“There Is No Such Thing as National Interest Any More”

An Open Letter from Durban

At five a.m. on Sunday morning, delegates from the world’s 194 countries gathered in Durban reached a deal on climate change that, however inadequate, is considered by most to be a breakthrough.

Following Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol yesterday, on the grounds that it was a dated document, Peter Kent, the Minister of he Environment, declared that good will had been demonstrated in Durban, and that the deal reached provided the basis for an agreement by 2015. He added that though the text provided a loophole for China and India, it represented the way forward.

Here are excerpts from an open letter to the delegates written by Kumi Naidoo, head of Greenpeace, and Jay Naidoo, chairman of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, and keynote speaker at last summer’s Couchiching conference:

“…You are heads of state, ministers and diplomats. The fact that you are here, charged with delivering a solution, makes you among the most powerful men and women who ever lived. Whether you choose to exercise that power is in your gift.

“A tremendous moral and political responsibility has been visited upon you, but also the privilege of being the people – in this place, at this time – who can shift our world onto a new path. You can listen to us, the people, and put our needs and a sustainable environment above what you may feel is your national interest.

“But please believe us when we say there is no such thing as national interest any more. Just as apartheid was a profound moral challenge to the world, the effects of climate change know no borders. Conflict and mass migration will touch your shores if the thermostat continues to rise.

“Here in Africa an unpredictable climate is like a powder keg. Our food systems have stood on fragile ground in even the best of times. We have gone from a net exporter of food in the 1960s to being dependent on food aid today. Responsibility for success here does not lie only with the nations who ask us to carry the climate burden as this century unfolds. African leaders also need to take a stand.

“This is our issue. Close to four out of five Africans depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods. It provides 70% of Africa’s full-time employment, one third of total GDP and earns us 40% of total export earnings. Importantly, too, the majority of farmers in Africa are women, and women are (and will continue to be) in the eye of the climate storm. For every degree Celsius rise in temperature above the growing season optimum, farmers can expect a 10 percent decline in grain yields. This is not a problem for the future.

“A mistrust that is driven by the human greed of a minority has plundered the hopes and aspirations of the majority. People sense it at a visceral level; this year alone it has toppled dictators, and someday soon – perhaps not this year or the next, but someday soon – the victims of rising temperatures will similarly find their voice.”

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7 responses to ““There Is No Such Thing as National Interest Any More”

  1. The “open letter” is eloquent about the urgency of the issue, but I see no evidence here or anywhere of a “breakthrough” at Durban. Peter Kent’s summary — good will has been demonstrated, and the current deal provides the basis for an agreement by 2015 — is hardly encouraging. Good will is necessary but far from sufficient! And an agreement today to agree in 2015 allows us to hope for nothing better than an agreement in 2015 to reach a deal by 2019…. As the late great Kurt Vonnegut would say, “and so it goes”.

    • Alright, alright. Any agreement is a “breakthrough”, according to the latest dictionary, if the Chinese or the Indians or the Americans have not vetoed it.

  2. In spite of the rhetoric, this maybe legally binding agreement is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. And found this story on the main negotiator’s work told me more than the rhetoric:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/11/connie-hedegaard-durban-climate-talks?intcmp=239

    eg. “Hedegaard … was the architect of the EU plan to gather developed and developing economies together for the first time in a legally binding agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions. A deal was struck that met nearly all of the EU’s aims, satisfied most developing countries and even brought the US on board.

    In doing so, Hedegaard saved the UN process of negotiations, which without a deal at Durban would have fallen apart. Hedegaard’s manoeuvring also forced China to acknowledge that it will take on commitments on an equal legal footing to developed countries.

    “You could hear the shifting of tectonic plates,” said one diplomat. “This is hugely important not just for the climate talks but in geopolitical terms.”

  3. Greenpeace is disappointed. What a shocker.
    This is religion, not science.
    The other night the CBC carried a 7 or 8 minute piece about an 11 year old who is worried. At that age I was scared of the devil.

  4. Like the man after orthopedic surgery, I stand corrected… or at least chastened. I hope the optimists are right!

  5. No such thing as National Interest any more? Tell that to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

  6. A NYTimes Editorial for Dec.16, 2011 starts as follows:
    “Startling new evidence that global carbon dioxide emissions are rising faster than ever did little to increase the urgency of the climate talks in Durban, South Africa, which concluded earlier this week. Once again, the world’s negotiators kicked the can down the road.
    Even as delegates from nearly 200 countries were meeting, the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists, reported that emissions from carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, the main greenhouse gas, had jumped 5.9 percent in 2010, the sharpest one-year rise on record. The report also said that carbon emissions cumulatively had risen by an astonishing 49 percent since 1990, higher than any previous estimate.”
    My italics added. Some breakthrough!