Who’s Listening to Civil Society at COP21?
Activists Anjali Appadurai and Kali Akuno describe the isolation and militarization at COP21 meetings and how world leaders refuse to acknowledge the need to end fossil fuel dependent economies
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
The United Nations climate negotiations, known as COP 21, is underway in Paris. Its goal is to produce a binding global climate agreement that would limit the rise in global average temperature to 2 degrees Celsius. Activists have staged mass sit-ins all over the globe to protest the participation of corporate polluters in the climate talks, and to elevate the voice of civil society. But what exactly are various groups in civil society proposing as an alternative? Here to help answer this question are our two guests: Anjali Appadurai and Kali Akuno. Anjali is an activist currently at COP 21 talks in Paris, and Kali Akuno is the co-director of Cooperation Jackson.
Thank you both for joining us.
KALI AKUNO: Pleasure to be here.
ANJALI APPADURAI: Thanks, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: So, you guys are both there in Paris, but I’m going to start off with you, Anjali. You’re sitting in these meetings inside COP 21, attending panel discussions. Can you just describe for us, what has it been like to be there? And do you feel like your voice is being heard by the leaders of the world?
APPADURAI: This has been a really–I’ve been to five COPs now. And this COP is at once–is at once the most pressurized and the one with the most at stake, and also most–it’s sort of a sad COP, because we’re seeing one hand in the leadup to the COP very restricted civil society participation. And I really believe that civil society are a critical and key component of the whole political process around climate change because we’re really the ones who are going to demand true ambition of our governments.
And then on the other hand, you see these talks that are quite stalled and are in a, a deadlock that has persisted for years now. And in that deadlock we see justice and equity start to slowly be subverted by a less ambitious and less fair narrative. So it’s a sad COP, I would say. And for civil society it’s a frustrating COP. Very frustrating. We’ve had people in the streets, we’ve had people get arrested. We had over 200 people get arrested last week at a protest. We had more people get arrested and detained by police today for protesting outside a corporate conference.
And there’s just the sense of frustration. There’s a sense of, like, wanting to break through, but not being able to and being repressed instead.
DESVARIEUX: Yeah. Kali, I want to get your comment on that. Do you have the same feeling of frustration? Have you had similar experiences?
AKUNO: Well, this is also, strangely enough, my fifth COP. And my orientation is I guess slightly different. I didn’t expect much from the process to begin with from the government. So the level at which we’ve been kind of excluded for me was something much more anticipated. And as a result I–I and a Cooperation Jackson, we’ve been much more focused on engaging civil society and the communities here actually in metropolitan Paris.
But overall, I mean, it’s a very repressive context. Civil society has been very marginalized and excluded from this COP like I’ve never seen before. And I would say that there was, there was–some of this was designed in the COP before the state of emergency, which I think the public and the world should know, just how this particular COP was set up far away from the central city, far away from where most of the folks coming into Paris could engage in the very kind of isolated community, which I think tends toward the democratic–the anti-democratic orientation of the governments towards this process, particularly since, I think it was COP 15, basically.
So I would echo what was shared, and really just want to give people the impression so you fully understand and get a sense of there are police and military forces everywhere. And they are doing some particular targeting of civil society activists. Primarily from Europe, but not exclusively from Europe.
DESVARIEUX: All right. Let’s turn and speak about some news that came out of COP 21 this week. Many environmentalists are actually applauding this. More than 50 African nations, they plan to mobilize $20 billion with the goal of adding 300 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030. Anjali, you’ve been following this story a bit. Do you have a sense of how they plan on funding such a large project, and do you have high hopes that it’ll actually come to fruition?
APPADURAI: Yeah. The African renewable energy initiative is one of the few bright spots coming out of COP. It’s a great initiative that will see Africa produce more than 10 gigawatts of new and additional electricity by 2020, and it’s being funded by developed countries who, by funding it and by putting money into that fund, are actually fulfilling their obligations under the convention to provide new and additional climate finance.
Now, developed countries in the history of the talks have been notorious for really sort of slacking on their obligations and cooking the books when it comes to climate finance. It’s been–finance, being one of the critical pillars of the whole issue, is often one that’s the most fraught with dishonesty and with the cooked books and double-counting. But this is a great fund, because it actually, it actually puts the power to spend the money back in the hands of the African countries who are actually needing the electricity, and going to be producing it.
DESVARIEUX: Kali, do you see this plan actually coming into fruition? I mean, pledges have been made in the past. What do you make of this?
AKUNO: Well, I agree that I think it’s one of the bright spots coming out of the official–from a governmental process. Do I see it coming to fruition? I think as long as the African bloc kind of maintains its unity throughout this process, and I think as long as they keep kind of pressing with the support of civil society, primarily from Africa, with some of the harder demands, like the demand for 1.5 as opposed to 2.0 that many of the civil society groups are focusing on, I think it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the overall process.
