Former Bolivian UN Ambassador: COP21 Draft Text Shows Plans to Further Commodify Nature

TRNN correspondent Dimitri Lascaris talks to former UN Ambassador of Bolivia Pablo Solon, who says the final Paris agreement is headed towards the creation of carbon markets with terms to be settled in future COP meetings

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DIMITRI LASCARIS, TRNN: This is Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News reporting from COP21 in Paris, France. I’m here today with Pablo Solon, the former UN ambassador for Bolivia, who in that capacity successfully spearheaded resolutions for, amongst other subjects, the human right to water and indigenous rights. And subsequently, Mr. Solon became for a period of time the executive director of the NGO focus on the global South, and he has extensive experience in negotiations at COP conferences preceding this one. Thank you for joining us today, Mr. Solon.

PABLO SOLON: Thank you. And thank you for this opportunity to speak about this COP21.

LASCARIS: Yes, it’s hopefully going to be a decisive one, but indications might suggest otherwise and I want to get into that with you. Before I do that, though, I want to talk about your work in the past. You’ve been a leading critic of the notion of the green economy. Could you summarize for us what the nature of your critique is?

SOLON: So I think that the green economy, its main goal, is to make money out of the environmental crisis. So what they are saying is our mistake, so their mistake, is that they didn’t put a monetary value to the functions of nature. So now how we are going to address this environmental crisis, by putting price to the functions of nature. Pricing carbon, pricing the capacity of forests to capture and store the CO2, pricing ecological services.

So that is their approach. Their approach is that markets are going to fix the problem that markets have created. Because what we are suffering now is the consequences of a logic that commodifies everything. So I really don’t believe that by bringing markets into nature we’re going to solve this environmental crisis. I think exactly the opposite. We have to recognize that nature is a living organism, and that has its vital cycles, and that we must respect them. And that we cannot try to control them or bring them into the market. We have to put the economy under the vital cycles of the earth system, and not the other way around.

So that is why I’m a promoter of the rights of nature, and I’m a very strong critic of the green economy.

LASCARIS: And based on the draft that has been produced thus far, here at COP21, and the statements that have been coming out of governments, particularly from the West, do you think that that is a critique that is being incorporated into the current agreement? And if it isn’t, in what ways would the current agreement need to be amended in order to embrace the concepts you just articulated?

SOLON: Well, I would say that the current agreement is going to move in the direction of the commodification of nature, of the green economy.

LASCARIS: How so, how will it do that?

SOLON: Because you have Article 3 there, now. It’s yet in the draft agreement. And when you read it, what this article is saying is that they are going to create, now, new carbon market mechanisms. And they have found a new name. The name is mechanism to support sustainable development. So the way they hide their intention to commodify nature is by this name of sustainable development. But when you read the text, they are speaking about carbon credits, offsets, on new sectors that are going to be defined, and for all countries.

So the real danger that we have now, here, is that at the end we will have a Paris agreement that will not solve the issue of global burning, but will create more carbon market mechanisms that probably will be defined in the next COP in Morocco.

LASCARIS: And broadly speaking, what would you recommend to global governments in order to get away from this approach within this agreement of the commodification of nature?

SOLON: So in the first place, we should stop current carbon markets. They have not worked. They are very speculative. We have heard about many scandals in relation to carbon credits. We currently have one problem. We have the hot air from Russia. And if all the hot air from Russia, all those carbon credits, go into the carbon market, nobody has to do nothing at all. The only thing you have to do is buy very cheap carbon credits from Russia and say, oh, look, I already did my commitment of emission reduction.

So carbon credits is a way to cheat nature. I think it has failed during these year. It’s going to be seven years. So we should stop promoting that, and not expand it.

LASCARIS: And if you might elaborate on what you mean, hot air from Russia.

SOLON: Because Russia says, Russia had a commitment to reduce a certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Now they say we have reduced more than that. According to the rules of the Kyoto protocol, the surplus that you did, you can bring it into the market as carbon credit. And other countries that have not fulfilled their obligation can buy those carbon credits and say, hey, we already achieved our commitment. Not by really decreasing the greenhouse gas emissions, but just by buying these carbon credits from, example, from Russia.

So the–and there are so, the amount of hot air from Russia is so big that the European Union has said, hey, we are not going to buy them. Because otherwise then no, no country will do nothing. So this shows how bad the issue of carbon credits is moving.

LASCARIS: And in my country, Canada, the two largest provinces in terms of population, Ontario and Quebec, are now formulating a cap and trade scheme. And they are claiming that this is going to be a meaningful contribution, an important contribution to Canada’s efforts to fight climate change. What’s your view about that?

SOLON: I really don’t think about it. I mean, we have to look at all the reports about carbon credits. They showed that carbon credit didn’t contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. And we have had so many cheating things.

Let me give you one example. There is one gas that is much stronger than carbon dioxide. HFC23. So what happened in the case of China and in India was that they developed projects to create factories that produce this gas in order then to say hey, we are going to now dismantle these factories. And because we’re going to do that, we are going to bring carbon credits into the market. And this is not something that I’m saying. We all know that this has happened. And if you look at carbon credits, they are used in order to make money.

So I really don’t believe in the mechanism. I think that if you have a commitment, no, you have to pay your commitment. You have to do it. You cannot use a carbon credit mechanism to say, okay, look, I’m not going to do it, but I’m going to buy from this one. If you are going to go to jail, you must be–two years in jail. You cannot say, oh look, I’m going to pay this other guy to be in jail for the next two years,because yeah, that’s the way that I’m going to fulfill my obligation. That cannot be.

So I think that commitments of emission cuts have to be real. And if you commit to something, you have to do it without cheating.

