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Activists Condemn Failure of COP23 to Address Interrelated Crises of Climate, Energy & Inequality

November 21, 2017

On the last day of the United Nations climate summit in Bonn, Germany, we get a wrap-up on negotiations. This year is the first COP since President Trump vowed to pull the United States out of the landmark 2015 Paris climate deal, a process which takes four years. At this year’s COP, a new coalition of 19 countries has committed to working toward phasing out coal, although many of these countries—including Britain—continue to expand fracking and other extraction projects. Also this week in Bonn, indigenous groups won increased recognition of their rights, autonomy and participation in negotiations. But many say this year’s negotiations do not go nearly far enough to address climate change—especially as new research shows the threat is continuing to accelerate. We speak with Dipti Bhatnagar, the climate justice and energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth International, and Asad Rehman, the executive director of War on Want.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Well, this is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting live from the final day of the U.N. climate summit here in Bonn, Germany. This year is the first COP since President Trump vowed to pull the United States out of the landmark 2015 Paris climate deal, a process which takes four years. President Trump has also vowed to stop paying the U.S. contribution to the Green Climate Fund. Under President Obama, the U.S. contributed $1 billion out of the total pledge of $3 billion.

Well, here at this year’s COP—that’s Conference of Parties—a new coalition of 19 countries has committed to working towards phasing out coal, although many of these countries, including Britain, continue to expand fracking and other extraction projects.

Also this week in Bonn, indigenous groups want increased recognition of their rights, autonomy and participation in negotiations. A document approved by negotiators this week states indigenous groups should play leadership roles in efforts to address climate change and that countries should, quote, “respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities,” unquote.

But many say this year’s negotiations do not go nearly far enough to address climate change, especially as new research shows the threat is continuing to accelerate. New data by the Global Carbon Project shows global carbon dioxide emissions are once again rising, after flatlining for three years straight. These findings dash earlier hopes that global CO2 emissions had peaked for good.

Well, for more on this year’s negotiations, we’re joined by two guests. Dipti Bhatnagar is the climate justice and energy coordinator of Friends of the Earth International. She’s based in Mozambique. And Asad Rehman is the executive director of War on Want, which is based in London, England.

Asad, let’s begin with you. I don’t know how many of these U.N. climate summits you’ve been to, but please explain the significance of this one in Bonn, though it’s called the “Islands COP” because it’s actually being sponsored by Fiji. They just couldn’t handle the number of people at the time of their cyclone season. Some people say, based on how hot it is inside, it’s Fiji inside and Bonn outside. But can you talk about what this COP means after the U.S.—at least President Trump says he’s pulling the U.S. out of the climate—of the Paris climate deal? What’s the significance of what’s happening here?

ASAD REHMAN: So, the Paris climate agreement set a guard rail that temperatures had to be kept well below the 1.5-degree threshold. And we see that, the reality of that, because of the storms and superstorms and droughts and floods and famines that are taking place all around the world. And that’s all happening at the 1-degree warming.

So this COP really was: Are we going to see the necessary level of ambition? Are developed countries going to do their fair share to make sure we stay within that guard rail? And are they going to provide the support for poorer developing countries to be able to take the action both to address the impacts of climate change, but also to be able to develop cleanly and not follow the same dirty development pathway?

Some people called this COP the “process COP,” that it was setting up the conversations for next year, and that next year was the last chance saloon for keeping temperatures below 1.5. The U.N. secretary-general, when he came here a couple of days ago, talked about that we only have a five-year window before we have to make sure that the arc of emissions bends towards meeting the 1.5 goal.

Unfortunately, we haven’t really seen the kind of progress that’s needed. Lots of issues are being kicked in touch, have been left ’til next year, which makes the COPin Poland a critical COP. It becomes the 1.5 COP. If we don’t see the level of ambition both in the pre-2020, i.e. in the commitments that developed countries have already undertaken, and a promise that they’re going to increase their Paris pledges—if we don’t see that, then really what we should be doing is renegotiating the Paris Agreement and saying that the Paris targets are no longer achievable. And we should be talking about either a 3-degree world and the devastating consequences that will mean for millions of people around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, President Trump says that the world should renegotiate, that the U.S. would lead the world in renegotiating the Paris climate accord. What do you see is the problem with that? Or do you agree with him?

