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Climate Change Negotiations Begin in Copenhagen

Aired December 8, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, world leaders are in Copenhagen for the biggest climate meeting in history. Will they succeed in staving off disaster?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program.

Advocates are calling it the most important conference since World War II, the last best chance to protect the world from the world effects of climate change. The Copenhagen summit's goal is to lay the groundwork for a new treaty, one that would cut carbon emissions and limit global warming.

Most science says that humans, mostly in rich countries, are responsible by burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas. Even though most researchers believe that the scientific battle was over, skeptics are still bent on hijacking the debate, pointing to the so-called climate-gate controversy over hacked e-mails. The skeptics accuse researchers of manipulating data.

And all of this illustrates the high stakes that span politics, ideology, and economics. But what does it all mean to the people who already are feeling the impact, especially in the poorer countries? For that, CNN's Dan Rivers reports.


DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ahmed Somnuk (ph) says he's facing the consequences of global warming every day, and praying for a solution is just about all he can do now. This is his Buddhist temple, Wat Kumsomuntrawat (ph), near Bangkok, badly flooded at high tide.

The monks tried to build a wall around it, but the sea at high tide rises right over it. The abbot's not sure what's causing the flooding. Some scientists say the island could be sinking, but they also say global warming and rising sea levels are making the problem worse.

"I don't know if the temple will exist in the next 10 years," he says. "All I can do is concentrate on helping to preserve it."

Beyond the temple, an entire village has been lost. Now just the electricity poles are visible. Those flags show where a school used to stand. Now, an underwater hazard.

The villagers have moved the school buildings three times since the 1970s, but the sea just keeps advancing. These girls have been forced to move house. When I ask how many of their classmates have a similar story, a third of them raise their hands.

And it's not just in Thailand. Catastrophes are unfolding around the world. Eight thousand kilometers to the east, this is the remote Pacific nation of Kiribati. It's also being swallowed by the sea. The government is looking into abandoning the entire country.

ANOTE TONE, PRESIDENT OF KIRIBATI: We never wished to be refugees, and we would be refugees if we don't do anything now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The scientists have said that, in 50 years Kiribati (inaudible) underwater. That's not a happy thought.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very upsetting to leave where you've come from.

RIVERS: Almost 100,000 people from Kiribati are preparing to evacuate, scattering to host countries around the world. In the Maldives, 8,000 kilometers to the West, the government has staged his publicity stunt to drive the message home: the president and his ministers meeting underwater to sign a petition calling for international action to stop global warming, saying that the survival of their low-lying islands is at stake.

Back on Thailand's low-lying coast, there's no stopping the rising sea. The people here say global warming and rising sea levels aren't just theoretical threats in the future. They're happening right now. They don't know how much longer this temple will survive for, because like in so many other poor countries around the world, here, they simply don't have the resources to build huge sea walls to hold back the ocean.

It is the poorest people in the poorest countries who stand to lose everything to global warming. Dan Rivers, CNN, Samut Prakan, Thailand.


AMANPOUR: And joining me now for more on all of this, the rich-poor divide over climate change, the head of the U.N. Development Programme, Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand, and the Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Wangari Maathai.


She's founder of the Green Belt Movement, and she's seen her planting trees with then-Senator Barack Obama in Kenya back in 2006.

Welcome to you both. Welcome to the program.

Helen, if I could start with you...


AMANPOUR: What absolutely has to happen in Copenhagen for the poor people who are going to be disproportionately affected?

CLARK: Well, firstly, the developed countries of the world have to come up with credible emissions targets. And we're making a lot of progress on that.

Secondly, there will have to be support for the adaptation to the change, which is already happening here and now, and for the transfer to cleaner pathways to development. If we can get those things right, we've got a deal.

AMANPOUR: Now, everybody's been casting rather a negative pall over Copenhagen. People are saying that there won't be a deal, and now they say, well, maybe there will be. What do you think is going to happen?

CLARK: Well, I think there's been a lot of momentum generated in just the last couple of weeks. For example, China made quite a big play about 10 days ago. You now have around 105 leaders as of this morning coming to Copenhagen. So I think minds are really focused on a strong political agreement coming out of this conference. If that can be achieved -- and I hope it will -- that will lead through to a binding treaty being negotiated next year.

AMANPOUR: Wangari, more than 100 leaders coming to Kenya -- rather, coming to Copenhagen. Back in Kenya, you were planting trees with Barack Obama. What does the United States need to do to make this a reality in Copenhagen?

