Climate 2010: An Exclusive Conversation With Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace

05/31/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Kumi Naidoo leads two of the most influential global NGO's working aggressively to promote solutions and viable scenarios for individuals and policy makers to prevent climate chaos. In an exclusive in-depth conversation, Naidoo explored the future after the disappointing failure of the UNFCCC to reach a fair, just and binding global agreement in Copenhagen.

JC: The UNFCCC continues to move forward with Cancun this year, how important and how likely do you think a global agreement is going to be in addressing GHG emissions and what the science is telling us we need to do?

KN: Well in Bali two years previously at COP13 there was a recognition that time was running out and that is why there was a Bali roadmap and Copenhagen/COP15 was seen by the UNFCCC as a make or break moment and that is what the science was telling and that is the basis on which not just Greenpeace but also the Tck Tck Tck campaign which I was and still am chairing, through all our energies we were trying to secure a fair, ambitious, and binding treaty. The fact that we failed to do so does put us in a precarious situation because the concern people have now is that with the mid-term congressional elections likely to go against President Obama we could end up with even more pessimistic situation in terms of the negotiating ambition that the US is bringing to Cancun/COP16. Having said that, at Greenpeace we are intensifying our efforts and we have an effort to put more pressure on the US, China, the basic countries in general as well as trying to see if the European Union which were fairly marginal in the the politics played out in Copenhagen, can get their act together and add some momentum to the talks. The UNFCCC is also going though a transition because with DeBoer leaving there is anticipation that perhaps someone from a developing country might be appointed who would bring urgency to the negotiations. We need to really try to do a couple of things. We have to on the one hand continue to push for a fair ambitious and binding treaty because we know from previous experience if we don't have a binding agreement there is virtually no chance of actual implantation taking place. The tragedy of Copenhagen was not so much that we didn't get a fair treaty out of it, but even if we got a fair, ambitious and binding treaty the real work would only start with the next day if you know what I mean. Getting the treaty - Kyoto is a good example - getting Kyoto ratified took so long and then if you look at the level of compliance with Kyoto we see how its not with the urgency that the science tells us we need to act. So for Greenpeace we are looking at intensifying our campaigning. We are also looking at our different areas of work, for example, defending our oceans and protecting our forests that historically were big programs which were in a sense standing on their own, now we continue to push on that front but also link it to climate change as the main narrative of the moment.


I will give you one piece of work we have done because we think the basic countries are a quite important piece of the puzzle right now, and I have just come form Brazil where I met with the three leading Presidential candidates. I even took time to go and see the devastation in the Amazon - zero deforestation which is critically needed to protect the rainforest and so on, is a struggle that we are on the brink of losing because the political will is just not there.

The message we are taking to the basic countries is that they need to help developing countries, the bigger developing countries must not now think of their self interest and behave in the same way the developed countries behaved, they (the basic developed countries) need to be champions of small and least developing countries and developing countries more generally. Of course each of the countries in basic are quite different in a way, I think China and India must also be pushed hard to feel comfortable with the idea of a binding treaty because there has been resistance to that, that's partly the appeal we were making to the likely new President of Brazil, we met the top three parties and they need to be a voice to encourage - to push - China and India in a direction that is not one voted entirely in self interest because there were lots of comments coming out of the Indian negotiator for example and the minster during Copenhagen that it was very much we are here to defend our national interests. We have reached a point where essentially the G4 nations have to agree that we either get this right as a common human family together and come out on the other end in a position of strength for our children and grandchildren, or we get it wrong and we all go down together. It's not as if on a long term basis the developed world is going to be protected. It is true of course that the developing world is least responsible for the climate chaos we are heading into are the ones that are now already paying the most brutal price for the effects of climate change. But at the end of the day we are all going to be in the same boat and we hope even the very notion of self interest can generate the kind of momentum we need. The last thing I would say is that we are not putting all of eggs in the COP process either, we have to continue to push at the national level in key strategic countries for what we have been calling an energy revolution which is a mixture between energy efficiency and serious investments in renewable energy helping countries to work toward a low carbon economy.

