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On the way to COP25: It’s not only a climate crisis, our present and future are at stake

“We need to ensure that the transition doesn't leave anybody behind”, said dipti bhatnagar from Friends of the Earth International

The Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change—also known as COP25,—takes place from 2 to 13 December, 2019, in Madrid, Spain.

The COP was originally scheduled to take place in Santiago, Chile. But, when the announcement of more neoliberal economic and social measures sparked popular protests amounting to a “social crisis” in this South American country in October, the government decided not to host the event. Chile’s President, Piñera, continues to hold the COP presidency, although he announced on November 26 that he would not travel to Madrid but would instead be represented by Environment Minister, Carolina Schmidt.

A delegation from environmental federation Friends of the Earth International will be present at COP25. Their representatives from five continents will bring forward demands and proposals from the communities of the Global South who are already deeply affected by climate change impacts. “This is not only about the future: this is about historic and current injustice as well”, said dipti bhatnagar, Climate Justice & Energy program co-coordinator at Friends of the Earth International, in an interview with Real World Radio.

In a press release on November 28, the UN warned [1]: “Climate change is happening—the world is already 1.1°C warmer than it was at the onset of the industrial revolution, and it is already having a significant impact on the world, and on people’s lives… If current trends persist, then global temperatures can be expected to rise by 3.4 to 3.9°C this century, which would bring wide-ranging and destructive climate impacts.”

Friends of the Earth International’s expectations and key demands for the summit include the need to commit to more ambitious carbon emission reduction targets, the threat posed by carbon markets, and the inclusion of climate justice elements in the Paris Agreement. We find out more in an interview with Dipti Bhatnagar.

 

RWR: What do you think about the COP moving from Chile to Madrid?

Dipti Bhatnagar (DP): Friends of the Earth always goes to the climate negotiations, to the COP, because we think that it is an important space where we must bring the voices of Southern people, of climate justice people. We were planning to go in full force to the COP in Santiago, Chile, with delegations from all the regions. Then suddenly, at the end of October, we started seeing the movement of people of Chile against neoliberalism, against inequality, and the movement then provoked the Chilean government to cancel the COP. Then 48 hours later, we heard this announcement that the COP was going to be in Madrid, with one month of preparation. This has been really problematic, because this is going to be the third out of four consecutive COPs held in Europe.

Now with the moving of this COP from Chile to Spain, the situation that we see is that four COPs in a row are happening in Europe, and this is a really huge problem because some of our people haven’t got the visas yet, there are four people still waiting for visas. And it is much more expensive to come to Europe in December than some of the other places. It is a very peak time and it is also harder to bring the voices of people when you need to get your Schengen visas and you need to pay so much money to travel and to be here.

So this is one issue and one beauty of the UN climate negotiations is that it is held in different countries across the world. If you look at some of the other negotiations of the United Nations, they are only held in one city and all the time it is in that one city. The COP has always been different. The COP has been in all the regions, it has been physically hosted in Africa, it has been in the Americas, it has been in Europe, it has been in the Asia-Pacific region, which means that it is much easier to engage civil society from those countries, from those regions. This is the beauty of the COP, so the fact that this is going to be the third out of four consecutive COPs in Europe is definitely a problem.

The second issue is that the struggle of the people of Chile is being undermined because the focus was going to be on neoliberalism, on the inequality people are facing. Of course, Chile is the poster child for neoliberalism, for the “Chicago Boys” style of neoliberal capitalism that has completely devastated the country ever since the coup when Salvador Allende´s government was forcefully removed and he was murdered in 1973. Since then, the people of Chile have gone through so much and it was going to be a privilege for us as Friends of the Earth International and our delegations from all the regions to go to Chile to be with our people in Chile and to be with our people in ATALC (Amigos de la Tierra America Latina y Caribe). We were really looking forward to that.

The movement of the people, the repression is going on and on, but the international focus is not there because now the international focus is in Madrid, so this is definitely a problem.

