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Leaked Memo Reveals U.S. Plan to Oppose Helping Poor Nations Adapt to Climate Change

The U.S. delegation is worried the talks in Warsaw will "focus increasingly on blame and liability."

Photo Credit: AFP


AMY GOODMAN: This is  Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I am Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Warsaw, Poland, from the country of Copernicus, of Frédéric Chopin and Marie Curie. We’re here at the National Stadium which was built for football or soccer two years ago, but this year it’s the site of the COP 19. It’s the 19th Conference of Parties, the U.N. climate change summit.

While the Philippines continues to reel from the devastating Typhoon Haiyan, U.S. negotiators here in Warsaw are opposing efforts to help poor countries adapt to climate change. According to an internal U.S. briefing document that was seen by  Democracy Now!, the U.S. delegation is worried the talks here in Warsaw will, quote, "focus increasingly on blame and liability" and that poor nations will be, quote, "seeking redress for climate damages from sea level rise, droughts, powerful storms and other adverse impacts." The document was first reported on by The Hindu newspaper and  The Guardian, as well, in Britain.

The question about who should pay for the damage caused by extreme weather events is at the crux of much of the negotiating here in Warsaw. Developing countries insist the world’s largest historical polluters, the United States and other industrialized countries, have a financial responsibility to offset the negative impacts of climate change on the developing world. According to a new  report by Germanwatch, Haiti, the Philippines and Pakistan were most affected by severe weather-related catastrophes last year. Over the past 10 years, the most affected countries are, without exception, developing nations, with Honduras, Burma and Haiti being the hardest hit.

Joining us now is Nitin Sethi, a journalist with  The Hindu, who first reported on the leaked document. Last week, he published a piece headlined "U.S. to Oppose Mechanism to Fund Climate Change Adaptation in Poor Nations."

Welcome to  Democracy Now!, Nitin.

NITIN SETHI: Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how you got these documents.

NITIN SETHI: Well, I can’t reveal my sources, but obviously it was from one of the diplomats somewhere across the world who wanted to share it out.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the significance. For people especially in the United States, this word, "loss and damage," doesn’t have much meaning; it’s sort of U.N. speak. What does "loss and damage" mean? And then talk about what the document said.

NITIN SETHI: OK, let me try and unpack that for you. The two issues that have—we’ve been talking of for the last 20 years, one is how to reduce the emissions in the atmosphere so that we don’t reach a certain level of concentrations, that make sure temperatures also remain within certain limits. Now, while we do that, we still need to adapt to things that are changing in the atmosphere at the moment or changing in the climate at the moment, which is called adaptation. But because we’ve not done too much in the last 20 years on mitigation or reducing emissions, what’s happened is there’s enough damage happening at the moment that cannot be checked even if you adapt to your best possible capabilities. Countries are now coming and saying, "Because you’ve not acted to reduce emissions, we are being damaged, our houses are being lost, our livelihoods are being lost, people are dying." And you need to be compensated for that. You need to be compensated for the lack of action over the last 20 years. And that’s what really loss and damage is about.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the crucial points in the document that most surprised you?

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