WANGARI MAATHAI, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE-WINNER: Well, it's very important that the United States of America, which, as you know, had not supported the Kyoto Protocol, is able to come here and join the world leaders and create the momentum, the political momentum that is needed to have a deal made here by the more than 100 leaders who are going to come.

The United States is extremely important, because it's a major polluter. It's a major emitter of the gases. It's the richest country. And it has a lot at stake. And it is extremely important that he joins the rest of the world.

AMANPOUR: Wangari, you are, obviously, from Africa. And for the first time, there is an African coalition around climate change. They're asking the African Union for something like $150 billion a year from the developed world. The U.N. is saying, no, that's not possible. Is Africa, you know, being unrealistic about what it needs?

MAATHAI: Well, I think that, for me, from where I sit, it's very difficult to know exactly how much money will be needed. And I think that more than arguing about the numbers, I think it is a principle that we should first agree on that the developed world has a moral responsibility, has an issue of carbon justice that it has to support poor countries who are suffering. That, to me, is a very important principle to agree on, rather than argue and perhaps disagree over the numbers.

AMANPOUR: Helen, what do you think? You -- you at the U.N. are saying maybe $10 billion is -- is realistic. Wangari said arguing over the numbers is just basically immoral. What needs to be done?

CLARK: Well, at some point, it will have to get down to numbers, but the $10 billion figure is the figure that's being talked about for fast- tracking some money for adaptation by developing countries in the next three years. But post-2012, there's going to have to be build-up to significantly larger sums of money per annum.

And I think with that, we can have a tremendous win-win for development. For example, it's -- it's hard to make greenhouse gases seem relevant to someone who doesn't have any electricity or power coming to their home. If we can, through clean energy technologies, make it possible for people to get that energy to their home and be able to make progress on development, we've got a win-win-win out of this.

AMANPOUR: How damaging is it to the advocates of combating climate change, this climate-gate scandal, these hacked e-mails which skeptics are jumping on to say that that shows data has been manipulated?

CLARK: I'm inclined to think, Christiane, that it's a bit of a sidebar to what has to happen. I'm not a scientist, but I accept a scientific consensus when I see one. When I see the science academies of all the G-8 countries absolutely united on views about climate change being human-induced, I know in my bones that there's something to it.

So this particular incident should be investigated, of course, but I really don't think it should distract us from the central issues at Copenhagen.

AMANPOUR: And what are the central issues, Wangari? What -- to the people on the ground -- you've talked about climate change ushering in a security threat. What to the people on the ground is the most important?

MAATHAI: To the people on -- on the ground, and especially in poor countries, you are talking about rivers drying up, glaciers receding, and therefore not being able to supply the -- the -- the lakes that supply the rivers, micro climates changing, agriculture failing, people starving.


What we saw in Kenya recently is a microcosm of what could happen in many other parts of the world. And we just heard about Bangladesh and the flooding. These are issues that people are dealing with every day in developing countries. These are the people who are actually on the front line, and they do not have the cushion of technology and the capital and knowledge to be able to mitigate as quickly as it should be happen.

Therefore, it is extremely important for the world to do something now. And I -- and I want to say that, as far as the science is concerned, I agree that we're dealing here with more than 4,000 scientists who have been working for a very long time. Can they be wrong? Four thousands scientists versus how many? I mean, the answer -- as a scientist myself, of course, I'm the fastest to say, "Give me the data."

And what we are dealing here is not only the data that the scientists have given us, but also what we're observing on the ground.

AMANPOUR: OK, let me ask you -- because we're going to discuss more of that when we -- when we're joined by one of the leading climate change skeptics after a break -- but right now, let me ask you, Helen, what about the developing countries? Do they have a point? They say, look, you in the rich world are emitting by far the most greenhouse gases. We are simply trying to raise our standard of living, whether it be India, whether it be China. Do they have a point?

CLARK: Oh, yes, they've got many points. And I agree with Wangari that climate justice is really what developing countries are looking for here. So that is -- is what developed countries getting their emissions down is about. And it's what developed countries putting a substantial amount of money on the table for the technologies to make a low-carbon path to development possible is about.

AMANPOUR: How is it going to be, let's say, possible to do this -- this sort of climate justice, when the public opinion is actually quite divided on it? Look, I'm just going to put up this poll, a Harris poll that was done, talking about, should developed countries give more climate change aid to developing countries? And as you can see, more than 50 percent in France and Germany think yes, but in Britain, it's around 30 percent, with about 30 percent disagreeing. And in the U.S., it's only 20 percent agree, and some 40 percent disagree. Is it going to be tough to sell this?