ASAD REHMAN: So, Donald Trump, of course, has come here, backed by his fossil fuel pals. And he’s come here to wreck the climate negotiations, the reality that he would stand and his envoys would stand on a platform here with Big Coal and Big Nuclear, and that would be their intervention. And actually, inside the negotiating halls, the United States continues to block progress. It’s blocking all progress on any finance discussions taking place. It’s blocking progress on finance for adaptation. It’s blocking progress in terms of the developed country commitment to deliver finance, the $100 billion that were committed by developed countries. It’s blocking progress on that. And it’s blocking progress on discussion even of finance in next year’s COP. So, whilst the United States might be saying that it’s pulling out, it still continues to play a destructive role.

It wants to renegotiate the Paris Agreement because it fundamentally doesn’t believe in climate change. The reality is, of course, is that we have to say that Donald Trump and the U.S. administration needs to step aside. But also, the previous U.S. administrations have been responsible for why we’re in this place in the—in this position in the first place. If it hadn’t been for the legacy of those—of previous administrations, of leaving us with a weak, nonbinding, non-science-based agreement, then Donald Trump wouldn’t be able to do the kind of destruction that we’re seeing he’s trying to do here at these talks.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that. Explain the significance of President Obama, back to—I mean, that was the first COP we went to, and the significant COP—the Copenhagen COP, what happened there, and how you feel this is just a continuation of that—well, perhaps on steroids.

ASAD REHMAN: Look, when you have a problem and a problem of the global commons, it’s a problem that affects everybody in the world, right? What you would think would be the logical sense is you agree that there’s a problem, you agree what needs to take—action needs to be taken, and then you divide that action fairly: Those people who have done most to cause the problem should take on more responsibility; those that have done less take on less responsibility, that poorer countries should be supported in terms of their ability to be able to deal with the impacts.

What the United States wanted to do was rip up that agreement, a science-based, top-down agreement. And what it wanted was a voluntary agreement: Countries did whatever they could do. And that’s why, in Paris, we had an agreement that was not legally binding, was not based on the science and had absolutely no punishment that—if countries walked out of it. And that’s why we’re left with this poisonous legacy—

AMY GOODMAN: Would you say it was the U.S.’s fault that this was not a binding agreement?

ASAD REHMAN: The U.S. led the charge. Of course, other developed countries were very happy to sit behind them, and—because what they were more interested in, of course, is protecting their own economic—short-term economic interests, rather than investing in the world that we need, rather than investing in the green economy that brings new jobs, but also a right to a dignified life for all people. So the U.S. is culpable, but it’s not just the United States. The European Union and other rich developed countries were very, very happy to allow the United States to be able to do that. And if they hadn’t been complicit in that, then we could have been in a very, very different position than what we’re finding ourselves in.

AMY GOODMAN: Dipti Bhatnagar, you’re with Friends of the Earth. Your main focus here is the issue of climate justice. Explain exactly what this means and what’s happening at the Fiji COP.

DIPTI BHATNAGAR: Sure. Thanks, Amy. We’re looking at interrelated crises. So we see the climate crisis, but also there’s an energy crisis. There is an inequality crisis. There is an unemployment crisis. So what—climate justice is trying to bring the message that if we try to deal with climate change in isolation, then we ignore that the system, the current system, has also created many other crises and left a lot of people behind. In Mozambique, where I live, 70 percent of the people do not have a light bulb in their houses. So, the energy system has not only created the climate crisis, but also has harmed workers and has actually not done the job of delivering energy to 1.1 billion people across the planet who do not have electricity.

So we are trying to deal with these crises in an interrelated way, that we need ambition, we need the developed countries to cut emissions very, very urgently. But this isn’t just about ambition. Equity has to go hand in hand. As Asad said, the ones that created the crisis must be the ones that address and do more to be able to deal with the crisis at this point. And the other thing is, we cannot leave workers behind. We at Friends of the Earth International are starting to find common cause to build relationships with trade unions so that we can move together to a world where workers are not in terrible, insecure jobs, where they have also a contribution to the new economy that we build with justice.

AMY GOODMAN: How is your adopted country, Dipti, Mozambique, affected by climate change? And just geographically place it for us on the continent of Africa.

