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Venezuela's Doha climate talks delegate: 'Rich countries profit from pollution'

December 7, 2012 -- Democracy Now! -- Claudia Salerno, top negotiator for Venezuela at the UN Climate Change Conference in Doha, famous for her dramatic action at the conference three years ago in Copenhagen when she bloodied her fist while banging it on the table, demanding to be heard, says "this is not an environmental process. This is a process that is going to have impact in economics, so that is why it is so difficult for developed countries to make the necessary changes in their economics."

December 7, 2012 -- Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: Claudia Salerno, you are the chief climate negotiator for Venezuela here. You are famous for, three years ago in Copenhagen, hitting your fists against the table to get attention, to be recognized, and bloodying your hand. Talk about what’s happening today, and take it back to three years ago in Copenhagen, why you were so distressed.

CLAUDIA SALERNO: I said that I strongly consider that the things that we are living and facing now in this process in 2012 are the consequence of what happened exactly three years ago. Three years ago, one state actually said that he was going to take the lead to transform the whole system and the whole regime of climate change, because it didn’t fit them. So, one single country—

AMY GOODMAN: That country?

CLAUDIA SALERNO: Being the United States, the only country that is not party of the Kyoto Protocol, because it didn’t fit them. They needed to destroy the whole thing to try to accommodate the regime to what would be nice for their economies, their argument being always not what countries are going to do what, but which economies. This is an economical negotiation. The first thing that countries need to understand when they want to succeed in this process is to understand that this is not an environmental process. This is a process that is going to have impact in economics, so that is why it is so difficult for developed countries that are doing well economically, or even doing bad, to do the necessary changes in their economics.

AMY GOODMAN: What is happening now? What are the key issues that aren’t being addressed? And is there going to be an agreement at the end of today or tomorrow? Clearly, the talks are going later than was planned.

CLAUDIA SALERNO: I think in the previous two years, we already learned that presidents do always the best to try to have an agreement and a clapping situation. They were even saying last year that decisions were making by ovation and not by consensus. So we know that some kind of deal is going to be produced. The question now is, what kind of deal? The main issue for developing countries being ensuring a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol—now, having the text in our hands since this morning, our main concern is that we are going to have an unmeaningful second commitment period, an empty one.

AMY GOODMAN: Which means?

CLAUDIA SALERNO: Which means that the commitments that are there are not sufficient to keep the temperatures stopping from escalating. So we are actually heading towards an area of 4 or 6 degrees of temperature, even when in Cancun we agree a global goal and a global target for everybody to reach, at the most, 2 degrees.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance. Two degrees is what people were aiming for, which is 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit, and the World Bank came out with a report that said we could be leading to a 4 to 6 degree increased temperature world by the end of the century, which is 7.4 degrees—is 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit. The issue of markets, Claudia Salerno?

CLAUDIA SALERNO: The issue of markets is the worst part of this whole package. What we have seen lately is this tendency of actually trying to convert and to transform what it was created in Kyoto at the beginning as a way to help developed countries to achieve their commitments. Now it became actually mechanisms to take profit of a certain kind of pollution that is profitable for developed countries. So what they consider now a business that is interesting is actually to keep a climate regime that will allow them—that’s what they are intending, the whole two weeks—that will allow them actually to make trading of whatever is called rights to pollute. So what we are seeing with a lot of concern is this capacity that they want to create of mechanisms that will allow them to buy the right to pollute to a certain level and then to exchange, among them, their rights to contaminate the land.

AMY GOODMAN: Venezuela is perhaps the largest oil producer in the world. You’re a member of OPEC.

CLAUDIA SALERNO: Yes, we are. And we are also—we have been recognized by OPEC last year as having the largest proven reserves in the world. And that creates for us a huge responsibility. But I have to say that even with those large numbers and large quantities of exportation, our country only represents 0.48 percent of the total emissions in the world, because Venezuela is also an Amazonian country, so we do have more than 50 million hectares of virgin forests that we are—and they will remain untouched for us, so we are extremely green country with a very old tradition of ecological and very respectful approach for environment.

