US People’s Delegation Defies Trump at Bonn Climate Summit
Thanu Yakupitiyage of 350.org and Katia R. Aviles-Vazquez of It Takes Roots report from Bonn, Germany on the People’s Climate Summit, and how grassroots groups are confronting the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In Bonn, Germany, the 23rd Annual Conference of parties under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is taking place this week and next, to discuss the significance of the Bonn talks and to discuss the US president’s or lack thereof is Thanu Yakupitiyage. She is a US Communications manager with 350.org. Thanu, thank you so much for joining us.
THANU YAKUPITIYAGE: Thank you for having us.
SHARMINI PERIES: Also joining us is Aviles-Vazquez from Puerto Rican Organization of Boricua. She’s also a member of the delegation of It Takes Roots. I thank you for joining us as well, Katia.
KATIA AVILÉS-VÁZQUEZ: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thanu, I understand that there are two types of delegations to the Bonn meetings from the US. One is a people’s delegation, which is very extensive and large and has large presence in Bonn and then there is a few official delegates from the US Government. Tell us about the atmosphere there and the US presence.
THANU YAKUPITIYAGE: Yeah. Absolutely. I think the atmosphere here is one of persistence. This COP, these climate talks are being hosted by Fiji. There’s a lot of backing from the Pacific Islands. The Pacific Islands are on the extreme front lines of the climate crisis. Many of the islands in the Pacific including Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Talanoa, Tuvalu, Kiribati and others are only two to three meters above sea level. They’re experiencing some of the worst floods, some of the worst typhoons and hurricanes. They’re basically losing their islands because of climate change, because of the fossil fuel industry. I think that the atmosphere here is one of not actually a focus on the United States but of how countries need to actually move forward without the US.
It’s actually been extremely nice to be in a space where the US centricity has actually been shifted and people understand that other countries really need to push forward their ambition. That’s why we’re here as the US people’s delegation to really put forward our people’s vision of the United States and the kinds of local action we need to have on the US level in order to continue to move forward with the rest of the world.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thanu, a continuation of this discussion is the fact that the US has already stated that they want to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. What presence do they have in Bonn? Why are they tending at all?
THANU YAKUPITIYAGE: Yeah. Absolutely. Just to clarify. Yes, the Trump Administration has an intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. They made that statement back in early June. However, they will not be able to do that until 2020. There are individuals from the US State Department who are here were still part of talks around the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement. Having said that, no, the Trump Administration does not have a large delegation here. In fact, next week, the White House is hosting … the one event that they’re hosting is one where they’re going to speak towards, basically, the need for fossil fuels, nuclear, and coal as a mitigation tactic for climate change, which we find absolutely disrespectful, absolutely absurd that they are conducting this panel on Monday here at the COP.
SHARMINI PERIES: Katia, let me go to you this time. You’re from Puerto Rico, that has just gone through a huge devastation as a result of Hurricane Maria. Tell us about the reasons why UN Bonn, what messages you are carrying on behalf of the Puerto Rican people?
KATIA AVILÉS-VÁZQUEZ: Hi. Yes. I’m from Organizacion Boricua de Agricultura Eco-Organica in Puerto Rico. What we are is a network of farmers, agroecological farmers in the archipelago of Puerto Rico, working on sustainable sources of food and also, just and fair access to land. We are the representing chapter of La Via Campesina in Puerto Rico. Why am I here? We have just been hit with the major reason why we need to stick to Climate Change Agreement and even increase our ambition by what Thanu said. We were hit by two major hurricanes in the Caribbean. They leveled a lot of the smaller islands. The reason was, at 40 feet, the water temperature was measured at 80 degrees. There’s just the massive energy that was given to this hurricanes to develop because of the increase in temperature due to climate change. We need to stop this fossil fuel mission now. We’re no longer talking about transition or future changes. We’re facing them now and we’re talking about how are we going to recover and adapt in the now regarding climate change and the challenges that it brings including changing crop patterns, changing hydrological cycles.
