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Pablo Solon (Fmr. Bolivian ambassador to the UN): Millions will suffer as Durban climate change conference fails

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. The COP17 climate negotiations are winding up to a close in Durban, South Africa. And now joining us from the conference center in Durban is Pablo Solon. He’s the former Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations. Thanks for joining us, Pablo.

PABLO SOLON, FMR. BOLIVIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UN: Oh. Thanks for the opportunity to speak about what is happening here in Durban, South Africa in COP17.

JAY: So tell us where we’re at. If I understand it correctly, there was this proposal from the European Union. There was a lot of division about whether to support it or not. As we speak, the final language of some kind of agreement is being drafted, although it’s not entirely clear whether it will even be agreed upon. But what do you make of what’s going to be in this draft?

SOLON: Well, first thing, the proposal came out of the presidency of the COP17, that is, South Africa. There were two draft decision. Both of them were rejected by the G-77–that is the alliance of 131 developing countries. The only ones that supported that was U.S., Canada. The European Union was a little bit critical to those draft decisions because what happens with them–and that is why all developing countries rejected them–is that they really postpone a second commitment period for 2018–oh, for–excuse me–for 2012. And they closed the other working group on KP, on the Kyoto Protocol, and the U.S. manages to have a mandate for a new framework, new legal framework for all–that is exactly what it says. But it doesn’t say that it’s going to be a binding legal framework. And when it says “for all”, it says that the distinction between developed and developing countries, that means those that are responsible for emissions and those that are victims in some way will be diluted. So that is why developing countries have said no, we are not going to move ahead with these two decisions. So that all happened in closet meetings, not open to representatives of civil society. And we know that at this moment the presidency of COP17 is drafting a new proposal of these two decisions. And we’re all here. It’s 10:47 p.m. here in Durban. Most of the delegates are trying to have some sleep because this can take the whole night and tomorrow in order to have an outcome.

JAY: So let me just say, if I understand this correctly, the challenge, or what environmentalists were hoping for, is a second period of Kyoto, and with teeth, that there should be something binding. Instead what we’re getting is not another period of Kyoto, something else that doesn’t kick in until after 2020, if I’m correct, and then, when it does kick in after 2020, it’s going to treat developing and industrialized countries as equals. And do I understand correctly what’s on the table?

SOLON: Yes. And one more thing. During this decade, until 2020, the emissions reductions from developed countries, industrialized countries, is going to be very low, something between 13 to 17 percent. That will lead us to a scenario of 4 degrees Celsius, an increase in the temperature that is really unsustainable for Earth and for humanity.

JAY: Yeah, this is the–I guess, the really underlying urgency, that eight years for anything to start happening of any significance, most scientists are saying, is too late. You were quoted somewhere recently, just in the last few hours, of calling this agreement a zombie protocol. What did you mean by that?

SOLON: It means that it doesn’t have the heart. I mean, they will keep–the Kyoto Protocol will keep existing, but it won’t have a heart, a real life. It will only exist in order to give life to the carbon markets. That’s really their concern. But when it comes to the issue of emission reductions, the figure is going to be so, so low that it will really mean to do nothing during the whole decade. So, I mean, we’re in favor of a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, but as you said, it has to have teeth, it has to have strong commitments from developed countries. Otherwise, it’s just an empty box.

JAY: Now, when you say keep the carbon markets going, you’re talking about these kinds of offsets and trading that’s going on [incompr.] turning carbon emissions into a derivatives play. It’s those markets you’re saying they want to keep going.

SOLON: Yes, because, actually, those carbon markets have been created through the Kyoto Protocol. So if the Kyoto Protocol doesn’t exist, then those carbon markets will disappear. They actually have collapsed. You know, one ton of CO2 in the carbon markets were, years ago, up around EUR 30. Now they are only EUR 3 per ton of CO2. So they almost collapsed. They can disappear if there is nothing. So the main perspective of them is to save the carbon markets, but not to increase the level of emission reductions for this decade. We are going to lose a decade. And all the pollution that we’re going to send to the atmosphere cannot be removed in the next decade, because the CO2 that is in the air remains at least 100 years.

JAY: Now, the United States and Canada are sort of the obvious villains of this piece. But there’s also China and India don’t really seem to want to sign on. What do you make of the role of China and India?