AMY GOODMAN: Your assessment, both of yours, in 30 seconds of the role of the United States here right now, beginning with Heherson Alvarez.

HEHERSON ALVAREZ: Well, the United States, on electing a president like Obama, gave some signs that attention would be given to climate change. But that was not done. There were some big problems, so they said, about their economy, and Obama attended to priorities. But, of late, he said that he’s going to situate one of the three pillars of his forthcoming administration, situate that he’s going to provide for a safe world, referring to climate change management policy for the American generation, for American people. We’re awaiting that signal. And we’re also hopeful that there are signs from the business community to band together in the manner of a foundation, addressing problems of climate change, for we have many setbacks. The intervention methods alone that is being defined, and no matter how clearly, by the organized community of the world, led by the United Nations, is insufficient. The bureaucracy is too slow. There is too much debate. And even when the science is clear, the science is not being applied with determination.

AMY GOODMAN: And Claudia Alvarez—and Claudia Salerno?

CLAUDIA SALERNO: I will be very quick. I think that negotiators here from the U.S. delegation seem not to be aware of the Obama statement when he took power after elections. He actually mentioned climate change after Sandy hurricane, and it seems like there is a de-link between the promises made by the president and the kind of behaviors that their delegates are having here.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. We’ve been speaking with Heherson Alvarez, climate delegate from the Philippines and member of the Philippines Presidential Climate Change Commission, and Claudia Salerno, Venezuela’s vice minister of foreign affairs for North America, special presidential envoy for climate change here in Doha.

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Doha climate summit ends with no new CO2 cuts

Note:  Oh boy, a new agreement to keep talking about an agreement that would go into force in 2020–after the scientific community says we will have already passed 2 degrees celsius in warming–which sets the stage for catastrophic climate change…  Worse than useless–a massive waste of time and resources.

–The GJEP Team

By Stephen Leahy, December 10, 2012.  Source: Inter-Press Service

As sea erosion worsens, coastal residents in Nhon Hai commune in Binh Dinh province use rocks and sandbags to protect their homes. Credit: Thuy Binh/IPS

As sea erosion worsens, coastal residents in Nhon Hai commune in Binh Dinh province use rocks and sandbags to protect their homes. Credit: Thuy Binh/IPS

DOHA, Qatar, Dec 10 2012 (IPS) - The United Nations climate talks in Doha went a full extra 24 hours and ended without increased cuts in fossil fuel emissions and without financial commitments between 2013 and 2015.

“This an incredibly weak deal,” said Samantha Smith representing the Climate Action Network, a coalition of more than 700 civil society organisations.

“Governments came here with no mandate for action,” Smith said in a press scrum moments after the meeting known as COP 18 ended and the 195 parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) approved a complex package called “The Doha Climate Gateway”.

The Doha Gateway creates a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol to cut fossil fuel emissions by industrialised nations from 2013 to 2020 but does not set new targets. There is also no financial support to help poor countries adapt to impacts of climate change – only agreement for more meetings in 2013. Talks will also begin next year to create a “mechanism” to assess damages and costs for countries suffering losses from climate change.

“It is impossible to get everyone here to smile….I too am disappointed,” said Qatar’s Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, the COP18 president. Al-Attiyah told Tierramérica he was surprised countries wanted to make so many changes throughout the two weeks and right up to the final hours.

However, this is a “historic” agreement, Al-Attiyah insisted.

Doha will do nothing to cut emissions that are taking the world to four degrees and more of warming. It offers little in terms of finance to help poor countries cope with climate change, Smith said.

Smith singled out the U.S. and Canada for blocking progress on keys issues. Canada was one of the worst, she said. While profiting from its massive oil sands operations, it was “super-obstructive on finance”.