We just came out of a drought two years ago. Now, we had this major hurricane level the island. We’ve been two months without power, without water, without communications. The reason that I’m here is because without the United States, whether Trump was to throw paper towels or not, we need every single country to move forward and make sure that we meet all of the requirements in terms of keeping parts familiar below a certain level. Also, we need to make sure that we have climate reparations for those of us that have had the least to contribute to climate change, but I bore the brunt of the impact of climate change. That’s why I’m here.
SHARMINI PERIES: Are people in Puerto Rico making the connection between Hurricane Maria and human caused climate change the message you’re trying to carry out in Bonn?
KATIA AVILÉS-VÁZQUEZ: That’s a great question. Actually, a lot of people are, indeed. It’s interesting because once you hit emergency mode, for example, a lot of people are relying now on gas powered generators and many people are trying to go solar. People would definitely see a peer connection. Particularly because we just had the worst drought that we have had in over 100 years. We came out of it this year. We came out of this heavy drought that harmed our agriculture and led to millions of dollars in loss to go into a hurricane that has left us without any power and without, basically, a working economy. Definitely, people are seeing it, but there’s also a sense of impotence and frustration because we can adapt all we want, but you cannot adapt to a category five hurricane. You cannot adapt to increasing temperature levels. At this point, the weather has been some of the hottest month that we have seen, and we’re suffering that without any fans and without mosquito nets, the mosquitoes and the outbreaks of disease have had increases in the past few months.
There is a connection, but it’s a very difficult connection to make because fine, I can make the connection and then what do I do about it. It doesn’t matter if I use the car or public transport because the impact that that small archipelago or the entire region is having is very small compared to the decisions that are being made here, for example.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thanu, I understand that the US delegation is broad representative of many organizations as well as cities and mayors and of course, the civil society organizations like yourselves, the 350.org and many more. Now, I understand that in the United States, we’re just coming out of various extreme weather situations like the fires in California as well as what happened in Puerto Rico, several hurricanes, had hit the United States, in Florida and elsewhere. Now, from what I understand, the delegations very charged up as a sense of urgency. Describe that and what you hope to achieve with the delegations that are there from all over the world.
THANU YAKUPITIYAGE: Yeah. I definitely think that there is a really strong sense of urgency. People are listening to the US people’s delegation. We had a very successful press conference. We had a speak out yesterday where we had a diverse range of speakers from indigenous communities, communities of color, communities working in their towns in Colorado and California and Texas to really bring about local climate action. The US people’s delegation, basically, is a coordinated effort by several organizations, 350.org, the It Takes Roots coalition and Delegation SustainUS and Sunrise Movement, ICLEI Sustainable Cities, Our Children’s Trust, and several others. We represent very different organizations and constituents are really coming together to call on local elected officials to really put their money where their mouth is and not just pledge for climate action but to really act on it.
In terms of some of our demands of people’s delegation, we’re demanding a just and equitable transition to 100% renewable energy in all cities and states. We’re going to be doing this at least from the 350 and through pushing resolutions that were calling fossil free resolutions. We’re calling for US elected officials to step up on meaningful climate action in bold ways. We’re calling for them to move beyond just saying that they’re still in but to actually implement things in cities and states. We’re calling for a halt to all new fossil fuel projects. We’re also demanding a stop on negotiating cap and trade, carbon offsets, and carbon pricing because we don’t want there to be false solutions to the climate crisis. That’s why it’s so urgent that we move towards real solution and we move towards transitioning to 100% renewables.
SHARMINI PERIES: In terms of the US people’s delegation on carbon trading, for example, is there a sense of consensus?
THANU YAKUPITIYAGE: I think that the people’s delegation is coming together from a range of perspectives because we understand that these crises are gender of certain groups in this delegation that are working more on carbon pricing than others, but there is a consensus that we need real solution.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thanu, President Trump is pushing for a pro-coal, pro-fossil fuel agenda that he announced back in June that he would like to pull the United States out of this agreement and promote something called pro-coal, clean coal or whatever it is that he wants to do. I understand that there’s being a panel held at the conference on this particular venture. How is that being received in Bonn and what is your reaction to it?
