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From Small Island States to Largest Polluters, “Everyone Is Looking to the U.S.” on Global Warming

Amy Goodman
Democracy Now! / Video Interview
Published: Sunday 9 December 2012
Developing nations are accusing the U.S. and other wealthy nations of not leading the way to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

At the U.N. climate talks in Doha, developing nations are accusing the United States and other wealthy nations of not sufficiently pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions and failing to pay poorer nations for loss and damage from weather events caused by climate change. We’re joined in Doha by Ronald Jumeau, Seychelles ambassador for climate change and representative of the Alliance of Small Island States. We’re also joined by Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre in Malaysia.

AMY GOODMAN: Ronald Jumeau, Seychelles ambassador for climate change, joins us here in Doha, representative of the AOSIS, the Alliance of Small Island States. And we’re joined by Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre in Malaysia.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Ambassador of Seychelles, you were on the panel with the Jonathan Pershing, the U.S. climate negotiator. Do you agree with Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace International that they should be forced out of the conference or follow what President Obama has to say, if in fact President Obama is saying something different from what they are saying here?

RONALD JUMEAU: Are we sure here we’re not shooting the messenger because of the message? My problem is not with Jonathan Pershing. My problem is with the message he carries from the U.S. As I said at the panel this morning when we started, the Doha caravan seems to be lost in a sandstorm and battling to find its way out. And the U.S. is not the only culprit here, although obviously it has a big effect. All the—all the big polluters are saying they have limitations on what they can do, they are in an economic crisis. But are we living in a world where only the EU and the U.S. are in an economic crisis, and countries like Seychelles, small islands, are not in an economic crisis? We’re all living in the same economic crisis. If they have limitations on the money that they can spend, on the emissions that they can cut, how are we going to have limitations on the damage that’s being done to us? And the lives are being lost in the Philippines. Try and tell them that.

AMY GOODMAN: The latest news we have—and there was a protest here just before we went to broadcast—the number went from seven yesterday in the Philippines typhoon to over 270 and tens of thousands of people displaced. What about the Seychelles? How do you, in this Pacific island nation off the coast of Africa—how are you impacted by climate change?

RONALD JUMEAU: We—our reefs are dying. I mean, Seychelles, first of all, the economy is based mainly on tourism, and incidentally, tourists mainly from Europe. And our reefs are dying. There are changes in the patterns of the fish, the movements of fish, so our whole economy is now at risk. And if it continues like this, Seychelles—it won’t be sea-level rise that will be the biggest threat to Seychelles; it will be our economic viability. We may become a failed state economically before the sea level rises high enough to cover some of our islands.

AMY GOODMAN: The ocean—you’re in the Indian Ocean.

RONALD JUMEAU: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Sorry, I said Pacific Ocean. Place yourself geographically and the other islands and the coast of Africa that you are near.

RONALD JUMEAU: We are a group of 115 islands, east of East Africa, east of Kenya mainly, north of Madagascar. We’re pretty isolated, and we cover a huge area of the western, southwestern Indian Ocean. So we’re at the full mercy of whatever happens in the oceans. We are ocean people, in a sense. So anything that affects oceans, whether it’s through increased temperatures, whether it’s ocean acidification, which is an even bigger threat to coral reefs than warming temperatures—

AMY GOODMAN: What happens to the ocean with acidification?

RONALD JUMEAU: As the ocean acidifies more and more—

AMY GOODMAN: And why is that as a result of climate change?

RONALD JUMEAU: That is because it’s just reaching the limits on the amount of carbon dioxide it can take out of the air. I mean, we have abused the oceans just as we abused the forests. What’s happening to the oceans is even worse than what’s happening to the world’s forests.

AMY GOODMAN: People here have sadly joked that they found something with the label "Made in the U.S.A." And that’s CO2. Martin Khor of the South Centre in Malaysia, you’re not that far from the Philippines. Talk about the significance of the Typhoon Bopha and what that means for Malaysia and for these climate talks.

MARTIN KHOR: I think we are seeing these extreme weather events. And in our countries, it is the heavy rainfall, you know, which the scientists have said climate change is contributing to, because as the oceans become warmer and then more water is in the atmosphere, we get much more rainfall. So, for three years running, Pakistan, for example, has suffered massive floods. China, many parts of China have been suffering from floods, or India. And then we have these storms. Of course, you have had the storm in the United States, Sandy, and we have it in the Philippines, in Central America, and so on.