We need a treaty at the top level that can filter down but we also need from the bottom at the national level to push and drive what happens at the global level as well. Some of have been saying we need to generate a green race and now China is ahead of the US in terms of this year for the first time if you look at the volume of investment China is making compared to the US in renewable energy, China has surpassed the US in terms of renewable energy investment. So in a sense what we have to do is also push the idea of opportunity - that we have the opportunity to build the economy and create millions and millions of new green jobs which supports developed and the economy on the one hand but also protects the climate on the other.

Sorry! That was a bit long!

JC: No - fantastic. Obviously the science is telling us the situation is at the critical point and we may have already passed some tipping points. Based on prior IPCC findings that have consistently underestimated the rate of change and climate forcing we probably are already locked into a 2 degree rise at a minimum, and if serious action is not taken prior to 2015 we will surpass the 2 degree mark by at least an additional degree this century. Personally, I felt the best thing to come out of Copenhagen was that the developing countries refused to sign on and be bought off by a minimal payment from the US and the EU....

KN: Yes, I certainly agree with all of that....

JC: Last week I asked Bill McKibben at 350 what he thought was a realistic target in terms of fast start funding for the developing countries and he felt that 100 billion would be politically ambitious, and while it's not going to be enough in the long run it would be a good start. What's your feeling on that number as a target in the short term to help these countries deal with accelerating change? Also Kelly Rigg at GCCA (Global Campaign for Climate Action) said they are going forward with some form of a 10/10 campaign this year, will Greenpeace continue to be a partner with GCCA and do you see GCCA as a coordinating international presence in the continuing climate campaigns?

KN: Yes. I am the chair of the board at GCCA. Interestingly, I am the chair of the board by virtue of being the co-chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty ( and I was in that role before I even began talking to Greenpeace about the possibility of my joining them. But we just had a board meeting (GCCA) and Greenpeace is heavily connected to it, we are looking at seconding some of our staff. We feel that this crisis and the lack of momentum calls on all of us to be much bigger than we generally tend to be as the NGO community where we tend to sadly get focused on our own identities and so on. None of us are going to win this battle alone. We need to build the broadest alliance of civic voices, trade unions, NGOs, faith groups, social movements, progressive media if we are going to stand a chance.

I agree with everything you said and to put it more graphically, we've got like sixty-five months left, if you take 2015 being the tipping point. Once we get runaway climate change then we've lost. Already we have virtually a death warrant to some small island states. The thing that is very sad for me as an African for example, is that people sometimes in the mainstream of global public opinion and those who dominate the global power realities in the developed countries tend to talk about the impacts of climate change as something that is only going to happen in the future and according to Kofi Annan's global humanitarian forum we are losing three hundred thousand people already from climate impact. In Darfur for example with the genocide that has been going on - people sometimes simply see it as oh this is just an ethnic issue. But the biggest driver of that genocide has been water and the scarcity of arable land to grow food. You know lake Chad was one of the largest inland seas in the world right next to Darfur and it's virtually dry. If you look at a copy of An Inconvenient Truth Al Gore's thing he actually refers to lake Chad specifically in it, and so these impacts are happening already now. In that sense - just the notion of climate justice that Greenpeace and other organizations have been talking about - is critically important. What we mean by climate justice is that we need to recognize that it is not fair that those people in the countries that have been least responsible for the volume of emissions into the atmosphere are the ones who are most vulnerable to pay the first price.

I know Hurricane Katrina was not a direct link to climate change, but if you look there the people who were left most vulnerable when you have that kind of disaster are not necessarily the people who drive the big four by fours.

JC: It was a harbinger of things to come. In Copenhagen the question was posed whether we will have to have a catastrophic event with tremendous loss of life and property that can unequivocally be attributed to anthropogenic climate change before the world reacts - because if that's the case it will be far too late.


Yes, thank you very much.