DIPTI BHATNAGAR: So, we are in southern Africa, close to Madagascar but on the mainland. We have about 3,000 kilometers of coastline, which means every fishing community that lives on that entire coastline is affected by the rising seas. We have one of the biggest rivers of eastern Africa, which is the Zambezi, runs through the country.

So, we are seeing increased droughts, and at the same time, we are seeing increased floods happening in the country. And this is leading to also failing agriculture, because the people that are natural resource-dependent, the subsistence farmers and the subsistence fisherfolk in Mozambique, but also across the continent, are dependent on the rainfall pattern, and as that starts to change with climate impacts, their ability to feed themselves and their families starts to be undermined. And that causes a justice crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Asad Rehman, you live in London, you have for years, but you’re originally from Bangladesh? Can you—

ASAD REHMAN: Pakistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Pakistan. Can you talk about what’s happening in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, as we deal with massive hurricanes in the United States, that have meant a number of deaths, billions of dollars’ worth of damage, not to mention wildfires in Northern California—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, well over a thousand deaths as a result of massive flooding?

ASAD REHMAN: Well, the consequences of—the Indian subcontinent, as a continent, is one of the most vulnerable to climate impacts. In Pakistan earlier this year, we had temperatures recorded at 53.5 degrees centigrade. That’s literally the upper end of what a human being can tolerate out in the open. We’ve seen superfloods—

AMY GOODMAN: Do you know that in Fahrenheit?

ASAD REHMAN: I don’t know that, sorry. In centigrade.

AMY GOODMAN: Keep going.

DIPTI BHATNAGAR: A hundred and twenty, perhaps.

AMY GOODMAN: Hundred twenty degrees, perhaps.


ASAD REHMAN: And these are affecting what is colloquially known as the breadbasket of northern India. We’ve seen superfloods affecting Bangladesh, in Nepal. We’re seeing the devastation not just in the lives being lost, but also the damage to communities. In Pakistan, four out of 10 people face multiple indices of poverty, which basically means that people have barely been able to survive. These shocks of climate impacts pushes people north, and barely—from barely surviving into not surviving at all. The economic costs, for example, of one flood rates into about 50 billion for Pakistan. And we’re seeing floods and droughts now becoming a regular occurrence, so much so that people are suggesting that the billion or so people that live in the Indian subcontinent may not be able to live there by the end of the century. And we’re talking about potentially hundreds of millions of people being forced to migrate at this very moment.

AMY GOODMAN: For our U.S. audience, it’s 127 degrees Fahrenheit, what you’re talking about in Pakistan.

ASAD REHMAN: Yes. And remember, we are—this is a country where millions of people don’t have access to electricity, very similar to Mozambique, don’t have air conditioning, aren’t able to escape this kind of oppressive heat, and, of course, are subsistence farmers, where you have absolutely no choice but to be out in the open. The last time we had a heat wave of this kind, 1,200 people lost their lives in one city alone. So the human cost is immeasurable.

But the economic cost is now growing, and the inability of people to be able to survive is being shown. What we’re seeing is patterns of migration, right through from Bangladesh, where you see communities being forced from their homes, people moving into the slum city—in the slum areas of big cities, becoming part of the—what we would call the underclass, working in the precarious industries, and then men having to leave those communities and move to other cities—and, increasingly, to other countries—to find work. And that’s why we see this pattern of migration of young men moving all the way through the Indian subcontinent and ending up now in the Middle East. And those are directly consequences of climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: Dipti Bhatnagar, can you talk about the financing? Can you talk about the EXIM Bank, the Export-Import Bank, what it is and what it’s doing?

DIPTI BHATNAGAR: So, the United States Export-Import Bank is the export credit agency of the U.S. government. And at this moment, they are, among others, interested in funding the exploration and the exploitation of gas in Mozambique. So one of the largest gas reserves found in the last 10 years has been found offshore of Mozambique. And the U.S. are interested, and, of course, the U.S. EXIM Bank is in there because U.S. corporations are in there. And it’s Anadarko, which is already signing deals with the Mozambican government.

And, of course, we, as a local Mozambican organization, which is Friends of the Earth Mozambique/Justica Ambiental, are fighting this gas expansion, because we realize that, as developing countries, we also do not want dirty energy. We do not want to go down that development pathway, because we see the disastrous consequences that have happened in the North and for the entire planet and for local communities because of that dirty energy. But we are asking for finance for our countries in the South to be able to go down a different energy pathway. We need renewable energy. We want it in the hands of communities.