The last thing to say on that is that the Chilean government still holds the presidency of the COP, even though it is held in Madrid. When I landed in Madrid today I saw a booth at the airport and it said COP25 Chile—Madrid, and it should not be like that because they abdicated their responsibility, they are not taking care of their people and they are repressing their people. They do not deserve to be the COP president and this is the demand we are making.

 

RWR: Piñera still holds the COP presidency, although he announced on Wednesday that he would not travel to Madrid and would instead be represented by Chile´s Environment Minister, Carolina Schmidt.

DB: Whoever comes from Piñera’s government, it is still Piñera’s government, so we say they should not be the COP president anymore.

 

RWR: We also need to take into consideration the other local demands towards the government of Chile and its environmental policies—not only energy policies, but also polluting spaces such as “sacrifice zones” located in several cities. Could this be left outside the focus of the COP if civil society do not bring it up?

DB: We have to make sure that these issues stay on the radar of the civil society and the media. We must keep raising the connection with Chile, and that’s why we’re going to have people from Real World Radio and from Friends of the Earth in Chile and some of us here in Madrid. We should have a link up and make sure we carry the spirit of the struggle everywhere.

 

RWR: Last year, Friends of the Earth International presented the People Power Now Manifesto [2], setting out positive measures to accelerate the transition towards a climate just world. This year, Greta Thunberg led a youth revolution with the Climate Strike [3] and #FridaysForFuture [4]. What is your opinion about this movement?

DB: I think that it is really wonderful. The climate strike movement is really wonderful and it is great to see how much momentum it has picked up. Because it is people without power, it is children that are speaking and saying “what kind of world are you going to leave us?”, so I think it is really powerful.

At the same time we must remember that this is not only about the future. It is important of course to think about the future and that’s what young people represent. But, it’s not only about the future, because our analysis as Friends of the Earth International is that this is about historic and current injustice also.

There are people from frontline communities, indigenous peoples, local communities all over the world who are facing the impacts of dirty energy, of this extractivist system, historically for 500 years in some cases in the Americas and currently as well.

So I think the one message I would love for young people to include in their movement is that this is about past, present, and future. This is about all systems of injustice that we must confront. Yes it is about their future—the climate that we’re going to leave them is going to be completely devastated—but that is not just because of today, it’s because of the historical injustice. We must put that into perspective.

The other thing I think with reference to young people is that we need to be careful about false solutions, because the polluting corporations love to do greenwashing, and they bring what they consider solutions: “We will do carbon offsetting”, “We will do carbon markets”, “We will plant trees in the Congo and then that will absorb our emissions”. So we must be really careful that young people don’t buy into this myth, because it is an absolute and complete myth, and one of the things we are fighting for at this COP in Madrid is the opposition to carbon markets.

We want to keep carbon markets out of the Paris Rulebook. This is one big fight we will be having and in less than a week, we are going to host along with other organizations like the Indigenous Environmental Network, La Via Campesina, the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, and Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. These four organizations, together with Friends of the Earth International, are going to host the “No to carbon markets day”, what we call the “Protect the sky day”, because we really want to stop these false solutions.

 

RMR: A central part of the COP refers to carbon markets and a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) [5] says that the world must reduce annual emissions by 7.6% in the next decade to achieve a goal of 1.5 º C. Also it warns that unless global greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 7.6% each year between 2020 and 2030, the world will miss the opportunity to meet the target of a temperature not exceeding 1.5°C as set out in the Paris Agreement. Is it possible to achieve this?

DB: Technically, it is definitely possible. We need to have a drastic transformation of the way in which we produce and distribute and consume energy. We need to have a radical transformation in the way that we produce, distribute and consume food. We need to look at how forests are managed, we need to change our economic systems. It is definitely possible and that is what is needed.

The climate science is very clear. The climate science is telling us what is needed, but where is the political will to actually implement what the climate science is saying? This is where we see a problem, because the governments have corporations completely entrenched in them. We need to reclaim our governments because they are supposed to represent us, the people, not the polluters. We need to reclaim a space like the UN because it is supposed to represent us, the people, not the polluters.

