Greenpeace director: Argentina has taken bad climate positions

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Buenos Aires Herald, Paris

Pressure from environmental organizations is on the rise at the United Nations summit on the outskirts of Paris, where non-governmental organizations are pushing for an ambitious and legally binding agreement that would help to prevent the planet from warming beyond a certain threshold.

In an interview with the Herald, Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo criticized Argentina’s plans to deal with the scourge of climate change and said the country should lower its emissions from the agricultural sector and stop investing on unconventional hydrocarbon production in the Vaca Muerta formation. Countries should, instead, be striving toward having an energy matrix that is 100 percent percent on renewables by 2050, he said.

Argentina’s climate pledge is not as ambitious as those of neighboring countries. What do you think of the country’s stance?

Most countries aren’t doing what they’re supposed to. Argentina has taken some very bad positions. It doesn’t support the objective of preventing temperatures from rising more than 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius and it’s not pushing for a long-term vision on climate change. Some countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia are so clever and strategic that you don’t hear about them but they are actually big blockers.

More than half of the country’s emissions come from agriculture, what changes should the country do then to lower them?

Agriculture is a challenge but it’s a fallacy to say that the way we do agriculture now is the only way. The agricultural system is completely broken, we waste one third of the food we produce every year. As the threat of climate change becomes more visible, people will start asking how much distance does the food travel from the place it was grown to the place it’s eaten. There’s a potential of the sector to reduce its emissions.

Countries and companies have agreed at the summit to divest from fossil fuels, claming it’s the only way for the temperature not to keep increasing. That doesn’t seem to be Argentina’s case as it is working to increase shale oil and gas exploration, particularly in the Vaca Muerta formation located in Neuquén.

The country should change its views regarding extracting shale gas and oil. We’re like drug addicts to fossil fuels. Investing one cent into oil, coal and gas, which contribute to climate pollution, is an investment in the death of our children. We have to leave between 80 or 90 percent of the oil and gas reserves in the ground for the temperature not to grow in excess. It’s a mistake to continue drilling.

What kind of climate deal is Greenpeace hoping for at the summit?

We want a fair, ambitious and binding deal. Civic society groups and trade unions are united on the goal of 100 percent renewables by 2050. That means we have 35 years to decarbonize our economy, shifting from one driven by fossil fuel energy to one driven by clean energy. Many of the dominant countries want to push to 2100 and say 2050 is too early. But that would be catastrophic, especially for vulnerable countries.

The level that the temperature is set to increase is one of the key discussions at the negotiations. What would be a realistic goal?

Temperature has already grown one degree from preindustrial levels, which has lead to more extreme weather events. If it continues rising, the risk of those events would grow. The world is set to phase a 2.7-degree Celsius increase based on the pledges the countries have made so far. That means we are not going to get the level of ambition that we need. We need to have review mechanisms so countries can pick up the ambition level later. If we lock those pledges now, we’re screwed.

The arguments between developing and developed countries over finance have also increased at the summit. Should the ones who caused the global warming help others deal with its effects?

We aren’t asking developed countries to give us charity. Developed countries built their economies based on carbon so they carry the largest responsibility. They have to pay their climate debt. About US$100 billion per year is needed to adapt to climate change, while a trillion is spent annually on fossil fuel subsidies.

Alongside typhoon survivors and other civil society groups, Greenpeace filed a complaint at the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines asking for an investigation into the responsibility of big fossil fuel companies on climate change. What are you hoping to get out of the process?

When tobacco litigations started, everybody laughed at them and this will probably be the case as well. It’s the start of a litigation effort to put responsibility of companies that created the extreme weather events we are now facing. The Exxon’s of the world will have to provide their balance sheets and give explanations. It’s going to be a long process but we are trying to open a new avenue in the climate battle.