So the catastrophe of climate change is already on us. We are not waiting for, you know, the next century or for our children. We are the children we are talking about who are suffering from climate change. And unfortunately, the talks that we are seeing in Doha are not reflecting the urgency that is required by what is happening out in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Why?

MARTIN KHOR: I think, years ago, there were countries who did not believe in the science of climate change. Today, all countries believe in the science, but the fight is over who is responsible and who has to carry the burden, you know, of stopping emissions and also of coping with climate change when it happens. And here we are seeing in Doha the developed countries not living up to their promises, not living up to their legal commitments.

AMY GOODMAN: What are these commitments?

MARTIN KHOR: The commitments are of two or three types. One is that they will take the lead in cutting their emissions, because their emissions have been very high in the past, and they have grown rich because they were able to emit and live on cheap coal and oil. So they had promised to cut their emissions very deeply. And secondly, they had promised and committed to helping developing countries to take actions, through the transfer of funds and of the right kind of technologies.

But what we are seeing here in Doha are many developed countries leaving the Kyoto Protocol, joining the United States, who had left some time ago, and the remaining members in the Kyoto Protocol are putting forward emission reduction figures that are too low, something like 20 percent for Europe, which they have already almost achieved. So, the system that we started with in Bali in the climate talks about five years ago, that the developed countries would cut their emissions by 25 to 40 percent, in the Kyoto Protocol, and the United States, that’s not a member of the Kyoto Protocol, would do a similar effort under the convention—and this is based on science, that we need 25 to 40 percent.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. didn’t even sign onto the Kyoto Protocol.

MARTIN KHOR: The U.S. did not sign on, but they agreed, under Bush. Under Bush, they agreed that they would do similar to what the Kyoto Protocol members would do. And now we are seeing, under Obama, the unraveling of that commitment, because the U.S., showing a bad example of not joining the Kyoto Protocol, has now attracted three or four other countries to jump ship away from the Kyoto Protocol. And the U.S. proposal now is that each country just puts forward whatever it can do, and that will not be challenged. This is not based on science—and as a result of which we are now having very low ambition coming from the developed countries, which means that they are showing a bad example to the developing countries who would want to do more. But seeing that the leaders are not living up to their expectations, they are feeling very depressed, and this has repressed their ability to do more in terms of their own population.

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Jumeau, before you’re the roving climate ambassador for Seychelles, you were the U.S.-U.N. ambassador—

RONALD JUMEAU: Yes, I was.

AMY GOODMAN: —from Seychelles. Now, the U.S. has a major drone base in Seychelles, which means you have close ties to the U.S. military.

RONALD JUMEAU: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Does that affect your negotiations here?

RONALD JUMEAU: Oh, not at all. We are, first and foremost, a small island country. We are, first and foremost, a member of the Alliance of Small Island States. We are also part, for example, part of the African Union. But we always take the same position as the islands, because we—the islands have to stand together. There is no one like us. In fact, ironically, the U.S. drones in Seychelles take off from an airport that’s only 10 feet above sea level. That should give them an idea of the sort of threat that we are facing. When the 2004 tsunami came and hit Seychelles, it actually covered part of our airport. So they have a—in fact, by being in Seychelles, they cannot say they don’t understand our position, because their very drones take off—take off from that airport. And not at all. And we don’t allow either our friendship with the U.S. in other areas to compromise the very, very tough and stringent stance we take here. We are going to continue to call for urgent and deep cuts in emissions, not just to save Seychelles, because if countries like Seychelles go under, so does New York, so does the Nile Delta, so does every low-lying port and city, so does New Orleans. So we’re not fighting—it’s not just an island fight. We’re fighting for all peoples in the same situation.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about Hawaii? I mean, that’s where, despite Donald Trump’s contrary views, President Obama was born.

RONALD JUMEAU: Exactly. And we have, in other fora, started talking to people in Hawaii as islanders. And when I—and they say, "I’m sorry, you’re a sovereign government. I represent—my government doesn’t listen to me." I say, "When I look at you, I don’t see an American. I see an islander like me."

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Pa Ousman Jarju. Earlier today, Democracy Now! producer Mike Burke spoke with him. He is from Gambia, the chair of the bloc of nations here at the climate talks known as the LDC, the Least Developed Countries.

