Climate talks: Venezuela leads poor nation walk out as rich refuse to pay

Claudia Salerno, Venezuela's lead climate negotiator.

A group of 133 developing nations have walked out of a key part of the United Nations climate talks in Warsaw, Poland. The walk out came amid a conflict over how countries that have historically emitted the most greenhouse gases should be held financially responsible for some of the damage caused by extreme weather in nations with low carbon emissions.

The United States, Australia, Canada and other industrialised countries are pushing for the issue — known as loss and damage — to be put off until after the 2015 climate talks in Paris.

The walkout occurred just hours after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed plans to hold a special climate summit of world leaders in New York next September. He urged governments to put forth more ambitious plans to cut carbon emissions, saying, quote, “current pledges are simply inadequate”.

Ban Ki-moon said: “The latest IPCC report confirms that our planet is continuing to warm. Sea levels are rising, and ice caps are melting. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. We are the first humans ever to breathe air with 400 ppm of carbon dioxide.

“Warmer ocean surface temperatures and higher sea levels contributed to the strength of Typhoon Haiyan and the devastation it caused the Philippines. This disaster is more than a wake-up call. It is a very serious alarm.

“Typhoon Haiyan puts an anguished human face on our struggle to combat the extreme weather and other consequences of climate change.”

Claudia Salerno, the lead climate negotiator for Venezuela, which is a member of the G77+China group that walked out. She became famous at the 2009 UN climate summit in Copenhagen when she banged her hand against the table in a bid to be heard, hitting it so vigorously that it began to bleed.

Venezuela is set to host a ministerial meeting next year ahead of the 2014 UN climate summit in Peru, where it will welcome the input of civil society.
Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman spoke to Salerno on November 21. It is abridged from, where the full transcript can be read.

* * *

Well, yesterday was Gender Day here at the Conference of Parties, the UN climate summit. What about women’s representation here at these climate talks?

In general, women are always very strong in their positions. I think Latin America is one of the regions that has the largest women representation at head of their delegations, and also we see some women coming from the African countries.

In general, gender is a quite disregarded issue in the formal agenda of the convention, although women have a very important role in the mitigation process and in the fighting for climate change.

Can you talk about what happened early this morning? Venezuela is part of the Group of 77 and China. They walked out of the climate talks about four this morning. Why?

“Loss and damage”, as it’s known, is an agenda that we never wanted to have in the first place. I called this the agenda of resignation, when things are going so wrong that you have to claim to rich countries to pay for the damages and the losses that they are causing you with their attitudes.

That is the most dramatic and pathetic agenda that we have on the table. And although when the situation that — for example, the typhoon recently in Philippines is showing that the situation is dramatical to the point of humanitarian needs.

When you see developed countries being so bold to tell you that they are not even considering cutting their emissions, but they are not even considering paying for the costs that those inactions have in the life of others, that is really rude and hard to handle it politically.

We are heading to a point in which countries are not ready to take responsibility for their acts. And in this case, even more pathetic, they are not wanting to be hold responsible for their inaction and their lack of responsibility with humanity and the future generations.

You say this is an economic conference, really, not a climate conference. Why?

Because every single action that you need to make to cut emissions actually get to the production of something. Economies produce emissions.

And when you are talking politically about cutting their emissions, those cuts are going to touch certain economies, certain kind of productions, certain lines of commercial trading relationships. So that is the kind of agreement that we need to make.

But there has been a misunderstanding. An economical discussion on how to produce better, how to make things in a better way, a more sustainable way, actually became a market opportunity discussion on how to take advantage of the pollution that we are causing.

That is the wrong interpretation that developed countries have of this process.

Ninety-five percent of Venezuela's economy is based on oil exports. How do you diminish that?

Actually, Venezuela is known as an oil producer, but is also a very green country. We were one of the first ones in the region to create an environment ministry and the first one creating a penal law for environment.

And we have a large development in the environmental side. For example, 60% of our territory is made up of legally protected areas in some form. Almost 50% of the territory has been untouched.

That actually leaves us with a GDP depending highly on oil, but producing emissions that represent 0.48% of total global emissions.
Next year’s UN climate summit, COP 20, will take place in Lima, Peru. But Venezuela is going to hold a pre-COP meeting. It is not formally recognized as a UN meeting. What is it about?

It is part of the formal convention process. It is actually an informal meeting, gathering of ministers, about 40 or 50 strong leaders in the process, to try to have a sense, in advance of the COP, of the political readiness to agree on certain things.

Venezuela decided to host this pre-COP meeting, this ministerial consultation. We have been seeing this tendency to make this a business and market profit convention, sadly taking advantage of the pollution that some are causing.

And if we are intended to sign an agreement in 2015, Venezuela said that we just not are going to be able to do it as governments alone; we need to get involved with our people and civil society in this process, together as one, and then to create an alliance.

So, next year Venezuela will host the first formal social consultation of every single social movement involved in the climate change agenda, with three preparation processes in advance of that pre-COP.

And then, for the first time, instead of having ministers listening to each other’s the same statements and stubbornness, we are going to have ministers listen to their people about what kind of agreement the world wants to have. Not just governments, but the world.

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