”

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you say to Sultan Al Jaber, who is the president of the COP, also the president of ADNOC — that’s the Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation — who in a conversation with Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, said that sustainable development — a phaseout of fossil fuels would not allow sustainable development, unless you want to take the world back into caves. He tried to defend his comments today in his press conference saying he believes in science.

ASAD REHMAN: Well, and it’s not just him. I mean, the fact that we have had leaders of rich countries coming here and saying, “We believe in the science,” but expanding fossil fuels at home, shows that what we need is an equitable phaseout of fossil fuels. But we also need, you know, at the same time a recognition that for developing countries, many, many poor countries, they are still dealing with the fact that people don’t have energy. And so, energy poverty and energy access is needed. And the only way we can be — both deal with the fossil fuel issue and deal with the question of poverty is to connect both and say we need an equitable phaseout, but we also need a just transition.

AMY GOODMAN: This is the largest U.N. climate summit ever, held in a country that does not allow protest. The significance of this? We have just 30 seconds.

ASAD REHMAN: Well, it’s hugely problematic, because, of course, our role as civil society, as the eyes, ears and voice of people, is to be able to put pressure not only in the negotiating rooms, but on the outside. And one of that is by our power in mobilizing. When you take away one of our key tools, you minimize our ability to be able to shape these negotiations and deliver the impact that we need.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much, Asad Rehman, executive director of War on Want, lead spokesperson for the Climate Justice Coalition.

Next, for the first time in nine years, a representative from Human Rights Watch has been allowed access to the United Arab Emirates. We’ll speak to her. Back in a minute.

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