MIKE BURKE: Sir, can you describe why this money is needed and how climate change has impacted Africa?

PA OUSMAN JARJU: I mean, look at the impacts that we are facing. Look at the floods and the droughts that are occurring on a daily basis, on an annual basis. People are dying. Over the last two decades, over 900 people—900,000 people have died in the LDCs. The amount of disasters that have occurred is five times that has—five times currently than ever before. So, there is no need for us to even say; it is very evident. We need even more than the $100 billion that was agreed. But for the countries to really demonstrate that gesture and that commitment, the $100 billion should be the start. And they have been spending over $400 billion U.S. on—over the last three years, on fuel subsidies that is going to please the oil companies. That money is needed in our country.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Pa Ousman Jarju of Gambia, the chair of the bloc of nations here known as the LDC, the Least Developed Countries. Martin Khor, Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo also said Doha is where deals come to die. What do you want to see out of this conference? Do you expect anything?

MARTIN KHOR: We expected a lot, but now I’m wondering whether that will happen. I think the first thing we need in Doha is to be certain that the Kyoto Protocol will continue meaningfully. You see, in the first five years of the Kyoto Protocol, the first commitment period, countries agreed to cut their emissions by an average of 5 percent. And now, in the second period, which begins in 2013, that will run for another five to eight years, the science says that we have to cut by 25 to 40 percent, that the developed countries will have to cut. So this is a very big issue that is happening here. And up 'til now, we still don't know by how much the developed countries that still remain in the Kyoto Protocol will do the cutting.

AMY GOODMAN: Where does China fit into the story? I mean, here we are in Doha. Qatar has the largest greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the world. We’ve talked about the United States, which is the historical largest greenhouse gas emitter. Where does China fit into this story? Often you’ll hear the U.S. team saying it’s all about China now; actually, they emit more greenhouse gas, greenhouse gas emissions.

MARTIN KHOR: I think the biggest issue about China really is its population size. You know, China has 1.5 billion people, and that’s why their emissions are high. If you look at the average emission per Chinese, it’s not very high. It’s about five to seven tons of carbon dioxide, you know, on average, compared to the United States, which is about 20. And China is still very much a developing country. I mean, their average per capita income is about $4,000 to $5,000, and they have just escaped from being a low middle-income country. So we are looking at huge population, and that’s why the total emissions are large. If you look at India, it’s even worse, because the poverty in India is still very bad. So, to pick on these countries like India and China and say that unless they act, the United States will not act, this is really a very poor excuse, you know? It’s picking on an issue that is not relevant. Of course, it is true that in the future India, China, Malaysia, all countries, we have to take massive action in order to prevent, you know, the large expansion of carbon dioxide, but I think it is only an excuse to demonize China and then say that’s why the United States is not going to act. China is still very poor compared to the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Latin America into this conversation and play a clip of Marta Benavides, an environmentalist and longtime activist from El Salvador. The Democracy Now! team caught up with her today here in Doha at the Qatar Convention Centre at an action addressing how the Global North has failed to take action on climate change. Members of the Women and Gender Constituency and their allies chanted "Not in our name," condemning the ongoing negotiations here at COP18.

MARTA BENAVIDES: My name is Marta Benavides. I am from El Salvador. I am here because the people of the South are the ones that are suffering the most, even though we have not really created the problem. And in these discussions, they want to resolve the problem in the same manner that they created it. They are going very slow. Some people of the North even dare to say, "Oh, we have gained a lot, because 18 COPs ago most people didn’t know anything about climate change." We don’t need to know. We are living it, you know, and we are paying for that. This is 500 years of colonialism that is giving its fruits. And if we don’t start looking in a different paradigm, we are going to continue pretending that we are looking for solutions, but just looking for them. And we are washing our hands. But I know, and I see the people who are dying of hunger, of flooding and all the problems that are being, you know, caused by these kinds of situations.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Marta Benavides, environmentalist, longtime activist from El Salvador. This is clearly a global gathering. This—we are coming to the end of the two weeks. And, Ambassador Seychelles, why does this go on for two weeks? If—as we talk to climate negotiators around of world, they say, "Well, we don’t really know what’s going to happen." We saw in Copenhagen a deal was brought out at the very last minute, after weeks when most of the negotiators thought they were negotiating something. It was brought out by a very different, much smaller, inner circle team of industrialized nations, led by the United States.