AMY GOODMAN: You call it natural gas?

DIPTI BHATNAGAR: So the official term is natural gas, but people here at this COPhave been saying this is fossil gas, not natural gas. It’s a misleading term.

AMY GOODMAN: In this last minute, Asad, the We are Still In group. Not far from us is a major tent. I think it’s financed by the former mayor of New York, Bloomberg. And it is where many groups are gathering, both businesses, nonprofits. Many senators and mayors, government officials have been in there, saying, “We are still in.” Trump may be pulling the U.S. out, but they say, “We are still in.” Your response?

ASAD REHMAN: So, the real question that needs to be asked is not whether we’re still in, but are we taking the action that’s needed, and are we doing our fair share. So, the reality is, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. And that’s what is exalting this “We are in” into some kind of climate leadership. The reality is, climate leadership is shown by the real actions people are taking domestically in the United States and whether they’re helping providing the support for countries like Mozambique and Pakistan to be able to develop cleanly and for the people to be able to address the impacts of climate change. The reality at the moment is only $8 billion are in the Green Climate Fund. Rich countries, including the United States, continue to block any progress on climate finance.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to get a quick comment on the Green Climate Fund that you mentioned. The New York Times just had an interesting piece. The article began, “A landmark pledge seven years ago by the world’s richest nations to spend billions to help developing countries tackle climate change seemed like a godsend for Kiribati, the Pacific island nation threatened by rising seas. The result of that promise was the Green Climate Fund. But Kiribati—like many of the poorest countries most vulnerable to climate change—has yet to see any project funding.” We’re going to end with this, Dipti.

DIPTI BHATNAGAR: The Green Climate Fund has accredited some of the biggest banks that are actually funding dirty energy. We’ve got Deutsche Bank and those types of banks, that are being accredited and receiving money from the Green Climate Fund to do projects in countries. And what we’ve been saying is that it needs to go to communities. It needs to go to nonprofit organizations who are actually working on the ground to build people’s power. And those are the type of organizations which should be receiving money to be able to do projects that empower people, and not the banks, that have been part of the failed history of fossil fuels. And if they—they are part of the problem, not part of the solution. If the Green Climate Fund continues to accredit organizations and banks such as those, then it’s going to become part of the problem, as well, and not part of the solution. We need the finance, but we need it in the right hands. So this is also about ownership, not just about the changing of the energy source.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to—one second—10 seconds.

ASAD REHMAN: Well, look, the reality is we need trillions of finances to be able to make sure that the world is headed towards a clean, green planet. At the moment, the pledge that was given by rich, developed countries, an arbitrary figure, again, plucked out of the air by Hillary Clinton in Copenhagen, was 100 billion. Of that, only 8 billion has been given. Of that 8 billion, most of it is going to the wrong sources. So not only do we need to increase the amount of money going in, we need to make sure the money goes to the right places.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with on what’s supposed to be the last day of the U.N. climate summit here in Bonn. Asad Rehman is with War on Want, which is based in London. Dipti Bhatnagar is with Friends of the Earth, climate justice and energy coordinator. She’s based in Mozambique.

When we come back, we’ll speak with one of the key architects of the landmark 2015 Paris climate deal, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the former environment minister in Peru. He was the president of the COP when it was in Lima, Peru. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from Symphony No. 9 by the Berlin Philharmonic. I’ll be speaking in Berlin on Saturday night. Of course, Ludwig van Beethoven was born right here in Bonn, Germany. The iconic choral is considered a call for universal brotherhood. Beethoven born here in 1770.

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Teaser photo image: By Spielvogel, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63861394

Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host and executive producer of Democracy Now!, a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program airing on over 1,400 public television and radio stations worldwide. The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard honored Goodman with the 2014 I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also the first journalist to receive the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize' for “developing an innovative model of truly independent grassroots political journalism that brings to millions of people the alternative voices that are often excluded by the mainstream media.” She is the first co-recipient of the Park Center for Independent Media’s Izzy Award, named for the great muckraking journalist I.F. Stone, and was later selected for induction into the Park Center’s I.F. Stone Hall of Fame. The Independent of Londoncalled Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! “an inspiration.”

Tags: American climate change policy, American politics, climate change environmental effects, international climate change agreements