Cuban climate activist: 'Let's put people's power into Copenhagen talks'

Issue 

The UN COP15 Climate Summit in Copenhagen has dramatically revealed a growing divide between the poor and rich countries, whose development has depended on exploitation of the Third World and the environment.

Many Third World delegates have dismissed the North's proposals as too little, too late. Green Left Weekly spoke to Roberto Perez, a Cuban biologist, permaculturalist and activist, at the alternative people's summit Klimaforum09 about how the social movements can make the most of COP15's failure to make a real climate deal, and turn it into an opportunity to force the action needed to stop global warming and start creating climate justice.

"With COP15, everybody knows that there are so many powerful interests running behind the scenes to prevent what everybody knows is absolutely necessary for the planet", Perez said. "But it is very different to acknowledge this fact, and to call COP15 a failure. Let me explain why.

"The COP is one of the biggest spaces for countries to express their ideas. But a few people from a few [First World] countries do what they want, destroy the planet, and they don't want to repair anything, they don't want to pay anything.

"Right now, they want to download all of that responsibility onto the poor people of the planet." At COP15, it is becoming clearer how "many powerful people are trying to shut up many other voices."

Perez said he believed the COP15 and its accompanying protests revealed the real interests of the leaders of the wealthiest countries, and powerfully exposed their reluctance to act to the world. They refused to upset the corporate interests of that profit from inaction on climate change.

"Some powerful people want to commodify climate change ... and commodify the air, to set up carbon trading", Perez said. "[COP15] can bring back to the table of negotiations the people who have been running from Kyoto. Once [the rich countries] come here they have to be seen to share responsibility."

However, Perez is still skeptical of what the UN summit can achieve. "If you ask me, there won't be more commitments than the ones that have been announced. Copenhagen was negotiated many months ago. Many months ago people were working behind the scenes and saying, 'we're willing to go to this point' [with a target for reducing emissions]. There is a small range of negotiation. But if [an emissions reduction deal] is achieved, it will be the first time we have something to strap them into, something signed.

"The commitments at the end of it, if we're lucky, will be not enough to save the planet. But [the rich countries] will be trapped for the first time. Is it the agreement that we need? No. Is it the agreement that we want? Not quite. But [COP15] is a huge possibility for us to come together, for us to have this Klimaforum, to have more integration.

"The Group of 77 has 149 countries represented, and they're keeping their discussions open, while most of the other countries are negotiating behind the scenes. [COP15] must take into account even the opinions of Third World countries and tiny island states, the non-aligned people.

"The other thing that is very important is the money", Perez told GLW.

"And the money is what really, really hurts the rich people. The more money they have, the more stingy they get, and the more reluctant to give anything. It's not about development anymore; it's not about helping or transferring technology [to those who need it].

"There's a big crisis right now", and the First World needs to repay the Third World for its historical responsibility for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions.

"It's about saying [to the First World polluting corporations and nations] 'you did it. Repair the people who you are putting in danger'."

"How much [should the reparations be]? Trying to calculate something that is priceless is very difficult, but you can try. The European Union has made an announcement of US$10billion. That's a starting point, it's a framework [for pressuring governments to take further action]", he said.

"But the real framework is not about the United Nations, it's not about creating a new body to administer that money. The money needs to be funnelled directly to the communities, directly to people." He said this is needed so that communities can democratically decide how best the reparation money is spent, rather than being subjected to top-down decisions from ineffective and exclusive global bodies or corrupt governments.

"Especially we must take into account the increasing numbers of climate refugees. They're losing their countries, period. And they didn't do anything.

Perez said the talks provided an opportunity to find a global platform for those in the Third World who are already being disproportionately affected by climate change. "The voice of Cuba, the voice of ALBA [the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, a solidarity-based trade model], the voice of the small island nations. Maybe we are not the most powerful, we're not the biggest, we don't have that many resources, but at least we're saying, 'we're here'.

"We're all citizens of the planet and we all have the right to live here. So why are we going to be flooded? That is deeply unfair, that is criminal."

In response to the silencing and marginalisation of Third World delegates and the UN's clear inability to provide a deal that can stop a full-scale climate crisis, Perez said: "Ordinary people are saying, 'right, let's fix it'.

The United States' refusal to commit to binding targets is angering the international community and has the potential to trigger action from ordinary people who see the impotence of waiting for their leaders to act.

"I think that in the First World, there are a lot of people waking up, saying 'look, what's wrong here?' There were groups that were isolated and are now converging, convinced that it's if there is climate change, then the answer needs to be social change, not just technological change."

"The powerful people on this planet are very scared. Even when they don't show it, they're very scared. They consume the planet, but the planet is crumbling in their hands. And people are saying 'enough, that's it'. If I believed this would be a failure, I wouldn't waste my time coming here."