Greenpeace stunt steals show at Lima summit

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Buenos Aires Herald, Lima

Negotiations for a new climate change deal in Lima were pushed aside from Peru’s newspapers’ headlines yesterday as the government and the local press directed their anger toward Greenpeace, following the NGO’s controversial display of a banner at the ancient Nazca lines.

The NGO’s head was set to arrive in the Peruvian capital at press time last night to apologize to President Ollanta Humala, who has publicly slammed the organization’s ill-conceived actions.

Meanwhile, the Conference of Parties (COP) agenda moved forward with the presence of US Secretary-of-State John Kerry, who tried to spur the slow-moving negotiations by telling governments to stop blaming one another for global warming and instead act immediately in order to avoid more serious consequences in the long-term.

Registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Nazca lines — a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert, southern Peru — were altered by a group of Greenpeace activists, who laid down an huge advertisment next to a 1,500-year-old tracing of a hummingbird. Giant yellow letters read: “Time for change! The future is renewable. Greenpeace.”

Peruvian authorities said that the act had irreparably damaged the site due to the footprints of the activists. The government said it will seek criminal charges against the 12 activists involved, which included an Argentine, Mauro Fernández. Peruvian courts have yet to identify some of others involved

“The Greenpeace banner gave off two different messages. One, about the topics we are discussing here at the COP and also, a more important one — a lack of respect for our cultural heritage and for Peruvian law,” Humala told reporters yesterday. He said, however, that he was willing to listen to Greenpeace’s side of the story, with the president due to meet with the NGO’s Executive Director Kumi Naidoo.

In a press statement, Greenpeace apologized for its actions and said it was sorry if the protest had caused any “moral offence” to the people of Peru. The organization said it would cooperate with the government to evaluate if any damage was done to the site and that it would cease using the photos it took as part of its campaign.

Deputy Culture Minister Jaime Castillo said that no one is allowed into the area the activists accessed without prior authorization, and that those who do get permission are required to wear special shoes so as not to disturb the patterns on the ground. He described Greenpeace’s action as a “slap in the face to everything Peruvians consider sacred.”

“(The lines) are incredibly fragile. They are black rocks on a white background. You walk there and the footprint is going to last hundreds or thousands of years. And the line that they have destroyed is the most visible and most recognizable of all,” Castillo said. “Peru has nothing against Greenpeace and its message. But the means doesn’t justify the ends.”

But it wasn’t only Peruvian authorities that were mad with Greenpeace — the local press and Peruvians in general were furious. Ever since the banner at Nazca was unveiled on Wednesday, news channels have focused on the case and newspapers have dedicated countless pages to the scandal, calling for the activists to be punished and for them not to be allowed to leave the country.

El Comercio, one of Peru’s largest local newspapers, didn’t hold back in its editorial yesterday.

“Even though Greenpeace said its activists didn’t do any harm to the site because they ‘walked with respect and in the company of an archaeologist,’ the fact is that they have indeed caused serious damage,” the newspaper’s editorial said. “‘Greenpeace actions are a violation to our historic heritage and those involved should be punished.”

 

‘Let’s act now’

Arriving at the UN summit in a helicopter, Kerry told delegates that failing to agree on a collective response to climate change would be judged as a “moral failure with historical consequences.”

At the same time, he also took a domestic-facing swipe at US politicians that continue to reject scientific evidence that says climate change is man-made.

“Industrialized countries have to play a major role but that doesn’t mean that other countries are free to do whatever they want,” Kerry said. “Half of the emissions are coming from developing nations so it’s imperative for them to act too. If they choose energy sources of the past rather than of the future, they are choosing the economy of the past.”

Like many of the delegates, Kerry highlighted the work done by his nation regarding climate change, such as setting goals to reduce greenhouse gases and developing renewable energy sources. He vowed the US would cut its emissions by 83 percent by 2050, asking all countries to work together and reassess how they source their energy.

“Oil and gas might seem cheaper but I urge nations to look further and consider the real costs that come along with the price tag. It leads to hunger and malnutrition and risks food security and agriculture,” Kerry said, with former US Vice-President Al Gore, an environmental icon thanks to his film An Inconvenient Truth, seating at the first row. “This isn’t a choice between good or bad. It’s a choice between growing or shrinking your economy.”

Today is the last day of the climate change summit in Lima and many uncertainties remain. The delegates of the almost 200 countries involved in the negotiations are seeking to lay the foundations for a global agreement that would hopefully be signed in Paris next year, to replace the Kyoto Protocol.