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Janet Redman: UN conference reflects lack of urgency from developed countries and focus on private finance

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

In Doha, the UN climate summit is taking place, and apparently it’s wildly exceeding everyone’s lowest expectations. Anyone that thought something positive or constructive might come out of this conference is now disappointed, although I think most people went in a little bit cynical.

Now joining us to talk to us from Doha is Janet Redman. She’s codirector of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies in D.C., where she provides analysis of international financial institutions, energy investment, and climate finance activities. Thanks for joining us, Janet.


JAY: So what’s happening in Doha?

REDMAN: Well, we’re just about to be wrapping up the second week of negotiations here. And, of course, this is the annual summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. So that’s the convention under which 195 countries have come together for about 20 years now (this is the 18th meeting) to talk about how to reduce emissions, how to avoid climate catastrophe, basically, on planet Earth.

Unfortunately, as we were wrapping up here, we’re still seeing a lot of contentious issues that are on the table. Developed countries and developing countries are digging in their heels in their positions, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to be reaching an agreement by tomorrow night, which is when these talks are supposed to wrap up.

JAY: And what’s the main bone of contention between developing and developed countries?

REDMAN: A lot of it’s really—I mean, there are two pieces. It’s about action in reducing emissions, and it’s about finance, it’s about money. So developed countries, of course, were supposed to be reducing their emissions as part of their legal obligations. Most of the developed countries are part of something called the Kyoto Protocol, which your listeners have probably heard of. That’s the only treaty that we have, an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. It’s of course a treaty that the United States didn’t sign but all other developed countries did sign.

JAY: Canada has more or less reneged on it now, hasn’t it?

REDMAN: They reneged on it. So what’s happening is that the second phase of that, of that protocol, is being debated and agreed to here. Unfortunately, we’ve seen as many countries drop out. So Japan, Canada have dropped out. The U.S., of course, has never signed. And Europe and Australia are making very, very weak pledges to do something moving forward.

We’re also seeing that countries who have not signed the protocol want to get their hands on something called the carbon market, which is a way to trade pollution, and potentially for some of the biggest polluters within developed countries to make a lot of money. The other piece of that equation is that developing countries are saying, hey, wait a second, you’re not reducing your emissions; you’re asking us to reduce our emissions in countries like China and India, which are going quickly; but we need the financing to be able to move down clean energy pathways, so we want to see some money on the table. And developed countries have said very clearly, we’re not going to put real pledges for financing on the table; we just can’t move it right now; and unless we see you guys move first, we’re not going to put the cash there.

JAY: Now, what it seems is that private capital is moving into this area, both in terms of finding some kind of ways to finance some green development, but they really want to get in on the financing of big projects, especially in the developing world. What is—. Well, let me ask what’s wrong with that.

REDMAN: Well, you know, nothing has to be wrong with that if there are the right rules and regulations around how the private sector is engaged in things like energy projects or sustainable agriculture projects. The problem is that we’ve really ceded a lot of the regulation in the international, in the multilateral space, but also at the national level as well.

Part of the narrative goes like this. We’ve heard it at home a million times. Developed countries say, we’re broke, we have no money, so we can’t deliver the kind of climate finance that we’ve signed up to legally. We don’t have money for projects. We don’t have money to help, for example, Bangladesh with renewable energy access.

And so the place that has the money is the private sector. And so we need to sweeten the deal for the private sector to do the work that the public sector is in some ways unwilling to do. Of course, you know, the market mantra says that the private sector is more effective at making things happen, and so we’ve got to engage the private sector here. So in a sense, many governments are greasing the wheels of the private sector to be involved.

The problem is that of course the private sector is not accountable to the people who are most impacted by climate change. While we don’t love the World Bank, certainly don’t love the World Bank, at least it’s a public institution that citizens can demand redress from. You can’t demand redress from Bank of America unless you’re a shareholder, and even then it’s very challenging. So part of the problem of having the private sector right in the center of climate finance is that there’s very little accountability, there’s very little democratic space to question how that development is then done, and there’s incredibly, incredibly little [incompr.] going on in the first place. And I think that’s—. So a lot of this is a big black box that we can’t—.

JAY: So the model is the developed countries keep spewing carbon, and the developing countries go into debt to try to mitigate the consequences of either getting flooded or drought or extreme weather.