CLARK: Well, it's tough, but it requires leadership. You know, often -- and I've been in this position myself of leading on these issues -- you're asking people to make some quite fundamental changes to their way of life, what sort of light bulb they put in their house, and some people will -- will rebel (ph) against that.

But on the other hand, I think we all want a world that's going to be fit for those who come after us. And if we don't act, we're not going to have such a world.

AMANPOUR: In terms of specifics, there are countries which are saying we're not going to give you formal specifics. But for instance, India, which said it won't be bound by any treaty, says that it will start cutting emissions voluntarily. Can one trust, for want of a better word, countries like India and China who say things like that?

CLARK: It seems to me that when China puts it reputation out there, saying it will do this, when India puts it reputation out there, I believe they're going to do it. I think the moral pressure to do it is -- is incredible, but I think they want to do it.

AMANPOUR: Helen Clark, head of the UNDP, thank you so much for joining us.

Wangari Maathai, stay with us. We'll be back with you after a break. And we'll be back with one of the leading climate skeptics. But find out more about this online on our Web site,, where we have a special report on the impact of climate change on women. Stay with us.




AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Arctic is experiencing faster melting. If this were to go, sea level worldwide would go up 20 feet. This is what would happen in Florida, around Shanghai, home to 40 million people, the area around Calcutta, 60 million. Here's Manhattan. The World Trade Center memorial would be underwater.


AMANPOUR: That was a clip from "Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's documentary on global warming, and he's also just briefed President Obama, who will be heading to Copenhagen.

The same skeptics who challenged Gore's documentary are now raising new questions about climate change science. Joining me again from Copenhagen, Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize-winner, and from London, Britain's former chancellor of the exchequer, Lord Lawson. He's author of "An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming."

Welcome to you both. Can I ask you, first, Lord Lawson, climate-gate, this so-called scandal about the hacked e-mails...


AMANPOUR: You're calling for an investigation into that. Is that correct?

LAWSON: I'm calling for an investigation, and I'm glad to say that they've agreed to have one, because it is -- it is a worrying and serious phenomenon. These -- these -- these e-mails have revealed -- appear have to revealed -- I don't want to prejudge it -- but appear to have revealed serious wrongdoing by a number of the key scientists involved, and I think it is right that there should be an investigation, and I'm glad to say there's going to be one.

AMANPOUR: But you're not prepared to say that those hacked e-mail stand decades of science on its head, are you?

LAWSON: It's nothing to do with decades of science being stood on its head. It's -- it's a very difficult and complicated issue, the science. There are scientists on both sides of the debate, contrary to what was being said in the early part of the agreement. The most thorough survey, for example, which was done by Professor Hans von Storch of the Meteorological Institute of the University of Hamburg in 2007 had two- thirds of the climate scientists -- these were accredited, very top climate scientists -- two-thirds of them saying that they thought that mankind was responsible for most of the warming of 0.7 degrees Celsius that had occurred during the 20th century and that the other one-third of the climate scientists disagreed with that.

AMANPOUR: Right. But two-thirds of the scientists agreed that it's manmade.

Let me ask Wangari Maathai. What does this do, for instance, to Copenhagen, where all these leaders are gathered there trying to advocate for some -- some restitution to this? Does this controversy negatively impact the summit?

MAATHAI: I think that the momentum that has been built around the COP -- now, as you know, we are in COP15 -- has been stanced or has been based on science. And for -- for many of these governments and scientists and ministers, they would not have come this far if they did not believe what they were being told.

Of course, when scientists (ph) question each other, now we have to understand what is really going on. So I'm really glad to hear from Lord Lawson that, indeed, there will be an investigation. We need to know what actually happened.

But I have a lot of conviction that 4,000 scientists or so for all this time could not have agreed to -- to doctor the -- the data or all of them to agree that they lie to the world.

AMANPOUR: OK, let me just say this, just for the record. Some 105 world leaders are attending, including China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao, Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, Yukio Hatoyama of Japan, and Manmohan Singh of India, and Barack Obama at the last minute has said he's going, and also Gordon Brown.

And this is what Gordon Brown has said about the current climate-gate scandal.


GORDON BROWN, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: There is an anti-change group. There's an anti-reform group. There's an anti-science group. There's a flat Earth group, if I may say so, over the evidence that exists about climate change, and we've got to show them that the scientific evidence is strong.



AMANPOUR: So let me ask you again, Lord Lawson. Are all these people who are going simply wrong? Are they crazy to be going to Copenhagen?

