Farhana Yamin: ‘It took 20 minutes to unglue me from Shell’s office. It was a bit painful’ | Environment


Farhana Yamin is an environmental lawyer who, over the past three decades, has worked on a number of international treaties, including the Paris climate agreement. She has represented small island nations threatened by the effects of global heating and recently took part in the Extinction Rebellion protests.

How did you become politically interested in the environment?
When I was about 20, 22 and qualifying as a lawyer. It was just before the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. I was already working for the small island states in the climate negotiations. And the climate change convention was adopted and the biodiversity convention was adopted. So all of these agreements were supposed to have sorted out the problem. It was a time when I was very optimistic about what law could do.

What do you think went wrong?
I think we in the environment movement underestimated the degree of resistance and power against change. We thought that scientific expertise could guide rational long-term policymaking by governments. We didn’t foresee that there would be huge resistance from those whose business-as-usual models were affected. And they basically dug deep into their pockets and denied the science, paid huge amounts of money to confuse the public. They decided to run a counter-strategy, which is now very clear as a result of investigations and legal cases. It was exactly what the tobacco industry had done, knowing full well that tobacco caused cancer. And in fact it was many of the same funders and lobbyists who were hired to run the same strategy. I didn’t know that as a young lawyer. I was very naive.

You took part in the Paris agreement. How do such negotiations work? How do you ever come to an agreed text?
It takes a huge amount of effort to get nearly 200 countries to first of all agree that they’re going to agree an agreement. What’s called the mandate of the negotiation itself is the most difficult thing to get agreement for. The Paris agreement was actually the completion of the Copenhagen conference, which was in 2009, which failed to deliver a global deal. And that itself had taken about four years to get to the collapse point. In the end it’s almost 200 delegations, and some had 500 people as part of their delegation, some had five, but they all have to agree and accept because the rules of procedure in the UN climate change convention require consensus decision making. So it makes it really, really complicated to craft something that will bring everybody on board and won’t get vetoed by a few countries.

As part of the Extinction Rebellion protest, you recently glued yourself to the forecourt of the Shell building. How were you unglued and did you lose any skin?
The police were incredibly careful and have got very good equipment and solvents that was sort of injected under each one of my fingers and my palms. They did a pretty good job. And it took about 20 minutes or so to unglue me and I didn’t lose any skin from my hands but it was quite quite tricky and a little bit painful at the end.

How do you think the protests have gone down with the public?
In general, people have been incredibly understanding and supportive. For the first couple of days, there was a shock at the disruption factor. But Londoners are very adept at getting from A to B. So I think they figured out they had to make different choices in their journeys. But I think in relation to the protest, they were also very sympathetic. Both passersby and then polls done since then showed that about two-thirds totally understand that we’re in a climate [and] ecological emergency and they support much greater action.

What is the priority – individual lifestyle choices or protesting against government action and inaction?
I think definitely now the priority is government action. For the last 30 years, the government has left action to the consumers or to markets or to individual behaviour. And they’ve been light on regulation. They thought that carbon taxes or a bit of education of consumers could kind of fix it. And actually they can’t. Consumers don’t decide the shape of our future infrastructure plans. They don’t decide energy policy. They can decide to switch to greener supplier, but whether or not we have battery storage as a solution is really dependent on government regulation and government actions and incentivisation of the right kinds of technologies and choices. The government keeps on building new airports, keeps on saying fracking is a great alternative. It keeps subsidising dirty, polluting energies and that’s not something consumers can do much about.

George Monbiot said that two most important things individuals can do is stop eating meat and stop flying. Would you agree?
Yes and that’s something I’ve done and my family is starting to do more and more. And we’re not flying this year for any holidays – we’re going by ferry and train. But the third thing I would stress is fast fashion. In the UK, we throw away a lot of clothes and are still addicted to retail through making ourselves feel good by buying cheap clothing, which is destroying the planet. It causes all sorts of pollution and inhumane working practices in many countries. By all means buy underpants if you need them, but you don’t really need all those clothes. We need to bring the awareness of the world into your everyday lives.

