Q&A: “Copenhagen Should Target the Developed World”

Posted on 04 December 2009 by editor

Andrea Bordé interviews DJIMON HOUNSOU, U.N. Goodwill Ambassador for Climate Change

Actor Djimon Hounsou opens the U.N.Summit on Climate Change in September 2009 with a quote from the late astronomer Carl Sagan.

Actor Djimon Hounsou opens the U.N.Summit on Climate Change in September 2009 with a quote from the late astronomer Carl Sagan. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Castro

UNITED NATIONS (IPS/TerraViva) -  Although a professional actor by trade, Djimon Hounsou takes his role as a U.N. goodwill ambassador for climate change seriously, and hopes to see a strong mandate reached in Copenhagen that puts the spotlight on developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Terraviva spoke with Hounsou about his hopes for what will come out of the climate change conference in Copenhagen.

He believes that developed countries should take responsibility for their share of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, which is currently above 60 percent, but he also hopes to see developing countries launch their own initiatives to combat climate change.

According to U.N. officials, at least 80 world leaders will be at the Copenhagen conference from Dec. 7-18 to negotiate a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol.

At a time in history that scientists, activists and U.N. officials describe as a crucial turning point to save humanity from the worst effects of climate change, U.S. President Barack Obama will be showing up in Copenhagen for only one day, and some officials worry that the U.S. could throw a wrench in other developed nations’ efforts to set tough emissions limits.

According to a statement from the White House, Obama plans to offer a U.S. emissions target that is about 17 percent below 2005 levels for 2020.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s foremost scientific authority on the issue, recommends a 25 to 40 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by industrialised countries by 2020.

Some other developed nations are following the recommendation. Britain, for example, pledged a 34 percent cut by 2020, while Japan is set to cut its emissions by 25 percent.

However, with the United States accounting for about a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, some critics say Obama’s plan is too little, too late.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

TERRAVIVA: How are you handling your role as Goodwill Ambassador for Climate Change at the U.N.?

DJIMON HOUNSOU: First of all, it’s an absolute honour to work for the United Nations, for climate change at Copenhagen. When they asked me to come and speak on behalf of this, I was really determined.

TV: What do you hope to see at Copenhagen?

DH: You know, I am an actor. I am certainly not a policymaker. I guess what we are looking for at Copenhagen is to be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also to teach the third world, the continent of Africa and elsewhere, Asia and the developing world, to help them find ways to cope and adapt. That is the goal.

TV: What is the most important objective that the U.N. should work to accomplish in the coming year?

DH: Certainly to hold the developed world somewhat responsible and accountable for the amount of emissions that they are emitting on a regular basis. To find a tax incentive, ways to deal with it.

TV: Is it really about the developed world giving aid to developing countries to achieve their environmental goals?

DH: No, because I think it is important to encourage and champion the continent of Africa. Third world countries need to be self-sufficient, but in order to do that we have to understand that only 3.6 percent of global emissions come from Africa – 3.6 percent – so the understanding is the ones that are hardest hit by the changing of our temperature are not necessarily the ones that are emitting.

So the understanding is to find ways to adapt to the changing climate, to help them prepare. Farming is definitely the main way of life, which is pretty much the only source of income and survival.

I think what the world and those leaders are trying to accomplish is to hold the countries like China, America accountable and the European continent somewhat accountable for the [greenhouse] gas emissions that they are putting out there.

TV: As of now, the U.S. Congress has not issued any mandates, and President Obama has only decided to show up for one day at Copenhagen (on the way to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize in Stockholm). What do you think the outcome will be if indeed the U.S. cannot agree on a treaty with other member states?

DH: Well, personally, I think it will be certainly devastating. Obviously, in order to find a global solution we need our leaders to gather and champion a solution.

[With] ground flooding and erratic seasons, we need to find solutions. Obama going there in support of the cause sends a message that this is a serious issue, certainly an issue that needs to be tackled now and dealt with, and hopefully champion all of the other countries.

As if someone would one day come and save us from the devastation that we certainly are causing… Obviously this is a global issue that needs a global solution.


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