Interview: International climate movement strenghthens ahead of Cancun Negotiations

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International climate activist, Will Bates from 350.org talks about the strength, achievements and plans of the 350 campaign, and his opinion on the developed vs. developing country debate in terms of taking emission cuts.  

Will Bates got his start with the climate movement as a student in Middlebury College, Vermont, USA. He has been a part of various grassroots climate activism campaigns since the past few years and they have been the focus of his life ever since. Being a part of the UN climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia and other travels in South Asia, he has helped in shaping global climate activism. He is one of the founding members of the 350 campaign, which was recognized by the CNN as ‘the most widespread day of action in history’.

350.org is an unusual name for a campaign, what does 350 stand for?

350 stands for both a scientific data point, the safe upper limit of CO2 in the atmosphere measured in parts per million (ppm), and a globally connected movement of people calling on governments to take action on climate change equal to what science and justice demand.

Where did this 350 number come from?
Dr. James Hansen, of NASA, the United States' space agency, has been researching global warming longer than just about anyone else. He was the first to publicly testify before the U.S. Congress, in June of 1988, that global warming was real. He and his colleagues have used both real-world observation, computer simulation, and mountains of data about ancient climates to calculate what constitutes dangerous quantities of carbon in the atmosphere. The Bush Administration has tried to keep Hansen and his team from speaking publicly, but their analysis has been widely praised by other scientists, and by experts like Nobel Prize winner Al Gore.

Do you think since the launch of the campaign, it has been able to generate any climate awareness?

Absolutely! Two years ago, when the science of 350 was first released, no one had heard of that number.  Now 350 is central to the international climate negotiations, supported by 117 countries, and it was the focal message of what CNN called, "the most widespread day of political action in history." That day of action was the 24th of October last year, when more than 5,200 communities in 181 countries joined in to call on their leaders for bold and just action leading us back below 350 ppm.  It was a tremendously powerful day, and certainly raised awareness about the true scope and urgency of the climate crisis we are in.  And the movement continues on this year -- we're "Getting to Work" to implement solutions to climate change, culminating in Global Work Party on the 10th of October 10/10/10: www.350.org/1010.

What is the general reaction of the people who are a part of this movement about the outcome of the Copenhagen negotiations? 
 
I think it's safe to say that just about everyone in the movement feels a real sense of disappointment, even frustration, as a result of the Copenhagen conference.  Undoubtedly, the negotiations did not achieve what was needed -- a fair, ambitious, and binding agreement that would get us back below 350 ppm -- and it has left the international politics of climate change in turmoil.

That said, Copenhagen also witnessed the ever growing strength and depth of the climate movement.  The energy from the 24th of October last year definitely swept forward and there were unprecedented actions in Copenhagen and around the world during the summit.
 
What are the main highlights of the campaign this year and how do you think it is relevant for the upcoming negotiations in Cancun? 
 
The number one focus is the 10/10/10 Global Work Parties I've mentioned (www.350.org/1010).  It will be a day to celebrate and implement climate solutions and also to call on politicians to Get to Work too.  It's that political message that we will carry to Cancun extending and strengthening the pressure the world witnessed last year in support of 350.

Additionally, we are excited about a new project called the Great Power Race (www.greatpowerrace.org).  It is a new clean energy competition between students in China, India, and the US being co-organized by the Indian Youth Climate Network, the Chinese Youth Climate Action Network, the Energy Action Coalition in the US, and 350.org.

What are the kind of things that are being planned in India this year? 
 
Preparations for the Great Power Race are one of the feature elements of the movement in India right now.  And it's too early to know exactly what sorts of innovative projects students there will lead in the months to come.  Similarly, most groups are just at the beginning stages of planning for 10/10/10, though we know the "work parties" will include everything from tree plantings to efforts to install new renewable energy systems.  We're looking forward to hearing the stories from more of the work parties as they get planned.

 Like the Maldivian underwater cabinet meeting last year, are any such politically huge, out of the box ideas being planned this year?

Well, as I said, the theme of the 350 movement this year is "Getting to Work" to implement real solutions that can get us back below 350 ppm.  We'll be leveraging that work to advocate for stronger political action also, but as much as possible we aiming to initiate and strengthen local projects that truly match the level of ambition we need to solve the climate crisis.

We're still in the early stages of this year's work, so there is still room to come up with new "out of the box" ideas (and ideas are certainly welcome: will@350.org), but since you mentioned the Maldives, there's a good chance President Nasheed will too be "getting to work" by installing solar panels on the President's office in the coming months.

Often it is asked as to what the US government is doing. Given the global scenario, why is this campaign not focused mainly in the US, which has been the one of the main roadblocks in the negotiations? 
 
In fact, much of the 350 campaign is indeed focused on the US.  The movement is and needs to be global -- this is a global crisis after all, and requires a global response.  But the US (more specifically the US Congress) certainly remains one of primary obstacles to bold climate action.  Fortunately, the movement there is pushing hard.  On the day of action last 24 October, of the 5,200 actions around the world last year, over 2,000 of them were in the US.  And the movement hasn't been going there for years as well.  There were over 2,000 demonstrations as part of the Step It Up campaign in 2007 (www.stepitup2007.org).  Over 12,000 young people gathered in Washington D.C. for the last PowerShift conference in 2009, which was followed by 2,000 people risking arrest to shut down the coal-fired heating plant that heats the US Congress.  And this past Earth Day over 100,000 people turned out for a Climate Rally at the Capitol.  The 350.org campaign is also targeting the new proposed "Cap and Dividend" policies as one of the strongest policy choices the US can make to take effective action on climate change.  Nonetheless, the movement faces immense opposition forces in the US still, and the movement there needs both the cooperation and the support from the movement the world-over as well.  We're all fighting for the same thing -- 350.

What is your stand on the developed vs. developing country debate in terms of taking emission cuts?

I'll try to be brief...

Certainly the developed, rich countries are the ones most responsible for causing climate change and ought to be the countries that take the lead in dramatically reducing emissions and assisting developing countries to adapt and mitigate as well.  To get to 350 will require change from everyone.  It will require a complete transformation in the way the developed world works (aiming at least 45% emissions reductions by 2020 and for total de-carbonization by mid-century), and it will require a transformation in the kinds of development patterns the developing world is now pursuing.  The world-over we need low-carbon development pathways and political and economic policies that will make those pathways possible for all people in all places.  President Nasheed in the Maldives said it best.  "After all, it is not carbon we want, but development. It is not coal we want, but electricity. It is not oil we want, but transport." And even those low-carbon development efforts should be supported by the developed world, which caused the problem to begin with. 

And the leadership we need for this transformation should not depend solely on our political leaders.  Its dependent on us to build a social movement large enough that there's no way our politicians can ignore us.  That's why we're Getting to Work this year, and we hope that India Carbon Outlook readers will join us as well: www.350.org.

This interview was conducted by Roselin Dey, Editorial Team, India Carbon Outlook.

Image(s) Courtesy

http://www.greatpowerrace.org/

www.350.org

Author: Roselin Dey