Industrialised countries promised to put 100 billion dollars a year into a Green Climate Fund by 2020. To bridge the gap till then, developing nations asked for 60 billion dollars in total by 2015. Britain, Germany and few other countries promised to contribute six billion dollars but this is not binding. Under the Doha Climate Gateway, countries agreed to further talks on finance in 2013.

The loss and damage debate was among the most intense during closed meetings, featuring the U.S pitted against island states like the Philippines that are badly impacted by stronger cyclones and sea level rise. The U.S. delegates blocked all references that implied compensation or liability, openly admitting they feared a political backlash at home, according to an anonymous source.

“Loss and damage is huge issue for Central America. We are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” said Laura Lopez Baltodano, of Centro Humboldt Nicaragua, an environmental NGO.

“Honduras and Nicaragua are the number one and number three most vulnerable countries in the world according to the Climate Risk Index,” Baltodano told Tierramérica here in Doha.

The Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index was released here a few days ago. It said those two countries have been the most affected in terms of lost lives and damages over the past 20 years. In 2011, Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan and El Salvador were the worst affected by extreme weather events in 2011.

In 2010, at COP 16 in Cancun, there was agreement to find ways to assess and reduce losses and damages from impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events like sea level rise, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity and desertification.

Developing countries wanted a new institution and framework to deal with loss and damage, but the U.S. was opposed to any new institution. The compromise is for a “new mechanism” to be created in 2013.

A new second phase of the Kyoto Protocol will run from 2013 to 2020. Getting this second phase or commitment is considered very important by developing countries because it has hard-won legal terms that commit countries to making cuts as well as methods for measuring and verifying emission levels.

However, only the European Union, Australia and a few other countries are involved, representing just 12 percent of global emissions. The U.S. has never participated, while Canada and Japan have opted out of the second phase.

None of those in the second Kyoto phase increased their emission cuts pledges. They did agree to a mandatory review of their reduction targets in 2014. Rich countries outside of Kyoto promised to make comparable cuts but offered nothing new here in Doha.

“The COP process is very disappointing,” said Baltodano, who has attended two previous ones. “It’s very clear that countries’ economic interests dominate the negotiations.”

Countries are mainly influenced by the corporate sector and civil society has very little interaction or influence there, she said. “There is a huge space we don’t reach.”

The Doha outcome puts the world on track for three, four or even five degrees of warming, said the delegate from the South Pacific island nation of Nauru who represents the Alliance of Small Island States in the final plenary.

“We’re not talking about how comfortable your people (in developed world) may live but whether our people live,” the delegate said. “The lives of our people are on the line here.”

The Tragic Farce At Doha

from the Solidarity Ecosocialist Commission

As the Doha COP18 climate talks draw to a close, they have unfortunately confirmed The Economist's description of the event as a “theater of the absurd.” Even as the World Bank has released a report describing a rise in average global temperatures by a catastrophic 4 degrees Celsius over the course of this century, no greater sense of urgency emerged at the talks, largely due to the obvious futility of trying to formulate global policy without a serious commitment by Washington to reduce its own gargantuan carbon footprint. Meanwhile, the effects of climate change have accelerated with the ferocious global warming-fueled superstorm Sandy and the enormous Typhoon Bopha that has ravaged the southern Philippines, to mention only the most recent and dramatic that have ravaged communities as a result.

The irony of the current round of UN climate talks taking place in Doha, Qatar, the world's highest per capita emitter and a principal member of the Gulf Cooperation Council alliance of fossil-fuel based states was not lost on anyone, save some of the delegates. It was a foregone conclusion that the talks had reached an impasse over critical issues. As the Kyoto treaty was set to expire, no industrialized country met the target for reducing emissions. Both the United States and the European Union repeatedly cited “tough economic times” as their excuse. For them, capitalist profitability triumphs effective action to save the ecosystems. The intransigence of Washington as the “most obdurate bully in the room” murdered the hope of expanding the Kyoto treaty to incorporate the world’s principal culprits--clearly the United States and China--and detailing how a climate funding program to assist the world’s “developing nations” would be set up as long ago as Copenhagen.

