Q & A with Pablo Solon

by Feb 14, 2012Magazine

‘COP 17 cannot be a global suicide pact: we need to end the apartheid against Nature’

Pablo Solón is an international analyst and social activist. He served as chief negotiator for climate change and was ambassador of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to the UN from 2009 until June 2011.

Amandla! (A!): If Copenhagen was a betrayal and Cancun treachery (in your words during the Dakar 2011 World Social Forum), given what is shaping up for Durban, how are we likely to characterise COP 17?

Pablo Solón (PS): The scenario for COP 17 is even worst than for Copenhagen and Cancun. If there is not enough social pressure, Durban could end up formalising an increase in global temperature of more than 4º C that would burn the planet and devastate Africa.
In negotiations up to now, those responsible for climate change have made no attempt to increase their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To have a hope of keeping temperature rises limited to 2º C, all countries together need to reduce 14 gigatons (Gt) of CO2e by 2020. Developed countries, who have the historical responsibility for climate change, are willing to reduce only between 3 to 3.6 Gt. Developing countries have committed to reduce by between 3.7 and 5 Gt. So in total there is a gap of around 7 to 5 Gt of CO2e. In other words, we are less than halfway there to even have a chance of meeting the global commitment of a less than 2º C temperature rise.

However, the reality is that even an increase in the temperature of 2º C is not a good option, in particular for Africa, island states and mountain countries. If the average temperature of the world increases by 2º C this means 4º C for Africa. A global increase of 4º C that means more than 8º C for this continent.

COP 17 could easily become known as the biggest collective suicide pact in history.

A!: What are the essential steps to stop climate change and what is the time frame that we have before we will face catastrophic outcomes?

PS: The key question is how much developed countries are going to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Developing countries are asking for a reduction of 40% to 50% until 2017–20. Developed countries are saying that they will reduce by only 13% to 17% by 2020.

Climate change is different to any other global problem we have tried to tackle, because there is no option to postpone decisions. For what you don’t do today you won’t be able to accomplish tomorrow. As the International Energy Agency warned us this month, if the peak level of global emissions doesn’t decline before 2017, then we are in a catastrophic situation. Three hundred and fifty thousand people died in 2010 because of natural disasters that have to do with climate change according to a report by the Climate Vulnerable Forum. So the genocide has already begun and accompanies an ecocide that is destroying our biodiversity.

What we are able to accomplish in Durban and in the following years will define the future of humankind and life on Planet Earth.

A!: What do you see as the most important demands social movements and popular forces should be making at COP 17?

PS: The most important demand is for deep radical emission reductions that can guarantee a pathway of life for all people and our Mother Earth. It’s not enough to have a second commitment period within the Kyoto Protocol. We have to improve and strengthen the Kyoto Protocol. Yet the world’s leaders seem determined to transform it into an empty shell.

The second demand is to begin a process of recognition and defence of Mother Earth rights. The problem of climate change is basically due to the Capitalist misconception that everything – man-made and in our environment – is just an input or a resource to exploit to make money. We must respect the vital cycles of Nature. We have to treat our Planet as our home and not as a bundle of resources that we can exploit, change or sell without consequences.

In the past, black and indigenous people were treated as slaves without rights. Now we need to end the apartheid against Mother Earth and recognise that Nature has rights.

The third demand should be for real emission cuts that are not dependent on market mechanisms that encourage cheating and are developed only to make money at the cost of peoples’ rights. The truth is that even the limited commitments by developed countries are not based entirely on reductions within their own borders, but have a sizeable component that come from buying polluting permits (‘certificates of emissions reductions’) from developing countries worth in total around 1.1 Gt. In real terms, developed countries only intend to reduce less than 2 Gt of CO2e by 2020.

Corporations that have strong influence in some negotiating delegations are only concerned about the death of the Kyoto Protocol, because they fear the resulting disappearance of the carbon market mechanism linked to the protocol (Clean Development Mechanism and others).

Durban must not be remembered as the place where carbon markets were saved and life was buried.

The fourth demand is to preserve our forests through a finance mechanism that is not based on markets but on a share of a tax of international financial transactions. We want to save our forest; they want to commodify our forest through the REDD (Reductions of Emissions from Degradation and Deforestation) programme. If REDD continues, indigenous people rights will be undermined, no matter what safeguards are included, and countries will be sued in the future through bilateral investment agreements, losing sovereignty over their forests.

A!: If COP 17 continues with business as usual – meaning no binding agreement for emission cuts, no real financing of poorer and developing countries to deal with the impact of climate change and to transform their energy systems, no processes to facilitate technology transfers – where will that leave the UN multilateral process? Are there any alternatives where movements and citizens should focus their activism?

PS: The multilateral process of negotiation is the result of the balance of forces at the national and global levels. We need to strengthen the movement for Mother Earth and against climate change in our community and in each of our countries. The indignados, the Occupy Wall Street protests, uprisings against dictatorships, the struggle against unemployment are all part of a single fight against the capitalist system. We need to call for local referendums in our town, provinces or states to back radical greenhouse gases emission cuts, enact rights of nature, cut military budgets, tax international financial transactions, implement participatory democracy, and resolve other local important issues (coal plants, atomic energy plants, etc).

The key task is to articulate at a global level all the local and national actions that are taking place in all parts of the world. We need to practise what we say. And build a global and horizontal movement based on diversity of thinking with a common soul for real change.

A!: What is actually meant by the slogan ‘system change not climate change’? What are the strategies that go with such a slogan building on current activism and mobilisation?

PS: The real cause of climate change is the capitalist system. As the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in 2010 agreed: ‘The capitalist system has imposed on us an ideology of progress and unlimited growth. This regime of production and consumption is guided by the search for maximum gain, forgetting completely the implications of an infinite growth pattern on a finite planet. This pattern of development has separated human beings from nature, establishing a rationale of domination over nature and leading to the destruction of nature.’

We need to build society on a new model that respects nature and humankind. Our Mother Earth has enough resources for everyone if we act on the basis of solidarity and not competition, respect for rather than exploitation of nature.

A!: How should we build on the Peoples’ Agreement developed by thousands of activists from around the world in Bolivia in April 2010? What are the next steps?

PS: The Peoples’ Agreement was a great step forward by thousands of activists around the world, which needs to be preserved and translated into our daily lives. Bolivia stood alone in Cancun to defend the agreement adopted by representatives of social movements of the five continents. We stood firm, rejecting the diplomatic compromises and trade-offs that are leading us to genocide and an ecocide.

In the coming months we need to organise at local and national level, analysing the outcome of Durban and preparing for Rio+20.

A!: What is the importance of the Rio+20 Summit to be held in Rio in June 2012 and what is at stake for humanity and Mother Earth?
PS: On the one hand there are great opportunities to advance towards recognition of the Rights of Nature; on the other hand there is great danger of a new process of commodification of nature through what is called the ‘Green Economy’. Many neoliberal governments are saying that humankind’s imbalance with nature is due to market failures because the capitalist system didn’t fully integrate the environmental services of nature. So they are promoting something like REDD on a huge scale for water, land, oceans, bees … saying that we need to put a monetary value on the services that they provide, privatise them as ‘services’ and bring them into the market.
Rio+20 will be a fight between the Green Economy and the Rights of Nature. Two different and fundamentally opposed approaches for the key issue of the XXI Century: How can we restore harmony with nature?

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