REDMAN: Yeah, more or less. I mean, the conversation that’s, I think, the most contentious here is around something called loss and damages. So your listeners may hear there are two words that are talked about a lot here in the climate talks, and it’s mitigation, which is reducing of greenhouse gas emissions, and adaptation, which says we’ve got a lot of greenhouse gas pollution locked in, we’re going to see a lot of warming, and so people are going to have to adapt to a warmer world. That’s going to mean moving away from the coast. It’s going to mean dealing with less rainfall in some areas, more rainfall in others. So adapting means shifting the way we run our society.

But then there’s a third piece, which is, you know, there’s stuff that’s already happened, there already have been losses and damages, and that needs to be paid for as well. And it would be incredibly unfair, I think, unjust, and immoral to ask countries to, for example, take loans or go to the private sector for that kind of activity, because that’s not profitable. That shouldn’t be driven by a profit motive and it shouldn’t indebt developing countries or people inside developing countries to deal with a problem that they’ve really had incredibly little to do with creating.

JAY: And what is your sense at the conference of—you know, you must get to talk to some of these representatives of some of the governments and who represent their outlook on this issue. It’s—the whole climate-change issue seems to have lost a sense of urgency for much of, you know, the global elites, if you will. You know, a few years ago, the American media was filled with apocalyptic stories of the effects of climate change. As everyone knows, in the last presidential election, I don’t know if even President Obama mentioned it a single time—maybe, but not really. Do they not believe it’s happening? Or they believe it’s happening and there’s nothing they can do about it, so they’re just going to make some money out of it?

REDMAN: I think the question is—I think most of the people here are smart. They care about climate change. I think that’s why they’re here negotiating. Certainly, folks from developing countries—for example, the minister of environment today gave an impassioned speech in one of the plenaries, literally moved to tears, talking about the typhoon that’s smashing into the Philippines right now, saying this is the face of climate change, the thousands that are dead, this is what climate change is going to bring to countries like the Philippines. And I think, you know, even President Obama after Sandy and after he was reelected said, you know, it’s time for us to open a conversation on climate change nationally.

I don’t think it’s that people don’t believe that it’s happening. I don’t think that it’s—people don’t believe that it’s real and it’s here. I think part of it is that elected officials are around for a small amount of time, a small chunk of time, and we’re not going to see, I don’t think, total global disaster in the next four years, for example. It doesn’t line up well with our congressional cycle. it doesn’t line up well with many presidential terms.

I think ultimately negotiators here are getting a mandate from their capitals back at home around the economy, right? It’s the economy, stupid. That’s—I think for climate it’s still the economy, stupid. Unfortunately, shifting our entire model of how our economies are fixed is going to be expensive. The reality, of course, is that every $1 spent now saves us $3 in disaster relief later. But for elected officials, now is what matters. And so, much of what happens here is people not wanting to act until someone else acts, because many people don’t want to be put at a competitive—an economic competitive disadvantage by having to shift their economy to low-carbon before somebody else does.

JAY: So out of the Doha conference, do you expect any—the document to have any—to be any advance and be at all meaningful?

REDMAN: You know, I think in general this meeting was not a meeting that was going to have a big outcome. It wasn’t like last year. It certainly wasn’t like Copenhagen, where—expecting the grand deal. What people are working on politically now is moving toward negotiating a deal in 2015 that would take effect in 2020. Of course, that means we’ll have a lost decade of inaction. I think we will inch forward, potentially, here. I think the danger is that there may be some dealmaking here to do that inching forward. That means that there’ll be very little finance on the table to do things like adaptation and pay for loss and damages, but we’ll see an incredible jump in the leeway and the inroads for market mechanisms.

So the real scary conversation right now is that nothing happens on reducing emissions here. Very little happens on climate finance that’s not indebting countries. And a whole lot is done to open up markets both in pollution trading, but also kind of ancillary markets and things that can be speculated upon. So I don’t think we’re going to see a really—I don’t think we’re going to see a positive outcome here. I think, you know, many of us are thinking, you know, should we really be advising our friends and allies to just say, we’re going to stop this conversation until next year because it’s [crosstalk]

JAY: So, in short, global climate policy is being driven more by finance than by science.

REDMAN: I think it’s being driven by antiquated economic concerns and shortsightedness. Yup.

JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us.

REDMAN: Thanks very much for having me, Paul.

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


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