RONALD JUMEAU: Unfortunately, the COP has been reduced to a sort of negotiation—brinkmanship negotiation. Everybody waits, pushes each other, waits and to see who’s going to be the first to blink, and waits until the last moment. I don’t know why we should spend two weeks; might as well come just for one week, knowing we’re going to push it to the end.

But it takes a lot of hard work. And fortunately, you—I heard mentioned LDCs before. The Alliance of Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries, we are in an alliance, for several COPs now, as the most vulnerable. And it is due to the push—the way we push, the way we refuse to give in, the way we refuse to be silenced or to be culled that finally gets something to come out, because no one wants to look good being blamed for the collapse of the talks. They all know we need it. But I think there is a better way we can do it, if we all admit from the beginning what needs to be done, instead of playing this one-upmanship as people trying to score on each other.

And incidentally, where does China and India come into it? The new agreement that we are negotiating for 2015 that will come into force in 2020, we need a much stronger agreement than we had the Kyoto Protocol. This is why we are fighting to have a stronger continuation of the Kyoto Protocol until then, so that can be used as a template to craft the new agreement. And that’s the new agreement when the Chinas and Indias of this world and everybody else will be involved alongside with the U.S.A.s and the Europes of this world.

AMY GOODMAN: I think the U.S.'s favorite word now is "voluntary," as we wrap up, Martin Khor. And I want to ask you about that. Would it be a success—and you can tell me if I'm being too cynical—if in facts the—if in fact the Doha talks did collapse, they didn’t come out with anything, a success for the United States, not wanting to regulate those that are pouring fortunes into campaigns and lobbying in the United States?

MARTIN KHOR: Well, I think it would not be a success for the people of the United States, because, as you can see from Hurricane Sandy and so on, climate change is affecting the United States itself. Look at what’s happened in Texas or with the drought and so on. So it is in the interests of the people in the United States not only to act, but to take leadership in the world so that the world can act. But everybody is looking to the U.S., because it is the richest country per capita. It is most responsible for climate change historically, and even today, it is about the most important polluter. And if the U.S. does not act, it’s going to depress other countries.

So, as you said, President Obama, in his first term, when he came in, he promised a lot. And when the United States came back to the negotiations under Obama leadership, there was a standing ovation, because it said, "The U.S. is back, and we’re going to take the lead." Unfortunately, it did not take the lead; it prevented others from acting. And it is actually in danger of doing worse than what Bush did, because what Bush said was that "I don’t believe in a climate change. If you people want to do something, you go and do it, and leave me alone." But this present team seems to be saying, "We are the leaders of the world. And if we can’t do much, we don’t want others to do, so that we don’t look too bad." Now, I think that’s a very bad legacy to have. So we hope that in his second term President Obama will show much more leadership. We know he has problems of—with Congress and the public opinion and so on, but then, that is what leadership is about.

So we really look forward to a change in the positioning of the United States so that it can take its proper place among the leaders who are going to fight climate change, show an example to the developing countries, and also provide money and technology transfer to developing countries, which, in Doha, they are not showing any leadership on that. The developed countries seem to be saying that "We are not going to give you money. There’s not much money around. And as for technology transfer, you can forget about it." And that’s a very depressing message to the developing countries.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Martin Khor of the South Centre in Malaysia and Ambassador Ronald Jumeau, Seychelles ambassador for climate change, the permanent representative of the Seychelles to the United Nations and a member of the Alliance of Small Island States. Ambassador Jumeau was the U.S. and U.N. ambassador to the United States for years from Seychelles.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, a young college student joins us. She was banned from the Doha summit for the first week but, after a Twitter storm, allowed to re-enter. She gave a major address at the U.N. climate talks in Durban. Stay with us.



Author pic
ABOUT Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 900 stations in North America. She is the author of "Breaking the Sound Barrier," recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

Help write the song *Climate

Help write the song *Climate Talks* with me about how we must all be speaking for the climate, as our governments are failing to speak for us at the Climate Talks. Maybe include a verse about how our Earth's climate talks to us about what we need to do to protect it. Or sponsor us to write the song if you can. For all the life, Stele Ely / VoxErth.net

The fossil fuel industry has

The fossil fuel industry has taken control of the U.S. government.

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