LASCARIS: Now, Canada, as you know, has a relatively small population relative to the major emitters, approximately 34 million people. And in terms of its overall emissions, it’s contributing I believe in the range of 1.6-1.7 percent of global emissions. Its population accounts for a little bit less than 0.5 of the human population at this time. James Hansen, the NASA scientist, recently did an article showing–he included in it an infographic which showed that historically only three countries had generated more per capita emissions than Canada: the UK, the U.S., and Germany.

And in our country, a lot of people who are skeptical about aggressive efforts to deal with climate change, they ignore the per capita emissions and say the real measure is total emissions by the country, and then they compare us, for example, to China and India and say that we’re just a drop in the bucket. How do you respond to that, that perspective?

SOLON: Well, let me respond in the case of my country, Bolivia. Bolivia has even lower emissions than Canada. It has a population that’s even smaller than Canada. And even though I think that Bolivia has to do a lot, because the per capita emissions are high. We are around 30 tonnes per capita of carbon dioxide. And why is that? It’s because of deforestation. So can Bolivia say, okay, we are very tiny, we didn’t contribute historically to emissions, so let deforestation continue? No, not at all. We have to stop it.

We have around 90 million tonnes of carbon dioxide coming from deforestation. And I think that’s a tragedy. I think if Bolivia, if Bolivia is going to speak about climate change, we have to do our work in our own home, and reduce those emissions, reduce that deforestation. If we begin with that example, then let’s say a person that is with a car, you know, sending carbon emissions, he will say, well, my emissions are nothing, you know. Yeah, the emissions of one car is nothing. So who cares? That cannot be the issue.

We have to commit to do real cuts, and I think Canada has to do much more than Bolivia. And we are pushing, in the case of Bolivia, we should push all around the world to do real cuts.

LASCARIS: Now, you’ve been internationally a champion of indigenous rights. And I understand that in the last couple of days, references to indigenous rights were removed from the draft COP21 accord. Is that correct?

SOLON: Well, they are still in brackets. So we cannot say that they are already removed, and maybe in the final text we will see that. But the key issue is, what is that going to change? Because it’s not going to be the first time that we have a mention on indigenous people’s rights, and I fully agree with that. But we had that mention already in the Cancun agreement. What has changed in the past five years?

So sometimes we, we think that words, because they are there, they are magic. But in reality they don’t change the circumstances. So I think it would be very important not to have just a mention, that maybe happens, maybe not in some article, no. It has to be something that you say, okay. When it comes to finance, we are going to take into account indigenous people’s rights. When we have projects for mitigation, projects for adaptation. This is the way we are going to guarantee the implementation of these rights. If you don’t have that, a short mention on the words indigenous people’s rights doesn’t really change the reality of indigenous people’s rights.

LASCARIS: And by the same token there’s talk about including in the current draft agreement a reference to a temperature increase limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius. And Canada has recently come out in favor of that, Germany and France. But it seems relatively clear that what these governments are talking about in the West is aspiration language around the 1.5 degree limit, and that they are not proposing that there would be a legally binding, enforceable cap of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Do you think a mere mention of 1.5 degrees Celsius in this agreement, coupled with some aspirational language, is really going to make a difference at the end of the day?

SOLON: I fully agree with you. I think it’s not enough to have the mention, but it’s good to have the mention. And there is no relation between what they are putting in the text, 1.5 degrees Celsius, and the fact that the intended nationally determined contributions that they have presented are far away from 1.5 degrees Celsius. So if you want to be coherent you say 1.5, and then I make commitments that are in line with that. But the real truth is that the pledges that are here now in COP21 will lead us to a world of around 4 degrees Celsius increase in the temperature. So that is the truth.

The second problem that we need to highlight, and I have heard it here, too, is that some are saying hey, yes, let’s discuss 1.5, but in order to achieve that we are going to move to geoengineering, to carbon capture and storage, to bioenergy. So watch out. There is a threat. Because you can say I’m with 1.5, but not by any means. I mean, I don’t want to have 1.5 degrees Celsius and use geoengineering, use carbon capture and storage, use bioenergy. I think that is a solution that is even worse than what we already have.

LASCARIS: Those are unproven technologies, essentially.

SOLON: Absolutely. They are not proven technologies. And some of those technologies could really harm the entire earth system, and we don’t have a planet B. So more and more, you see that some groups are saying, hey, yes, let’s go to a lower number. But through geoengineering. And I think this is really very dangerous.

LASCARIS: And at the end of the day, just to close it out, where do you think we’re going to end up at the end of this conference? Are we going to have an agreement that is going to come even remotely close to doing what global governments need to do and global business needs to do in order to prevent catastrophic climate change?

SOLON: Definitely we’re not going to have an agreement that will stop the planet from burning. And that is because the current INDCs are really, really on the wrong direction.

LASCARIS: INDCs being the emissions reduction targets of the various states.

SOLON: Exactly. Because this is an agreement that has a bottom-up approach. So each country has made its pledge of emissions reductions. We already have them. There is an official report of the UNFCCC that synthesizes all of this. And whoa, you know, we should lower emissions by the year 2030 to 35 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. And instead of that we’re going to be in around 60 gigatonnes by the year 2030. So there is going to be a gap, a surplus, of more than 25 gigatonnes. So that is why this is going to burn the planet. And this is not being negotiated in Paris. So we are negotiating things that don’t have to do with the heart of the issue that is emission cuts.

LASCARIS: Well, thank you very much for your time. And I hope maybe we have the opportunity to talk to you again about the climate negotiations and their aftermath.

SOLON: Thank you very much.

LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News from Paris, France.

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