And I think, you know, the governments of the world, they want to walk away from this COP saying that they accomplished something. And I think this is one of the things that they can really, you know, pat themselves on the back for. So I think that puts the onus on them to make sure that there is some serious follow through, given the level of commitment that has been made. So I have some hopes that there will be some initiative, but I think–some success in this initiative. But again, I think it’s going to take kind of constant pressure from civil society and the African bloc to really make sure that it happens in the future.
DESVARIEUX: All right. Let’s pivot and talk about what we think is actually going to come out of this COP 21. You guys are there on the ground. As I said before, you’re observing, you’re getting all those daily news updates and things of that nature. So Anjali, do you see a substantial agreement actually coming out of COP 21?
APPADURAI: You know, whatever happens in these two weeks, at the end of this we are going to see a big, congratulatory announcement saying, agreement reached in Paris 2015. And that’s really where the danger is in the details. Because right now with the draft text as it stands on the table, which just came out yesterday, that draft text entirely leaves out the notion of equity that we believe is central to achieving climate justice through this agreement. You can have an agreement on paper, but if it’s not just and if it’s not fair, and if it’s not going to stop the climate crisis in a just and equitable way for all people, not just some people, then what kind of agreement is that and is that really the agreement we want?
So there are many groups on the ground here who are prepared to reject an agreement that’s not equitable and fair. And right now it’s not looking like it will be. But there will certainly be a big media hype at the end promoting the agreement.
DESVARIEUX: Why is it not looking like it should be? What in the text, the draft text, is alarming?
APPADURAI: Well, for the last five years there’s been a significant fracture in the climate convention. That is between sort of the developing countries who believe that there is a differentiation between the notion of a developed and a developing country, and the different levels of obligation and responsibility and capacity between those two big groups of countries. And there’s been an effort from the U.S. the EU, Canada, Australia and Japan, or the industrialized countries in the last five years, to get rid of that notion of differentiation and say that all countries should be on an equal playing field and contribute to emissions reductions at the same level.
And to the vast majority of the world’s population, this leaves out, this erases effectively a whole history of emissions and a whole reality on the ground of people’s lives and how people’s lives are so different in the global North and in the global South. And a just agreement needs to take that differentiation into account.
DESVARIEUX: Got it. Kali, what about you? Do you think that something substantial can come out of this COP 21? And if not, what’s the alternative? How do everyday people who want to fight climate change make an impact?
AKUNO: Let me be, I guess, as clear as I can be. I don’t think there’s anything substantial coming out of this COP. Precisely for the reasons that Anjali had stated. I would really–to understand where I’m at, why I’m making that statement, I would ask folks to really go back and listen very carefully to Obama’s comments on November 30 that were a part of the opening of the COP process, where he basically kind of laid out a gauntlet that was, you know, said very craftedly and very cleverly. But number one, he said we’re not here to negotiate. There will be no negotiation. None of this process will be legally binding.
Which is something, you know, they’ve asked for for quite some time and which the overall process was supposed to do in the first place, going back 20-something years. But he said there will be no, basically, negotiation. There will be nothing legally binding, to the point that it was just a, you know, we’re not going to honor any form of climate debt. There’ll be no substantial transfer of resources or funds, so no reparations and no restitution, no technology transfers of any substantive kind. You know, but it was said in such a way that hey, you know, we’re here, we all have some responsibility. There’s some urgency. But then he just basically kind of cooked the books, and said that, what was the main point I think he was saying, that there’s hope because according to his figures, I don’t know how they came up with that other than just telling a bald-faced lie, that global trade increased but carbon emissions did not.
Now, anybody would tell you that with our present level of technology and the way in which business is conducted, that’s practically impossible to assert a point that that at this time. But that was something to really sell free trade, the expanse of these trade agreements, and to put the free trade agreements over climate. And to really try to forestall for another 50, 60, 70 years, because they’re aiming at coming up with some real resolution, according to what the Obama administration is putting out, by 2100. Which is far too late and ultimately is going to lead us to well beyond a 2 degree temperature increase. And many scientists are looking at, based upon some of the things that are being discussed now with all these voluntary commitments, we’re looking at 4 degrees if not more.
So I think the next step, and what I know many of us have been focusing on with the It Takes Roots delegation, is how do we strengthen the role of civil society and the social movements beyond this point, to come up with a broad strategy and a broad program to build a serious fight back initiative and to build concrete alternatives on the ground. Now, that is where I think the real forward motion needs to be going forward. Because they can pat themselves on the back all they want. The reality of it is the earth is heating up and this is going to be a calamity for all of us unless we take some serious concentrated and strategic action going forward.
DESVARIEUX: All right. Kali and Anjali, thank you both for joining us there in Paris. And we’ll be sure to have an update with you guys later on in the week. Thank you, again.
AKUNO: Thank you.
APPADURAI: Thank you, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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