SOLON: Well, actually, the pledges of developing countries, including, of course, China and India, is going to be reductions of emissions of 5 gigatons until 2020, while the reductions of all developed countries, including, of course, U.S., Europe, Japan, Russia, it’s going to be only 3.1 gigatons. So in reality it’s not true what is being said, that developing countries don’t want to do nothing. Actually, the current pledges show that developing countries are going to do more than developed countries. What is really unfair, because they the convention and the Kyoto Protocol says very clearly who should take the lead in emission cuts are developed countries, industrialized countries that are the main responsibles for the CO2 that is actually in the atmosphere.

JAY: So–but the way it’s being played–in the Western press, at least–is that the U.S. won’t sign on unless China signs on, and China won’t sign on. And then we’re also told India is even being more stubborn. What do you make of their role in trying to reach an agreement there?

SOLON: Well, I can tell you, because I have spoken even with the negotiators of the U.S. and asked them, do you want China to increase its pledge or India, and they say, no, we agree it’s a good figure; what we want to have is the assurance that they are going to comply with that. So in the case of China/India, it’s a problem of how do you make that happen. But in the case of the U.S., it’s a 3 percent emission reduction during the whole decade, taking into account the levels of 1990. So it’s almost nothing. So there is a very big difference. I would say that it’s not correct what is being highlighted in the media.

JAY: And what do you make of Canada’s role? I saw there was a protest by activists early on in the conference, and they were shouting, “down with Canada”. What do you make of Canada’s role in this?

SOLON: Well, the problem is that now Canada has said that they’re not or don’t want a second commitment period, but they will go out of the Kyoto Protocol. So that’s even worse. And that is why there is this reaction. And Canada, instead of having a more strong position, is saying: we’re going to do only what the U.S. is going to do in relation to emission reductions. So it’s the same 3 percent taking into account their levels of emissions of 1990.

JAY: The political climate in the United States, you find President Obama not even talking about these issues anymore. The whole issue of climate change is off the political table here. What do you make of that, and what do you think people can do about it?

SOLON: Well, that is the biggest problem. The only way we are going to be able to solve the problems of humanity as if a civil society in the U.S. increases its level of organization, of conscience, and of mobilization. I really think that the only way we’re going to have a success is if we have a movement like the Occupy Wall Street that takes into account and also leads a movement in relation to climate change, because otherwise the U.S. is not going to move at all, and then we have results like the one we are seeing now. We are not sure what is really going to happen until tomorrow, if there is going to be an outcome or not and what is going to be the real content in the next 12 hours.

JAY: But you’re expecting even if there is an agreement it’s not going to do very much. The way the language was headed, it’s not going to be very effective.

SOLON: Well, if we are going to have a good outcome, we need to have a movement like Occupy Wall Street taking the lead in the climate justice movement in the world. Only if there is social pressure from civil society inside the U.S., we’re going to be able to increase the levels of commitments of the United States. And that will have a very big repercussion in the global negotiation, because then everybody will begin to say, okay, now we’re going to do more, because the big guy’s also taking this very seriously. So it’s key, the role of movements like Occupy Wall Street in relation to issues like climate change.

JAY: So if the science is correct–and most scientists think it is–and this is not dealt with until after 2020, and who knows, given today’s politics, if even anything serious happens after 2020, and we actually reach this 4 degrees of warming, what does that mean to people around the world, and particularly in the South?

SOLON: Well, to put an example, in the case of Bolivia, we have already lost one-third of the glaciers of our mountains, and in the last three decades, and the temperature has not increased–not even 1 degree Celsius. So we’re almost going to lose all our glaciers if we reach an increase in the temperature of 4 degrees Celsius or six. That is what scientists are saying that will happen with the current pledges of developed countries. And if we lose the snow in our mountains, that means less water–a very big problem for agriculture, for humans that need to consume water, for biodiversity, desertification, and so on. So the impact is catastrophic, for example, in the case of the Andean region. In the case of other island states, we are going to see that the–because the poles, the North Pole is going to melt, the sea level is going to rise, and some islands states are going to be buried underwater. So we are facing a very dramatic situation. Let me remember that the IPPC says that with 2 degrees Celsius, we can lose 20 to 30 percent of our biodiversity. So can you imagine what will happen with 4 degrees Celsius?

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Pablo.

SOLON: Thank you. Thank you for this opportunity.

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

End of Transcript

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