So we are fighting in these spaces, because what we need to do is radically transform our systems and when that happens we will be able to stop climate change and we will be able to solve many other issues. Because we are not just facing a climate crisis, we are facing a bunch of interrelated crises—like the inequality crisis, like the unemployment crisis. There is a crisis of trust. There is a complete breakdown in values that the world is experiencing right now. There is a biodiversity crisis.

We need to tackle all these crises and we need to do that with system change. That’s what Friends of the Earth International is saying. And when we do that, we will be able to not just stop the climate crisis, but also present a way for people of the world to have a life of dignity.

 

RWR: And also we have a problem because this report said that the main emitters of greenhouse gases are powerful countries like Japan, Russia, United States, China, EU and India.

DB: This is a big game. I read some media reports also from Spain talking about ‘the world’s current big emitters’. That’s the language that they are using when talking about India, China, and the US. And, of course, what the Northern countries want us to forget about in this whole situation is the historical emissions.

Climate change is not only caused by the current emissions, it is caused by the accumulation of emissions from the 1800s when the Industrial Revolution started and when fossil fuels started to be burned. So, the countries in the North, they used fossil fuels to build up their economies, to build up their societies, to have a life of dignity for most of their citizens—definitely not all, because there are still huge racial and class and other barriers within the Northern countries as well—but they used fossil fuels to build up their societies and now they’re saying: “No, forget about all that, let’s look at current emissions.”

Why? The accumulation of all these emissions are causing climate change, so we must talk about historical responsibility, we must talk about equity, we must talk about dividing the atmospheric space in a fair manner. We talk about Fair Shares [6] in Friends of the Earth International, and when we talk about Fair Shares, we must take a look at history. We cannot forget history and only look at the current situation.

 

RWR: We are talking about energy transition. Where are the transitions already taking place? We know that many experiences of change are led by women (such as the PENGON example presented in the Atlas of Utopias [7]). How can we make an energy transition?

DB: We definitely need a transition, and we need the transition to be just and we need the transition to be feminist also. We need to look at how we are going to move from the situation we find ourselves in today to a more sustainable system—that is what just transition is about. And, we need to ensure that the transition doesn’t leave anybody behind.

So in the case of Palestine, it is a community, the Bedouin people, that struggled to get energy because, of course, energy access is controlled by the Apartheid state of Israel. So, you have these women’s cooperatives getting together and our group Friends of the Earth Palestine supporting them to learn about solar technology that can be used directly to improve people’s lives and to improve women’s lives in the tasks that women normally do in the household. It is a really beautiful example of how we want the future to be.

We want renewable energy for everybody, in the hands of people, not owned by corporations. So this is the sort of energy transition that we need to see. Actually we’re going to be hosting an event here at the COP in Madrid which is about getting together some feminist allies to look at how can the transition be not only just but also feminist. We will be moving forward in this agenda also at the COP here in Madrid.

 

RWR: Some of the issues that you mention in this interview are present in the People Power Now Manifesto [2]. What can you say about it?

DB: Our People Power Now Energy Manifesto—which we released last year but we are bringing very strongly again for this COP because it still resonates very strongly and it is about the type of future we want to see—is about making sure what kind of energy we will have in the future. It’s not just talking about changing the energy source, it’s about changing the energy system. It’s talking about not just renewable energy, but renewable energy in the hands of communities, not corporations. Energy for people, not for profit.

In the Energy Manifesto, we talk about: “Where do the materials come from? Are people being affected in the life cycle of making this renewable energy?” If we are looking to build a just society, then we need to take all these issues under consideration: What is the energy for? Who uses the energy? We hear “So many megawatts of energy are needed”, but needed by who? Who uses the energy and for what? That’s a really important part of thinking about the energy transformation.

We also say that we want our energy system to be free from all forms of oppression including patriarchy. So, we also talk about that feminist angle, and that’s the vision of the energy future we want to see.

At COP we are releasing a Carbon Markets Briefing [8] that has been put together by Friends of the Earth International along with the other organizations that I mentioned before, so please also share with your readers. We have copies in English [8], Spanish [9] and French [10].