THANU YAKUPITIYAGE: I think it’s being received with ridicule. The title of the panel is, The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power and Climate Mitigation. Some of the speakers include folks from Peabody Energy, which is a coal company, NuScale, which is a nuclear engineering firm and Tellurian, which is a liquified natural gas exporter. Basically, the Trump Administration has sent people from the White House here to be cronies to the fossil fuel industry and to fossil fuel executives who are wrecking the planet. We are standing up against them. We as the people’s delegation are saying that this is not right. This is not even a solution. This is just preposterous and complete neglect of communities.
SHARMINI PERIES: Organization is there, who has been quite profound at organizing much of the demonstrations here in the United States. It was New York two years ago or this, I guess, in January in Washington, D.C. one of the biggest climate demonstrations to take place in the US. Are you joining the protest that are taking place in Bonn, actually, last weekend? How was that attendance and the sides of the demonstration? Describe it for us.
THANU YAKUPITIYAGE: Yeah. Absolutely. Last week’s demonstration here in Bonn, there was 25,000 people on the street. It was really festive. The front of the march was led by 350’s Pacific Climate Warriors who have come from different regions of the Pacific Islands who, once again, that their islands are at the extreme front lines of the climate crisis with their islands being two to three meters above sea level. They know, first and foremost, that the entire world is connected that what the United States is doing, what the Trump Administration does is impacting the Pacific. What other countries, including Germany, does impacts other parts of the world. The mood, I think, was both festive but urgent with an extreme emphasis to really stop the fossil fuel industry and a real emphasis on solidarity from regions across the world.
Sharmini Peries: Now, one final question to you, Thanu, this particular meeting is sponsored by the Island of Fiji or the Islands of Fiji, I should say. However, the meeting is taking place in Bonn, why is this? Also, take the opportunity to talk to us about why island nations are in such crisis and how the levels of sea level rises are affecting the islands.
THANU YAKUPITIYAGE: Yeah. As to why this conference is in Bonn, the UNFCCC has their offices here and I think that they have a way in which they decide where the conferences are happening. I’m not sure that Fiji has the infrastructure and support in order to be able to host a conference as big as this in Fiji, but the host of countries for the COP, it’s not necessarily always in the country who is hosting the COP itself and that’s pretty much across the board. In regards to your second question about island nations being impacted, the reality is that not just the Pacific Islands but near where I’m from, Sri Lanka. The Maldives is also in crisis. They are also at risk of sea level rise and this is because these islands are close to sea levels. Some are even below sea level. They are really experiencing what’s happening because of the melting ice caps. They’re experiencing what’s happening because of the fossil fuel industry helping to warm the planet.
The reality is, in order to really see it with these islands, we need to make some drastic, urgent, rapid changes. That requires stopping fossil fuels. The more that we burn fossil fuels, the more that we continue to live in an economy that is based on the fossil fuel industry. We’re putting entire people at risk and in terms of my own personal interest, what is going to happen in the next 50 to 100 years is that you are going to see mass migrations of people from low-lying areas including Bangladesh and island nations because their countries are sinking. However, one of the things that, really, has been inspiring to me here at the COP is, really, the message of the 350 Pacific Climate Warriors. Their message is, “We are not drowning. We are fighting.” I was with the Pacific Climate Warriors when we went and witnessed devastatingly huge coal mine close to here in Bonn.
To really make the connection between what’s happening in even a place like Germany is impacting a place like Fiji or the Marshall Islands or Tuvalu. The island nations are really here to really show the faces of those most impacted. As someone who is also from an island, certainly, that is, perhaps, less crisis than Maldives but will definitely be the impact of Maldivians moving to Sri Lanka. I think that this is something that we all need to really take into consideration regardless of where we’re from.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thanu and Katia, I thank you both for joining us. I hope you can join us again next week because I understand, the conference will be continuing into next week.
KATIA AVILÉS-VÁZQUEZ: Thank you.
THANU YAKUPITIYAGE: Thank you so much.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.