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  April 18, 2013

People of the South to the North: Will You Face Up to Climate Catastrophe?

Martin Khor (Executive Director of the South Centre): Advanced countries of the North must cut emmisions in ratio to the amount they have polluted and facilitate transfer of green technology to the South or humanity will face calamity
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Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre which is an intergovernmental think tank set up by developing countries, and which is based in Geneva.  He is an economist trained in Cambridge University and the Science University of Malaysia.  Prior to the South Centre, he worked in the Third World Network and taught in the Science University of Malaysia, and is the author of several books and articles on economic development, sustainable development and trade.


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

In President Obama's State of the Union speech, he did mention the words climate and climate crisis. But so far there doesn't seem to be much focus on this in his legislative agenda. The whole climate-change crisis, which only a few years we were told throughout the mass media was apocalyptic with a sense of urgency, has more or less disappeared from public discourse. Now, from the view from the South, countries that are going to and are already being affected by climate crisis, this is a question of urgency.

Now joining us to talk about all of this is Martin Khor. He's the executive director of the South Centre, which is an intergovernmental think tank set up by developing countries, based in Geneva. He's an economist trained in Cambridge and at the Science University of Malaysia.

Thanks for joining us, Martin.

MARTIN KHOR, EXEC. DIR., SOUTH CENTRE: Thank you very much.

JAY: So what's your view on the whole issue of what's going on in terms of climate policy in the northern countries? 'Cause it doesn't seem like much.

KHOR: Well, you know, the climate crisis is now already, you know, taking place in many developing countries. Of course, in the North you have the Sandy hurricane, you have, you know, all the excessive rainfall in the United Kingdom. But we have storms in the Philippines, we have hurricanes in Central America, we have floods affecting almost all of Pakistan year after year. We have in many countries a drought in Africa. So it's not something in the future. It's already taking place. It's increasing. We call them extreme weather events.

And at the same time, the global climate negotiations seem to be stuck.

So we have a crisis, a double crisis on our hands: the crisis of increasing climate problems, and at the same time a crisis of a world struggling to get to grips with how to deal with it. And the emissions are climbing from year to year.

JAY: And so what's causing the paralysis in the negotiations?

KHOR: I think on one hand we still have climate denialists, especially in the United States, that is preventing some of the big countries from taking their own national actions.

And secondly, it's the illusive search for a just solution, because people are willing to take actions that may also, at least in the short run, be harmful to their economies, or so they think. But they don't mind so much taking it if it is part of a global solution in which everybody is pitching in in a fair and, you know, adequate manner. And at the moment, we are still grappling with how to get to this kind of global solution, because in the negotiations that take place at the United Nations, the rich countries seem to be escaping from the obligations that they have already agreed to many years ago. And the perception is that they are trying to push more and more of the burden of adjustment to developing countries. And there are many developing countries who feel that this is not fair and that we still have to fight for a solution that is not fair.

And the solution that we are trying to get is, number one, that the developed countries, especially the ones that have polluted the most in the past and are still polluting the most, agree to take the deepest emission cuts, you know, and to make them into national targets that they bind internationally, and that the efforts of all the developed countries, when you add them up together, will be adequate according to what science tells us. And science is telling us that the developed countries have to cut their emissions by at least 40 percent between the 1990 level and the year 2020. So if all the efforts of developed countries and up to this collective cut of 40 percent, then we are on the road to a solution.

JAY: Well, we're in 2013, and there's no such thing in sight. Those kinds of targets seem completely not being discussed in any of the countries that matter, particularly the United States, which is, you know, the world's biggest polluter.

KHOR: Yeah, I think the countries that adhere to the Kyoto Protocol, which are getting fewer and fewer, if you add up the commitments that they have made under the Kyoto Protocol, this adds up to only 18 percent decline, okay, by the year 2020. And here we have not even counted countries like the United States or Canada or Russia, you know, or many of these countries who have opted out of the Kyoto Protocol, or Canada. You know. So this is quite dispiriting.

And we need especially the United States to come on board, to take some leadership. The U.S. proposal is that they cut their emissions by something like 6 percent, and that is simply not good enough.

And secondly what we need from the developed countries is a commitment to help the developing countries to do their climate actions. I don't think we can expect the developing countries to do the same emission cuts (not now, at least) as the developed countries, because they didn't pollute very much in the past. They still are relatively low in their emissions, in terms of per capita emissions. And at the same time, they are aspiring to, you know, quite a lengthy period of economic and social development.

