Saturday, February 4, 2012

Interview with John Ashton, UK's Special Representative for climate change

 “It was the voice of the Caribbean that changed the world at Durban,” says John Ashton, the UK Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change. 
The Caribbean, perhaps more than any region in the world, faces an existential threat from global climate change. It is that threat which has spurred the region to band together and provide a voice to larger countries, urging them to confront the realities of what is a clear and present danger. Accordingly, climate change was a major subject of discussion at the recent UK-Caribbean Forum in Grenada, a country that has been putting climate issues at the forefront. To learn more, Caribbean Journal talked to Ashton about Caribbean-UK climate talks, regional integration and what Caribbean intervention meant at Durban.

What were the major points of discussion on climate at the forum?

Well I came here in this visit sort of on the back of my experiences in Durban at the end of last year. And I think there’s a very important experience from Durban that deserves to be much better understood around the world. In the last night, the final few hours of Durban, this whole 20 years of global climate diplomacy was on knife-edge – if it had gone the other way, we would not able to pick up the pieces. You can have a Copenhagen experience but you can’t have it twice – it would have turned into a zombie process. 

What was it that made the critical difference? It was the voice of the Caribbean, and particularly [Grenadian Foreign Minister] Karl Hood’s intervention. But Karl Hood’s intervention was kind of on the shoulders of a really sustained effort on the part of some Caribbean leaders, like former President Jagdeo of Guyana, of people and institutions like the Climate Change Coordinating Centre in Belize – for example, and all of that effort came to a kind of crescendo that night. Because what needed to happen that night was for there to be an overwhelming emotional momentum in favour of a high-ambition outcome. And in the end, in that kind of circumstance, it was only the voices of the vulnerable countries – the people who were going to be existentially damaged by climate change soon – we’re all going to be existentially damaged by climate change if we don’t get a grip on it – but it will happen in a sequence. And you needed to hear from those countries that really are on the front line of it, and the Caribbean participants, and particularly Grenada, in their capacity as chairman of AOSIS, were right at the front of that. And just remembering back, it was this intervention that then triggered a number of others interventions that created that overwhelming momentum in the room. More