What did come out of this session from 36 straight hours of negotiations was an agreement by the Kyoto signatories--who collectively represent just 15% of the world's emissions--to extend the Kyoto framework to 2020. While this may sound like a “modest but essential” step in the right direction as described by Connie Hedegaard, the European climate commissioner, it is so full of loopholes that it will have negligible impact on carbon emissions. Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo lamented, “The talks in Doha were always going to be a modest affair, but they even failed to live up to even the historically low expectations.”

Although the countries of the global south are already bearing the brunt of the damage caused by the industrialized countries, neither US or EU delegates came up with concrete plans on how to raise the climate fund goal of $100 billion a year by 2020. This crisis of political will is particularly damning given how much has already been allocated to bailing out criminal financial institutions and subsidizing fossil fuels, not to mention Washington’s enormously bloated defense expenditures.

Once again, the only spark of hope came from the speeches of those who held no power at the level of policy-making, but are the voices of the growing global environmentalist movements.

In a passionate speech to the delegates, Syrian-American student Munira Sibai declared that none of the official representatives of the world's governments were worth addressing and so she addressed the climate justice movement directly, “Your governments are failing you,” in a moment of clarity and truth unsurpassed throughout the entire event. Further, her two-minute address pointed out that this entire process suffered not only from “a complete absence of vision” but from “an active effort by some to move backwards.” Further, she noted that those who have caused this crisis—the wealthiest countries on Earth—already agreed to take responsibility two decades ago with the Kyoto Protocol, but have utterly failed to live up to their own commitments. She ended with the prediction, “You are well on your way to leaving a legacy of global devastation.”


Munira Sibai: “Your governments are failing you..."

Another powerful voice was that of the Filipino negotiator, Nadarev Sano, whose nation was ravaged during the talks by the most southerly typhoon ever reported, Typhoon Bopha. Sano's emotional address queried the assembly: “I ask all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”

The real answer to the question of “if not us here, then who?” is quite clear from the past 18 years of inaction on climate change by the world's most powerful countries. Patrick Bond, director of the Center for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, pointed out, “The elites continue to discredit themselves at every opportunity. The only solution is to turn away from these destructive conferences and avoid giving the elites any legitimacy, and instead, to analyze and build the world climate justice movement and its alternatives.

Promising signs that the movement for climate justice is coalescing into a serious global force continue to emerge. Two international events to note are the massive day of global protest staged by Bill McKibben's 350.org project in 2009 and the 2010 World People's Conference on Climate Change in Bolivia. The crisis is too urgent to be left to the policy tinkering of foot-dragging governments that bear the greatest responsibility for the crisis. Now that high-level elites from the World Bank to Bloomberg Business Weekly (with its “It's Global Warming, Stupid” headline after Hurricane Sandy) have awoken to the seriousness of the crisis, the space for demanding action to save the planet has widened--but whatever modest steps “green capitalism” has taken, they are unable to confront the logic of profitability.

As ecosocialists, we call for a dramatic reduction in fossil fuel production and consumption in industrialized countries, and reparations to the former colonial countries so they can develop in a sustainable manner. This involves restructuring every aspect of how we live and work through a revolutionary process of social change, moving from an economy dominated by profit to one based on ecology and human needs. To accomplish this will require honestly confronting the severity of the crisis and democratically discussing and deciding how to move forward against the intransigence of the global elite. The voices of this growing climate justice movement will be central to this process.

The Ecosocialist Commission is a group of Solidarity members whose goal is to show why the struggles for socialism and for ecological justice are inseparable. It is is a place for education, discussion, and coordinating activism around the intersections between the socialist and ecological movements. For more information, contact ndvnprt (at) gmail (dot) com.

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