JAY: Yeah. There seems to be a sense of complacency about all this in the northern countries, that the northern countries aren't going to be affected that much; if they are, they can mitigate it, or they've kind of accepted it's going to happen. I can see in New York, Mayor Bloomberg has already started a task force to look at how they're going to change the architecture of the coastal areas, to put them on pillars and things that won't--you know, more flood-resistant or more flood-proof. There's very little discussion about the issue of actually reducing carbon emissions. They seem to assume that's not going to change, and they don't want to make the basic changes in the economy and the relationships within the economy that it would take to do this.

KHOR: Yeah, but I think this is really being too complacent, which we will regret increasingly, because at the moment our temperature in the world is about 0.8 degrees centigrade higher than the pre-industrial level, and it will soon climb to 2 degrees higher within a few decades. And then maybe it'll go on to three or four or five degrees if we continue at a current rate.

But even at 0.8 we are already seeing so many drastic effects. Look at all the fires in Australia or Russia. Look at the storms and hurricanes in the United States and so on. So, very soon I think we'll come to realize that climate change is very drastically affecting the developed countries as well. And we haven't really even begin to see, you know, what it's going to be when it's two degrees, let alone three or four degrees.

JAY: Well, given this is a matter of life and death in a lot of the southern countries, what can they do to force the northern countries to take a position on this?

KHOR: There's not much that we can force, actually. I think it's up to the citizens in the developed countries themselves.

The developing countries are not in a situation where they can force, except for the developing countries to say that we are willing to take actions also.

But those actions that we will take will also be costly. I mean, if we are going to build sea walls, if we are going to--that will help ourselves. But also if we are going to reduce our emissions by either having less motorcars or having the kind of motorcars that don't pollute, if we are going to switch from coal and oil, which is cheaper at this moment than renewable energy, and if our economic growth of the next 20 to 30 years is going to also generate so much pollution and emissions, unless we are going to have access to the technologies that are non-emitting--.

So I think what we need to have in the South is a technological revolution that will allow us to have transportation, energy, industry, agriculture that doesn't emit carbon dioxide or doesn't emit so much. But we need that technological revolution to happen.

It will not happen by itself, because of the cost factor. You know, it's cheaper to go on with the current way of doing things until it's too late. So for us to have access to affordable technology, that is quite costly. And the technology itself is also quite expensive, unless we are able to come to some agreement that these technologies are made available cheaply to the developing countries, as cheaply as possible.

So we need a fund, and we do have a fund. It's called the Green Climate Fund. Luckily, we have set that up under the UNFCCC--that's the UN Convention on Climate Change. The fund has been set up. The board has already met four or five times. And they are still struggling on the modalities of how to get the money and how to begin to distribute it. So far, it has not distributed any money yet. So these are the beginning days, but there is at least a hopeful sign that the international community has set up a climate fund.

And we have also under the UN convention set up a policy committee on how to get technologies available to developing countries. A technology center is also being set up with a network of hubs in order to promote the right kinds of low-emitting technologies, but also adaptation technologies.

So I think the institutional setting up of things is there, and now we need the political will to make it happen, you know, to make this switch happen to low-carbon technologies, and to get adaptation going in developing countries. And somehow we do have to find this political will.

So I think what is important is for the citizens in the developed countries to push their governments on two things. One is to take the lead in cutting their own emissions. Otherwise, the rest of the world watching will not feel inspired to do so themselves, or they will not know how to do it themselves.

Secondly, in the developed countries, keep on developing the technologies that we need, and then make those technologies available as cheaply as possible to developing countries, because we are fighting a world war. This is the Third World War. This is a war of humanity as a whole against climate change.

So if we put this on a war footing, then it doesn't matter so much whether our big companies are going to make super-profits or just average profits. What matters more is to get those technologies into those countries that need it so that they can see that there is an alternative social-economic path that does not damage the climate or at least does not damage it to such a catastrophic level.

I think the statistics are there to show that if we don't act in the next ten years, then it's really going to be very late, perhaps even too late. We are already seeing so many events that are taking place. We only have a small window of opportunity to do big things, and if we don't take this window of opportunity but keep quarreling about who should do what before I do, then I think this is really calamity for the Earth and this is catastrophe for humanity. Whether you are living in the United States or whether you are living in Mali or the Philippines, it will be affecting all of us in ways that we may not even know how it'll affect us in the future.

JAY: Right. Alright. Thanks for joining us, Martin.

KHOR: Thank you very much.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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