About That Blackmail Deal in Paris...
"Loss and Damage": U.S. Stymies Push for Compensation for Climate Devastation at U.N. Climate Summit (source)
by Gaius Publius
More about the Paris climate blackmail deal we wrote about recently, the offer by the U.S. delegation (and others in its camp) that they would agree to a lower cap on global warming — a less-damaging 1.5°C ceiling instead of 2°C — in exchange for the most vulnerable nations never again asking for reparations, i.e., damage liability claims.
The video at the top is telling and not very long. I suggest listening through. The transcript with my annotations is below. But first, five climate-related terms you should know:
- Adaptation — How a group or a nation protects itself against damage due to climate change. For example, putting up a sea wall to offset sea level rise is an adaptation.
- Mitigation — How a group or a nation helps to lessen the severity of climate-caused damage. For example, eliminating carbon emissions and replanting forests are mitigations.
- "Loss and damage" — Destruction of property or well-being, suffered by of a group or nation, caused by climate change. For example, loss can include destruction of a coastal village or a town due to flooding after permanent sea level rise. Examples of loss are numerous and varied; economically, for instance, a whole region's agriculture industry could completely disappear if a climate-induced drought never lifts.
- "Liability and compensation" — Payment for climate-induced "loss and damage" by those responsible for climate change. The developed countries are universally recognized as the greatest cause of climate change, since they burned the most accumulated atmospheric carbon. "Loss" is what's suffered. "Compensation" is what's paid by those responsible.
- "Finance" — In the world of U.N. climate negotiations, finance is code for "money made available to nations like India so that they can pay for ("finance") solar power projects, for example, instead of coal-fired power plants. Under the reported U.S.-backed offer, no additional money will be made available for "finance."
Cumulative CO2 emissions since 1850 (click to enlarge; source)
The U.S.-led group of developed nations is telling the poorer and more vulnerable nations, in effect, "We'll commit to a lower warming limit, and we'll put more money for damage compensation on the table. But if you agree to this deal, that's all you get. You agree to never again to ask for more money. You release the developed nations, in other words, from all future claims of liability." In short, you can talk about your losses, but not about compensation for them.
As you'll hear in the interview, there's also a certain amount of strong-arm going on to get the smaller nations to accept this deal. Ugly stuff.
The Democracy Now piece is introduced this way:
On Monday, the prime minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, said world leaders must prevent the world from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Many of the countries most impacted by climate change—but who did little to cause it—are also calling for the U.N. climate agreement to include compensation for adjusting to climate change, known as "Loss and Damage." But documents obtained by our guest reveal the United States is pushing these countries to forgo such rights. Nitin Sethi is senior associate editor at the Business Standard in India. His recent piece is called "US and EU want Loss and Damage as a toothless tiger in Paris agreement."Now the transcript with my interspersed comments.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Le Bourget, Paris, France, from the COP21, the U.N. climate summit. We’re here for the full two weeks. We end today’s show with an update in the negotiations taking place here at the summit. On Monday, the prime minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, said world leaders must prevent the world from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.As you'll see later in this piece, the minister quoted above was the subject of some "pressure" to take a less strong stance. Now the main interview (my emphasis throughout):
PRIME MINISTER ENELE SOPOAGA: At the current warming, my country, Tuvalu, and many others like us in the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean, our future is already bleak. We must urgently cut greenhouse gases and dramatically transform the global economy to a renewable energy pathway. Any further temperature increase beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius will spell—will spell the total demise of Tuvalu and other low-lying and island nations.
AMY GOODMAN: Joining us now is Nitin Sethi, senior associate editor at the Business Standard in India. His recent piece is called "US and EU want Loss and Damage as a toothless tiger in Paris agreement." "Toothless tiger," Nitin, what exactly do you mean? You got a hold of documents that most people haven’t seen.Notice the bolded part above. Sethi is saying that the vulnerable nations, if they suffer "loss and damage," might seek "compensation" from nations that are liable because they have not met their carbon emissions goals. The U.S. (Obama and Kerry) and the group of nations on whose behalf they are offering this deal want to forestall those claims.
NITIN SETHI: Loss and damage, as an issue, refers to a couple of things. One, primarily, it’s been about that if you cannot adapt to inevitable climate change, what do countries do? They will suffer loss and damage. And will they be able to seek compensation? Will they be able to claim liability cases against countries which have not cut their emissions enough? Now, in this case, the U.S., particularly, on the Umbrella Group [presumably a group of developed nations that the U.S. is negotiating for], and then supported by EU, they’ve come back and said, "We want to make sure that in Paris you actually forgo all your compensation rights in the future," saying, "You must explicitly say that you shall never, ever ask for compensation hereafter the"—
AMY GOODMAN: Wait. Wait, wait, wait. So they’re saying you can use the words "loss and damage."
NITIN SETHI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: The United States is saying.
NITIN SETHI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: But only if you agree that you don’t get compensation.
NITIN SETHI: Absolutely. Now, that really means loss and damage is only a notional idea at the end of the day. You’re looking at risk insurance at the best of the times that might comfort some countries, but the poor countries can’t afford insurance because the premiums are going to be so high. So consider the fact that if you have sea level change, no insurance company is going to ensure you against sea level rise, because it’s almost a certainty. The risk levels are so high. The premiums are going to be so high, the poor countries can’t afford it. So the only option they had in the long run was some hope that you would be compensated, in different ways, and there could be liability charges, where if the countries haven’t cut their emissions enough, which causes the climate change, they should be paying for it. Now, U.S. is saying, "We want to cut this off right away. We should never have a conversation about it hereafter."
