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Q&A: “Create a Protocol Based on Non-Emissions”

Emilio Godoy interviews YOLANDA KAKABADSE, president of WWF * - IPS/TerraViva

CANCÚN, Mexico, Dec 9 2010 (IPS) - Latin America should create regional conventions to protect biodiversity and combat the impacts of climate change, according to Ecuadorian environmentalist Yolanda Kakabadse, president of the World Wild Fund for Nature International (WWF).

Yolanda Kakabadse Credit: WWF web site

Yolanda Kakabadse Credit: WWF web site

Climate agreements should be centred on eliminating polluting emissions, and not just reducing them or mitigating their effects, said Kakabadse, an activist who served as environment minister in Ecuador from 1998 to 2000.

She sat down with TerraViva in the southeastern Mexican city of Cancún, where she is attending the 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP16), which wraps up on Friday.

Q: What needs to change in the COP meetings? A: I think a different dynamic is needed. In terms of their content, the lack of stronger links between the conventions on climate change and biodiversity is very damaging.

The two issues should be considered together, because ultimately climate change is due to poor ecosystem management.

I also think that the traditional way of grouping countries together does not make much sense any more. For instance, people talk about Latin America, but there is no strong foundation for the belief that its governments all have the same agenda. The United Nations should support all these initiatives.

Q: What can the region expect to get out of this summit, in areas like finance and technology transfer? A: The question is, what is it getting, and what can it get. It should get more. This continent is the richest in natural resources, and that makes it a particularly attractive region of the planet for a number of actions, like devising a model of natural resource protection, and for creating new dynamics for dealing with climate change, biodiversity management, water, forests, and the concept of environmental services.

This natural capital has not been politically exploited, especially in the case of South America, at these global debates. I think it will gain no more and no less than other regions. We have not developed a South American agenda very successfully.

Q: Is it feasible to design a climate agenda by country blocs? A: Yes, absolutely. Among all the issues within the conventions, some have real implications for the region, while others are completely irrelevant to it.

We should create regional agreements that are based on the same framework, but that take into account relevant matters, because we waste an enormous amount of time trying to respond to each and every challenge in the treaties.

We should concentrate on issues concerned with forests, water, the problems of adapting to climate change, and shared management of ecosystems and fisheries. If we do not do this, we will not be able to contribute key ideas to the convention.

We face a very serious problem in that our South American countries do not receive sufficient funding.

Q: Should some countries, like Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, adopt compulsory emissions reduction targets? A: Every country should have goals for the rational use of resources, and implement social inclusion policies. As of now, the approval process for every new installation should take development ethics into account, because this is not only about money but about responsibility towards our own populations.

It is not a matter of the countries of the South providing climate benefits for those of the North: we will all sink or swim together. Every country has a social obligation to set emission reduction targets.

Q: What should the foundation of development ethics be? A: One of the key issues is rational use of natural resources, which requires the development of policies for conservation, respect for our ecosystems — not just as the source of life, but also for their contribution to economic opportunities — social welfare and alternative job creation.

This perspective is absent in our countries. We simply exploit resources without caring about what will happen in the next 10 years.

Q: How can opposition to the idea of putting a price on ecosystems be overcome? A: There is a tendency to confuse value and price. When we really appreciate the true value of natural resources, we can take policy decisions, and when we have designed strategies to protect those ecosystems, we will be able to think about an efficient pricing system.

I also see the debate about pricing as a fallacy, because it arises from an anti-market ideology. In my country we market bananas, oil and shrimp. Why should we be reluctant to put a price on a service that guarantees our livelihood?

Q: Ecuador has established the Yasuni Initiative, which seeks to raise international funds in exchange for refraining from extracting oil from the Yasuni biosphere reserve. Could this approach be replicated in oil-producing countries like Mexico? A: The initiative is based on the argument that oil should be left underground in places where the value of the flora and fauna is higher. There is a cost involved in leaving fossil fuels underground, and it should be paid for. This requires that the convention recognise the value of non- emissions.

The price of avoiding emissions is the profit that would be made by extracting the oil, and if a country is willing to forgo this, it should be rewarded for these non-emissions. It is entirely valid to create a new protocol, based on the concept of non-emissions.

* This story appears in the IPS TerraViva online published for the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Cancún.

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