Speech by Cuban Foreign Minister at UN Climate Change Meeting
'We Are Running out of Time'
by Felipe Perez Roque
"Tomorrow it will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago." –Fidel Castro, June 1992
We met, as we are doing now, fifteen years ago at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro. It was a historic moment. There, we took on the commitment later on contained in the Convention on Climate Change and, subsequently, in the Kyoto Protocol. Cuba was then the first country to take the environmental issue to a constitutional platform.
That day, President Fidel Castro delivered a brief and fundamental speech, which overwhelmed those present in the plenary of such conference. He told profound truths, breaking them down one by one from an unwavering ethical and humanistic position:
"An important biological species is at risk of disappearing due to the rapid and progressive elimination of its natural habitat: man.
"(...) consumer societies are fundamentally responsible for the atrocious destruction of the environment.
"The solution cannot be to hinder the development of the neediest.
"If we want to save humanity from that self-destruction, there must be a better distribution of the available wealth and technologies on the planet. There must be less luxury and less squandering in a few countries so that there will be less impoverishment and less famine in a large portion of the Earth."
The truth is that almost nothing was done afterwards. The situation is now a lot more critical, the dangers are greater and we are running out of time.
The scientific evidence is clear. Practical observation is overwhelming. These could only be called into question by irresponsible people. The last ten years have been the warmest. There is a decrease in the thickness of artic ice. Glaciers are receding. Sea level is on the rise. Also increasing is the frequency and intensity of hurricanes.
The future looks worse: some 30% of all species will disappear if global temperature increases by 1.5 to 2.5 degrees centigrade. Small island states are running the risk of disappearing under the waters.
In order to face the danger, we have agreed on two strategies. Mitigation, which is the reduction in and absorption of the emissions; and adaptation, referring to actions aimed at reducing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.
However, it is increasingly clear that this dramatic situation will not be tackled unless there is a shift in the current unbridled production and consumption patterns, presented as the dream to achieve through an unscrupulous and ongoing worldwide advertising campaign on which a trillion dollars is invested every year.
We have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries, responsible for 76% of the emissions of greenhouse gases accumulated since 1850, have to bear the brunt of mitigation and must set the example. What is even worse is that their emissions increased by over 12% between 1990 and 2003, and those of the United States in particular grew by over 20%. Therefore, they must begin by honoring the ever-modest commitments contained in the Kyoto Protocol and by taking on new and ambitious goals to reduce emissions as of 2012.
The problem will not be resolved by purchasing the quota of the poor countries. That is a selfish and inefficient path. Nor will it be resolved by turning food into fuels as proposed by President Bush. It is a sinister idea. Real reductions must be achieved in the emission sources. A real energy revolution must take place with a focus on saving and efficiency. A great deal of political will and courage is required to wage this battle. Cuba's modest experience, successful and encouraging despite the blockade and the aggressions that we suffer from, is proof that we can do it.
On the other hand, the fight against climate change cannot be an obstacle impeding the development of the over 100 countries that have yet to attain it and which, by the way, are not the historic culprits of what has happened; it has to be compatible with the sustainable development of our countries. We reject the pressures directed to the underdeveloped countries so that these enter into binding commitments to reduce emissions. What is more, the portion of global emissions pertaining to the underdeveloped countries must increase in order to meet the needs of their socio-economic development. The developed countries have no moral authority to demand anything on this issue.
Paradoxically, the countries that have caused the least global warming, particularly the small island states and the least developed countries, are the most vulnerable and threatened. For them to implement adaptation policies they need unrestricted access to clean technologies and to financing.
However, the developed countries are the ones monopolizing the patents, the technologies and the money. They are, therefore, responsible for the Third World to gain access to substantial amounts of fresh funding above the current Official Development Assistance levels, which are completely insufficient in fact. They must also be held accountable for the effective free transfer of technologies and the training of human resources in our countries - something which, of course, will not be resolved through the market or the neoliberal policies imposed through pressure and blackmail.
And the largest responsibility lies, without a doubt, with the country that most squanders, the one that most pollutes, the one that has the most money and technologies –which, at the same time, refuses to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and has not shown any commitment at all to this meeting convened by the United Nations Secretary-General.
Cuba is hopeful that the forthcoming Bali Conference will produce a clear mandate for the developed countries to reduce, by 2020, their emissions by no less than 40% as compared to their 1990 levels; a mandate negotiated within the framework of the Convention and not in small cliques and selective collusions as proposed by the Government of the United States.
Cuba also expects that a mechanism be adopted to ensure the expeditious transfer to the underdeveloped countries of clean technologies under preferential terms, with the utmost priority to the small island states and the least developed countries, which are the most vulnerable.
We also expect that new and additional resources be allocated, and that financial support mechanisms be adopted to assist the underdeveloped countries in implementing our adaptation strategies. By way of example, if only half the money that our countries must pay every year in servicing a burdensome debt that does not cease to grow were set aside for these purposes, we would have over US$ 200 billion per annum. Another alternative would be to earmark merely the tenth of what the sole military superpower on the planet spends on wars and weapons and we would have another US$ 50 billion available. The money is there, but political will is lacking.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations has called upon us today to send a powerful political message to the forthcoming Bali Conference. I find no better way to say it on Cuba's behalf than to repeat Fidel's words that 12 June 1992:
"Let selfishness end, let hegemonies end, let insensitivity, irresponsibility and deceit end. Tomorrow it will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago."
Thank you very much.