Now about the framing. I think in the U.S. particularly, claims against the money of the wealthy are positioned as requests, claims against our generosity. Goodman asks about that:
AMY GOODMAN: So, I think it’s framed in the United States as a kind of—should the U.S. be charitable for those who are less able to take care of themselves in other parts of the world?Sethi has gotten his hands on some documents that back this up:
NITIN SETHI: Well, I don’t think it’s about charity. You’re paying compensation for the damage you’ve caused to your neighbor, in some sense. You break somebody’s fence, you set it upright. This is when you’re destroying lives of people, you’re paying them compensation for the fact that they will never be able to live in their homelands, perhaps, thereafter. This is not charity. This is a completely different ballgame.
AMY GOODMAN: So what are these documents that you’ve gotten?Barack Obama is personally involved in these "negotiations," in presenting this offer. Note how Obama first positions himself:
NITIN SETHI: Well, the document is an offer that the U.S. made informally to the G77 and other developing country groups, saying, "This is loss and damage. I agree to this. But if you have this explicit one sentence saying you shall forgo all rights to compensation and lability."
AMY GOODMAN: Now, President Obama met with small island nation presidents.The bolded part above refers to the representative from Tuvalu, whose minister is quoted speaking in strong terms at the beginning of this clip. This speaks to the strong-arm going on. These nations really are weak, pawns in the game of international chess, finance and development. There are many ways the powerful can "influence" them to back away from threats to the money of the wealthier nations.
NITIN SETHI: Mm-hmm, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: This is—is this actually what he was telling them? We got the word he said, "I’m an island boy myself, right, grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia."
NITIN SETHI: Absolutely. Well, as per all countries, I think there’s a big degree of game that they all play, a theatric that they play. If you look at what happened after President Obama met these few countries—say, Marshall Islands, Saint Lucia and others—each of them came out saying, "Well, we’re working with the U.S. for a language which is convenient to the U.S." Now, that actually signifies that there’s a break even amongst what’s called the Association of Small Island States, which is comprised of Caribbean island states, those in the Pacific, those in the Indian Ocean and the African region. The Association of the Island States are cracking away under the pressure from U.S. We’ve seen the Caribbean islands move away. In fact, we hear now that even Tuvalu is saying, "Maybe we can live with the fact that we’ll not have compensation." This has happened just about an hour ago, where Tuvalu, behind closed doors, said, "We can look for language that, you know, kind of makes you happy. Just don’t say it so loudly. Say it in a polite fashion that we have a face saver at the end of the day."
Which leads to this exchange, about strong-arming from the U.N. itself:
AMY GOODMAN: You also talk about U.N. censorship. What is that?See what I mean? This is beyond ugly. It's criminal.
NITIN SETHI: Sorry. Could you say that again?
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about U.N. censorship? What I mean is, we spoke to Yeb Saño the other day. Now he is a pilgrim who walked from Rome here to Paris, but he’s not the chief climate negotiator for the Philippines, as he was. He was pulled right before Lima, Peru, the last COP ["Conference of the Parties"].
NITIN SETHI: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: What happens to climate negotiators who speak out?
NITIN SETHI: I mean, if you remember, you can go back to Copenhagen, where you had Di-Aping Lumumba from Sudan. If you remember, he was the first one to talk about issues of apartheid, the way developing countries were being treated. We never saw him back in the negotiations thereafter. It’s happened to Yeb Saño two years ago, because he fought really hard to get loss and damage in when nobody else was standing up for it. He disappeared. In fact, so far, the Philippines had to walk away. Philippines was forced to move away from the like-minded developing countries, because they were pretty strong. Now Philippines is part of the vulnerable countries group, where they actually don’t have a stand on loss and damage anymore. This year, again, if you remember, a few days ago, the G77 chair, Ambassador Diseko from South Africa, she actually on the court said, "My country is getting phone calls saying take certain negotiators out of the talking rooms because they’re being hardliners." And we’ve seen one of the key negotiators for the G77 group was Juan Hoffmaister from Bolivia, and he’s nowhere in the room anymore. And he’s the key guy on loss and damage and adaptation.
AMY GOODMAN: Who’s taking him out? Who’s taking all these people out?
NITIN SETHI: Well, nobody said who’s taking them out. But you clearly know in whose favor it is if you take these guys out. It’s primarily the U.S. and other developed countries. They’re the only ones who make this call to say these specific guys should be removed. And this is not the first time it’s happened. If you remember Bernarditas Muller from Philippines, she doesn’t come from the Philippines badge anymore. Again, Philippines being under pressure not to have these people who know the convention, who know the rules, who know the history of these negotiations.
First, it should be clear by now that no one currently in power in the U.S. — not Obama nor anyone working for him — is negotiating on your behalf. They're negotiating on the behalf of those who put them in power in the first place. That won't change until he is out of office, if then.
Second, the idea of using the force of international litigation is clearly something the Obamas, the Merkels and the Camerons are worried could happen — worried enough that they're willing to burn cred floating a dirty little blackmail deal like this one. That possibility, using international litigation with failure to meet national climate targets as evidence of liability, should be investigated and pursued.
Third, I still think that the main avenue for change will be force of some kind, perhaps of all kinds combined. But if you're electorally inclined, you can support this guy. Of the Democratic candidates with a chance of winning, I take him at his word; he gets it about climate disaster and the need to address it. (You can adjust the split any way you want at the link.)
More on this as it develops. This isn't Copenhagen 2009, with no one paying attention. This is Paris, and the eyes of the drought-filled, drowning world are watching closely.