LAWSON: No, look, this -- let me make it clear what the position is, the true position, not all this hysteria we've been hearing. Nobody knows what is going to happen to the temperature over the next 100 years. Nobody knows at all. There may be warming; there may not be warming.

If there is warming, then the sensible thing to do is to adapt to the warming. That -- I'm concerned about the policy. And that is a cost- effective policy, to adapt to the warming. And for the very poorest countries who either are too poor or don't have the technological ability to adapt, we in the richer world should help them to adapt, if it happens.

But -- but the warming that is projecting -- now, I'm going on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is regarded as the most -- single most important authority on this. They project the warming solely because they project a rapid rate of growth in the developing world over the next 100 years.


LAWSON: And -- and -- and that -- and if there isn't that rapid growth, there won't be the growth in emissions. So on their models, there won't be the warming.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me just...

LAWSON: But if there is this rapid growth -- if there is this rapid growth, it means even with the difficulties of warming, they will still many, many, many times better off at the end of the century as they are today.

AMANPOUR: The skeptics, even those who have been critical of the U.N. climate panel, have said fully and categorically that the role of added carbon dioxide as a major contributor in climate change has been firmly established. But what I want to ask you is this. You -- many people say that you're right to raise the alarm about biofuels and their impact on -- on food prices, right to warn about the dangers of trade protection, but wrong, for instance, when you talk about the fact that the gas emissions are not as great as the consensus would suggest, and wrong when you say the cost and difficulties of curbing them are too great to contemplate.

Clearly, it's possible to curb them without destroying industrial capacity.

LAWSON: No, I'm afraid you are mistaken on most of those points. And let me say, too, that what is recorded, if you believe the figures that the Met Office and the Hadley Centre put out, it shows that there's been a complete lull, there's been no further global warming since the end of the 20th century so far. It may come again, but it hasn't. It's very uncertain. But I'm concerned most about global poverty. That's what worries me most.


LAWSON: And I think it is -- and the poverty, the malnutrition, the disease, the premature death which goes with this poverty. To get people out of poverty, you want the fastest possible rate of economic development. And to achieve that, you need, among other things, the cheapest source of energy, and that, for the foreseeable future, is carbon-based energy.

So the right policy is to carry on developing the economies, and that's what China and India -- whatever they say, China and India, quite right (inaudible) to do that, because for the fastest possible economic development, to relieve poverty, that is absolutely right, and that if there should be a problem of warming -- and there may be, there may not be -- if there is, then you adapt to it, as -- as mankind adapts to enormously different temperatures in different parts of the globe at the present time.

AMANPOUR: All right, Lord Lawson. Thank you.

Let me ask you the last question, Wangari Maathai. Lord Lawson talked about poverty. It seems, according to the U.N., that a disproportionate impact of climate change is affecting women, because they perform most of the agricultural tasks. How are you seeing the impact on women?

MAATHAI: Well, the impacts in Africa generally is going to be extremely adverse, according to the information we are getting from science. But where I would agree with Lord Nelson is that if -- whatever happens here in Copenhagen, it is extremely important that Africans focus on what they can do for themselves or what they can with the help that they can get. I think that the discussion is such that, no matter what happens, Africans will have to work very hard to deal with very harsh climates in Africa anyway, because we know that the desert is expanding, there is a scramble for the -- for the Congo borders (ph), for example. We know the rivers are drying up.

So whatever happens, it is good that the Africans this time are very united and they're working very hard at it. Whatever happens, Africa needs to think very hard for itself, and especially for its wonderful people, especially women.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much, Wangari Maathai from Copenhagen and Lord Lawson from London. Thank you both for joining us.

And next, our "Post-Script." An all-out effort to mobilize opinion and perhaps even action on climate change in 20 different languages. We'll tell you when we're back.



AMANPOUR: And now, our "Post-Script." As delegates from 192 countries began the climate change summit in Copenhagen, 56 newspapers in 45 countries, led by the Guardian of London, took unprecedented action to martial public opinion. Speaking through one common editorial, the newspapers said the world is facing, quote, "a profound emergency" and that politicians must act now.

They acknowledged the controversy over those e-mails by British researchers has muddied the waters, but said that it's failed to dent the mass of evidence on global warming. This editorial was published in 20 languages, including Chinese, Arabic, and Russian.

And this conversation will continue online on, where you can tell us how climate change is affecting you. That's it for now. Thank you for watching. And from all of us here, goodbye from New York.