At the close of the UN Climate Summit in December 2018 in Poland, United General Secretary Antonio Guterres was so discouraged by the lackluster outcome that he told world leaders that he would admonish them to increase their urgency and ambition for climate mitigation during Climate Week in New York City (Sept. 23-27, 2019).
Guterres is not alone. Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, in her inimitable way, has inspired millions of school-age children around the world to organize and rally to demand that world leaders treat global warming at the existential crisis that more and more scientists are finding it is.
Add to that an emerging group of faith leaders — the Interfaith Rainforest Iniative (IRI) — that aims to use its moral clout and power in numbers to pressure national leaders to enact policies to slow, reverse and stop deforestation in five tropical countries, as my latest Mongabay story describes.
This kind of religious political lobbying comes with challenges and obstacles, as I explain. But here’s the goal:
“This isn’t about churches planting trees,” said Joe Corcoran, IRI program manager with UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme. “We want to say clearly and definitively to world leaders: religious leaders take this issue of forests and climate very seriously, and they are going to be holding public officials accountable to make sure these issues are addressed.”
Interviewing Luis Murillo, Colombia’s minister of the environment, at the headquarters of National Geographic. Photo by Enrique Ortiz, Andes Amazon Fund
On Sept. 21, 2017, in Washington, D.C., I had the unique opportunity to interview one of the leaders of environmental protection in Latin America — Luis Murillo, the minister of the environment and sustainable development in the cabinet of President Juan Santos. Murillo was in DC that day for a ceremony sponsored by National Geographic honoring Santos for his aggressive action in doubling the amount of protected areas in his biodiverse country — from coral reefs to high-mountain rain forests — since taking office in 2010. My interview with Murillo preceded the event and was an exclusive for Mongabay. The story link is here.
In the weeks prior to my DC sojourn, I spent hours immersed in studying Colombian environmental politics, Santos’ environmental record, his controversial peace accord with the FARC that ended a 50-year civil war and earned him the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, and as much as I could about Murillo. Haley Weibel, a communications specialist with the Andes Amazon Fund in DC, was instrumental in providing key material for me to read. My good friend Enrique Ortiz, program director with the fund, provided critical insight about Santos, Murillo and the myriad challenges to their environmental legacy.
My time with Murillo was limited, so we wasted no time jumping into deep end of the issues I wanted to discuss. He was a pleasure to talk with. He spoke with great candor and insight, and never ducked when I asked him pointed questions. He knows what’s at stake in setting aside so much land in Colombia — land that just below the surface is rich with fossil fuels and precious metals. He made it clear that he believes his developing country has a moral obligation to not plunder these critical ecosystems for short-term economic gain. But he stressed that the world’s wealthiest nations should feel compelled to support Colombia financially so that it can actually protect and preserve all the land Santos has set aside for future generations. Extraction industrialists will only sit on the sidelines for so long. Deforestation in Colombia since the end of the civil war is already escalating. My interview with Murillo gets into such thorny issues and more. My thanks to Mongabay founder Rhett Butler for assigning me the story.
Gary Knell of the National Geographic Society honoring Juan Santos, president of Colombia. Photo by Enrique Ortiz
When Rhett Butler, founder and CEO of Mongabay, contacted me a few weeks back and asked if I could attend an event in Washington, D.C., I didn’t hesitate. The National Geographic Society would be honoring, on Sept. 21, 2017, President Juan Santos of Colombia for his unparalleled actions to preserve land, sea and biodiversity in his critically important Latin America country. By going, I would also get an exclusive interview with Luis Murillo, minister of the environment and sustainable development. That story is coming. The link here is to my story about Santos’ talk after receiving a plaque from Gary Knell.
President Santos greets indigenous leaders from Colombia on stage at the conclusion of the event at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC. Photo by Enrique Ortiz
Former Vice President Al Gore listening to Secretary of State John Kerry’s blistering speech at the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru. Photo by Justin Catanoso
LIMA, Peru — In a clear message to the world that the United States, at least in the form of the Obama Administration, intends to lead prominently in the battle against climate change, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Lima on Thursday (Dec. 11) to deliver a blistering assault on GOP climate deniers in a 32-minute speech to a packed press conference.
I was just a few rows back and saw Al Gore‘s profile against the video screen with Kerry speaking. It made for a powerful image — two Americans who have been raising awareness about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions for a generation. I snapped the photo with my iPhone.
BusinessInsider published my story about Kerry’s speech, which includes a one-on-one interview I had with the Peruvian co-chair of the Green Climate Fund. Naturally, the GOP leadership in Washington intends to block Obama’s $3 billion pledge to the fund. The story contains a short video clip of the vice chair shot and edited by Michael Frierson, a UNC-Greensboro film professor.
A powerful quote from Kerry not in the story:
“Ask yourself, if Al Gore and Dr. Pachauri and Jim Hansen and the people who’ve been putting the science out there for years are wrong about this and we make these choices to do the things I’m talking about, what’s the worst thing that can happen to us for making these choices? Create a whole lot of new jobs. Kick our economies into gear. Have healthier people, reduce the cost of healthcare. Live up to our environmental responsibilities. Have a world that’s more secure because we have energy that isn’t dependent on one part of the world or another. That’s the worst that can happen to us.
“But what happens if the climate skeptics are wrong? Catastrophe. And we have a responsibility to put in place the precautionary principle when you’re given certain evidence and you’re a public official.”