Is there a PR problem when a high-profile supporter such as Emma Thompson is also a high-profile transatlantic flyer? Does it undermine the message?
I travel also a lot in my life. I’m an international environmental lawyer. My meetings are often in the UN in Germany or on transatlantic flights. So I think there are certain occupations around which there is international travel involved, and Emma is in one of them. She’s an international film star. But I think everyone should minimise the number of flights they should take, and we should no longer have business and first-class flights. If you look at it per capita on the plane, first-class and business passengers are essentially emitting far more than all those people in the economy. I frankly want to say thank you to Emma Thompson for her support. I know she’s been under a lot of flak for it. What needs to be cut are all these short-haul flights where we’ve got addicted to going away to Ibiza for the weekend, which is cheaper than going to Cornwall by train!

Following her speeches in the UK, Greta Thunberg came under attack on social media, particularly from some prominent, middle-aged male commentators. Was that a surprise?
No. When people are no longer able to contest the science or the economics or even the feasibility, they start attacking the people who are good at getting the message across. Greta is an amazing advocate and she’s been subjected to all sorts of personal abuse about her family and her autism. I’ve had it too. Essentially, we’re being dismissed for who we are. Let’s shoot the messenger because the message is too difficult to do down anymore.





Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg at a rally at Marble Arch.



Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg at a rally at Marble Arch. Photograph: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Rex

Thunberg said she wants us to feel fear, but is there a danger that panic is paralysing?
I think Al Gore had a good summary. He said people go from denial to utter despair without saying let’s see what we can figure out. I feel as a mother, when you sense danger, you kind of know what to do. You start tapping into a very different part of you, which is not your rational brain. You will do everything in your power, in my case gluing myself to the Shell building, to stop that danger from hurting your children and future. So I’m hoping that people tap into that courage that’s needed when there’s a true emergency and release the heroes in themselves. Instead of going into panic mode and stockpiling and going off to live in the country in a yurt. I don’t want to do that, although I’ve thought about it.

Some campaigners believe that the overriding problem is overpopulation and they wouldn’t bring children into this world. What’s your feeling?
I have four children. We hope to have grandchildren. I think that there is a very toxic mythology around the scarcity of resources. That is a dominant way of thinking. And so if you accept that starting point, then it all becomes about competition for those resources between countries and us, using our military to safeguard our resources.

I don’t believe that actually we need to do that. The Earth is abundant. We have sunlight, we have the ability now to desalinate water, we can capture energy and turn it at a fraction of the cost of coal power into green energy through solar panels and wind and so forth. And we’ve got the ability to feed all of the world’s population and more.

But we haven’t got the social and political systems that are allowing that abundance to be shared equally. That’s what Extinction Rebellion is all about: taking a deep breath and saying that wasn’t working very well – we’re going to create a different model.

The Global Assessment Report is the most comprehensive study of life on Earth ever undertaken. It serves as a health check for the planet and is compiled by the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) from more than 1,500 academic papers and reports from indigenous groups. The overall message is that the world’s life support systems, on which humans depend, are in trouble. Remedies are possible, but they require urgent, transformative action because policies until now have failed to halt the tide of man-made extinctions. The authors hope the mega-report will guide policymakers and generate public discussion on biodiversity (including wildlife, food crops, livestock and ecosystems) in the same way that the climate debate is shaped by reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

How have fellow lawyers and people high up in climate-change negotiations responded to your action?
Oh my god, they’ve been so supportive. That’s what’s been really nice. I’ve had hundreds of emails and WhatsApp messages and text messages, saying thank you and I think I have emboldened people to feel more courageous. I hope many more will take the next step that they need to in their professions and their personal lives to do their bit.

How would you like to see the protests go from here?
I think civil disobedience needs to become part of the norm. It has to be added to what was being done anyway, in terms of diplomacy, campaigning and lobbying. It’s not like we didn’t need them, it’s just that they weren’t on their own effective. We need to make sure that every single fossil-fuel project is cancelled, that we devise a way to have a just transition [to a zero-carbon society] and that the oil companies and the coal companies don’t get yet another massive bailout from the taxpayers.

People such as Nigel Farage say that as the UK is only responsible for a tiny percentage of the world’s carbon production, it doesn’t make sense to beat ourselves up about it.
It’s just wrong because we basically outsourced our emissions to China, India, Vietnam and everywhere else. We buy this stuff that we don’t make here anymore, and we outsource it to them, and then we blame them for their emissions. So it’s just hypocritical and it’s wrong. And the accounting system means that we don’t account for those emissions. We should show genuine leadership and say as the first country to industrialise more than 200 years ago, we now want to lead a modern industrial revolution that is based on a totally different kind of reality.



Source link

About The Author

We are independent. we bring you the Real news from around the world.

Related posts