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Q&A: “We Are Moving Towards Modest Cooperation”

Posted on 07 December 2009 by editor

Mario Osava interviews Brazilian physicist JOSÉ GOLDEMBERG, key figure at 1992 Earth Summit

RIO DE JANEIRO

José Goldemberg. Credit: American Association for the Advancement of Science

José Goldemberg. Credit: American Association for the Advancement of Science

(IPS/TerraViva) – Vested interests in fossil fuels have blocked major steps against global warming so far, according to José Goldemberg, who has played a leading role at key times in the climate crisis facing humanity.

One of the driving forces behind the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, when he was the Brazilian interim environment minister, Goldemberg says Brazil today lacks the leadership it exercised at the Earth Summit and in the subsequent negotiations that produced the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, because its current proposals are so lacking in vision.

A respected energy expert and winner of the 2008 Blue Planet Prize, a kind of environmental Nobel Prize awarded by the Japanese Asahi Glass Foundation, the 81-year-old physicist continues to work as a professor at the Institute of Electrotechnics and Energy at the University of São Paulo.

In this interview with TerraViva, Goldemberg said he expects an outcome of “modest cooperation” from the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-15), which opened Monday in Copenhagen.

TERRAVIVA: There is a tremendous difference between perceptions of climate change in 1992, and today. And carbon dioxide emissions have risen a great deal, in rich countries as well as in emerging ones, in spite of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol. Were we naïve about it? Did science take too long to reveal the seriousness of the problem?

JOSÉ GOLDEMBERG: The 1992 “vision” was rather naïve. At the same time, we did not expect so much resistance from fossil fuel producers against changing their technologies and adopting newer and less polluting ones.

This explains why emissions reductions targets in the industrialised countries, spelled out in the Kyoto Protocol, have not been met. And developing countries, which had no binding reduction targets and were only responsible for 30 percent of global emissions in 1990, are now emitting 50 percent, but they are reluctant to take on commitments to reduce them.

This is partly due to the fact that the consequences of global warming take time to make themselves felt, so there is no very strong sense that urgent action is required.

TV: A change in the global energy mix cannot wait until oil runs out, let alone coal reserves. What can be done to overcome the inertia that is preventing a transition to a low-carbon economy?

JG: The assessment reports based on expert research published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the evidence that the signs of global warming are becoming clearer, are helping to motivate countries. There is no doubt, for instance, that the frequency of extreme climate events has increased in recent years.

TV: Can nuclear energy contribute to the solution?

JG: Yes, if the other problems associated with it are solved, such as safe disposal of radioactive waste and nuclear proliferation. These problems are different from those created by fossil fuels, and they are far from being solved, as can be seen in the cases of Iran and North Korea.

TV: What blocked the approval of your proposal of a target of 10 percent renewable energies in the global energy mix, which you presented at the Rio+10 conference, held in Johannesburg in 2002?

JG: The resistance of coal and oil producing countries, including the United States. The European Union enthusiastically supported my proposal, and in fact still does, and is now planning to generate 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

TV: Why has ethanol not taken off as a fuel, as the Brazilian government wishes? Have its prospects changed, in the face of the near panic caused by climate change?

JG: Ethanol has not taken off because the United States and the European Union impose tariff barriers to protect their domestic industries, which produce fuel alcohol from maize and wheat at a cost two or three times higher than Brazilian ethanol made from sugarcane.

TV: What are your expectations of the COP 15 conference? Is the world moving towards another “cold war,” as Graciela Chichilnisky (an Argentine-American scientist who made valuable contributions to the Kyoto Protocol) claims, or towards cooperation, since nobody wins from global warming?

JG: I think we are moving towards modest cooperation, because even China and India are planning to do something to reduce their emissions, although not as much as is needed.

TV: Has Brazil taken on a leadership role again on environmental issues, as it did in Rio in 1992, and in Kyoto in 1997?

JG: No, because the Brazilian proposal on its emissions reductions to COP 15 was formulated belatedly, and is voluntary rather than binding, so it has been received with a certain lack of trust. It’s easy to promise to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent by 2020, but it’s harder to keep that promise.

In addition, the Brazilian proposal is conditional, rather vaguely, on financial support from industrialised countries. In contrast, the target adopted by the southern state of São Paulo, which is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent in comparison to 2005  levels, is clear, objective, and was well received.

(END/2009)

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Climate Justice: The Only Solution to the Climate Crisis

Posted on 07 December 2009 by editor

Nnimmo Bassey. Credit: Courtesy FOEI

Nnimmo Bassey. Credit: Courtesy FOEI

By Nnimmo Bassey

COPENHAGEN (IPS/TerraViva) – The Copenhagen climate talks could become a milestone towards ‘Climate Justice’.

Unfortunately, the chances of achieving a just and effective UN agreement in Copenhagen are very slim, mainly because the leaders of rich, developed countries are not addressing the climate crisis with the holistic, rights-based approach known as Climate Justice.

Scientists tell us that we are at the start of a climate crisis. This crisis is about people and about justice, not just polar bears. Continue Reading

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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. Continue Reading

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