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Calderon On Climate Talks: ‘As We’re Squabbling, The Plane Is Going Down’

By Brad Johnson  

"Calderon On Climate Talks: ‘As We’re Squabbling, The Plane Is Going Down’"

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In an impassioned speech, Felipe Calderon, the president of Mexico and the host of the international climate summit taking place in Cancun, called for the nations of the world to stop “squabbling” and to work as one to halt global warming. After a session featuring the heads of state from Norway to Nauru, he recalled the scene in Copenhagen, Denmark, when nearly all of the heads of state of the entire world came together last year, yet left with a sense of failure and recrimination. After a state dinner with the queen of Denmark, Calderon said, they spent their moment of opportunity fighting behind closed doors for hours over who was to blame for the disastrous situation our civilization faces now — while the smallest nations, those least responsible for the pollution, are now on the “point of disappearance”:

Sometimes I think in this respect we fail to understand that we’re all passengers in the same vessel, in the same aircraft, or the same vehicle. Our aircraft has now seen the disappearance of the pilot. Something happened in the cabin. And all the passengers are responsible for the aircraft, and we’re squabbling about these matters. Whether the guilt lies with those in the tourist class or those sitting up front in first class and the plane continues to go down. It’s as if we were in a truck on a winding road and the driver has had a heart attack, and we’re all on the edge of hitting a tree, going over into a ravine, squabbling again. I think, friends, somebody has to take control of the aircraft or put on the brakes.

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Calderon endorsed a practical and positive outcome to the Cancun talks — an official acceptance of emissions targets, while recognizing that they may be insufficient to preserve the future of the small island states; immediate deployment of the international green fund for the least developed countries; the REDD+ mechanism to turn deforestation into reforestation; and forward steps on putting a price on carbon at the national level. These are just some of the challenges facing the negotiators today — the United States delegation continues to be primarily concerned about transparency for China‘s pollution-reduction commitments, for example.

Expressing a sentiment shared by the activists outside the halls, and by the millions of people already suffering in our diminished, polluted world, Calderon called for the nations of the world to transcend their differences, disparities and faults and work together, finally, before all of civilization reaches the verge of disappearance.

“But today let us act,” Calderon concluded. Rejecting the ideological stand of the Bolivian negotiators — and the typical diplomatic tactics of practically every party in Cancun — Calderon said that “radical pretexts or all-or-nothing postures shouldn’t provide a proper excuse for those who don’t want to cooperate to spend another year fighting and squabbling among the passengers among that single truck, that single bus, that single aircraft which is on the point of crashing.”

Transcript of the English translation:

I’ve been sitting alongside the president of the Maldives, a good friend. And he repeatedly brought attention to the situation of the island states in Copenhagen. We had a dinner with Queen Margarita and many other heads of state. But after the event we went to a room to discuss until two, three, four am. I can describe what I saw there in that room. There were constant reproaches made by one group against others. There were developing countries who quite properly were blaming the developed countries because historically speaking, the increased carbon emissions through their industrial development. That was quite right. But the developed countries were saying even if the developed states got down to zero emissions that weren’t enough to halt global warming. They were also quite right. As developing states grow, we are going to emit greenhouse gases ourselves. We’ll all be worsening the problem.

And the sad and paradoxical thing is that the smaller the states, the more vulnerable they are. They haven’t in the past, nor today, aren’t emitting gases. They are not just vulnerable, they are on the point of disappearance. I think we need new terms.

Then the meeting continued not just that night, it’s been going on all year, in fact, it’s been going for 16 COPs now.

And a thought occurs to me. Sometimes I think in this respect we fail to understand that we’re all passengers in the same vessel, in the same aircraft, or the same vehicle. Our aircraft has now seen the disappearance of the pilot. Something happened in the cabin. And all the passengers are responsible for the aircraft, and we’re squabbling about these matters. Whether the guilt lies with those in the tourist class or those sitting up front in first class and the plane continues to go down. It’s as if we were in a truck on a winding road and the driver has had a heart attack, and we’re all on the edge of hitting a tree, going over into a ravine, squabbling again. I think, friends, somebody has to take control of the aircraft or put on the brakes.

I think the first key thing is to take control, and then to steer the process for emissions reductions, stop the discussions among our ranks about matters, however valuable they may be. I think that we have to reduce emissions so that global warming so that it is not more than 1.5 degrees. But the logical thing would be to stop global warming all together, to get down to zero. However the worst scenario is not to reach two degrees. The worst, as Nicholas Stern said yesterday, we will reach 5 degrees warming. And it’s not just the small island states — the majority of our states will be on the verge of disappearance. Whether it is to be one, or five, or two, let us try to get control of the truck, control of the aircraft, stabilize things. Only that way will be able to not just refine the targets but also the instruments which we need.

And a last thought: We’ve been very very focused on targets — 1.5, four, whatever. I think what is key is to focus on the methods, on the specific practical instruments here and now to reach those targets. Ultimately what we need to do is to apply all the instruments to the maximum to cut the emissions. We’ll reach those brakes and press those down to the floor. We have to do that.

In Cancun, I hope that in addition to endorsing the targets, we can start right now to looking at the instruments, the bus’s brakes, the controls of the aircraft. What are those? The resources that need to come on tap now, so that countires don’t delay the implementation of the green fund. We need the 28 billion dollars put to use now. Particularly in the least developed countries. The REDD+ mechanisms should come on line now as part of the effort, so that if you’ve got a deforested forest in Africa, or Central America, or Asia, you can reforest it, and thereby reduce emissions. So that discussions about a price on carbon gets underway now within a national context. These are the instruments, and I think that’s the path to follow.

Taking control of the truck, taking the rudder, and starting to apply the brakes isn’t the only problem. We don’t know which curve we’re going to crash in. We need to get back the controls which we lost a long time ago. Let us take that step. Let us be practical where we can be practical — which implies not resignation or renunciation with respect to the fact that this is the only world we’ve got. The island states and everyone’s countries should last reasonably and should be fit for living in forever. This is the target. But today let us act. I don’t think that radical pretexts or all-or-nothing postures should provide a proper excuse for those who don’t want to cooperate to spend another year fighting and squabbling among the passengers among that single truck, that single bus, that single aircraft which is on the point of crashing. We need to get control back over the vessel.

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