Even the smallest breakthrough in climate negotations can be measured in lives saved, says Wael Hmaidan, the director of the Climate Action Network.
The latest round of UN climate talks have stalled following a protest from the Russian delegation, which says it is unfair that some of their carbon credits are no longer being recognized. But the director of the Climate Action Network Wael Hmaidan says the infighting shouldn't be seen as a sign that the talks have failed.
DW: Let’s start with this current battle - what is it that Russia wants?
Wael Hmaidan: What Russia wants is to prove it’s a superpower. The battle about carbon credits, they’ve lost it, it’s over. In Doha, at COP 18, countries agreed to cancel this surplus of emissions. It was a big win for the environment and for the people.
But we’re talking billions of carbon credits from before the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. After their industrial base collapsed, former Soviet nations were producing less carbon. They say they should be rewarded for this. Why isn’t that seen as an acceptable argument?
It’s not acceptable because it’s about effort you make between now and the future. Credit is given according to the effort you make to fight climate change. Russia is saying they have the right to raise their emissions freely because of this collapse - but the carbon budget that we can allow is very limited. So if they want to develop their economy, they need to do it in a safe way, a sustainable way.
We are demanding this from all countries, including the poorest. We are demanding that they support low carbon development. China, India, all African countries - our demand is low carbon development. Russia is way ahead of these countries in terms of development and cannot have a free ride.
At the climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009, you described the death that would spread across the globe if action wasn’t taken. You said 'Our political leaders have failed us. They have condemned humanity; they have condemned many species on the planet.' But you are at the negotiation table for a fourth year in a row. Why do you keep coming back?
If we lose a battle, it means more death, it means losing time. The outcome will be harder to change. But you can still save another 100,000 lives or a million lives. Cancelling the surplus carbon credits in Doha definitely contributed to saving lives.
If we don’t reduce emissions enough to stay below two degrees, we might reach scary scenarios. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Bank say that if we don’t start action now, by the end of this century we might exceed four degrees temperature increase, which means the collapse of human civilization. We will not be able to adapt no matter what we try.
We need to start reducing our emissions now to be able to avoid the four degrees. I think the negotiations are going to reduce emissions. The question is by how much.
You’ve been a committed advocate for climate protection and citizen action for a very long time, which indicates that you still have faith in people. Why?
What is my role as a person on this planet? I don’t believe my fight is an additional thing I do. It is my personal responsibility. Everyone should be an activist. Every person has a role to serve their community and humanity, this is in my core values and that’s why I am an activist.
In the climate fights, in the environmental fights, we've already won so many fights against so many environmental disasters. The ozone hole, which was a big disaster and a big threat 10 years ago? We solved it. We got an agreement, countries acted on it.
You’re talking about getting rid of CFCs?
Exactly, the chlorofluorocarbons that caused the ozone hole. We won that. In the past, for just about all the rivers in Europe, you couldn’t stick your hand in without chemicals burning your skin. Now a lot of that pollution in many European rivers has been cleaned up.
World leaders agreed to ban CFCs when it became clear this chemical was ripping a hole in the ozone layer
Pollution is still a big problem, but we have won many fights in history and this fight, climate change, we will win it. The question is: will we do it in time?
Every year, more and more activists are joining the fight, more and more politicians are joining the fight, more and more countries are increasing their ambition. Climate change is the only problem in history which has a time limit. If we are too late it’s irreversible, it’s a race. It’s my generation’s responsibility to fight climate change. It’s a threat that can lead to the collapse of human civilization.
Wael Hmaidan is the director of the Climate Action Network, a worldwide network of 850 NGOs working to promote climate protection and sustainability. He has been participating in the UN climate talks in the German city of Bonn.