By LITIA TUIBURELEVU, THE NEW YORK TIMES
The Times sat down with Sean Havel from Greenpeace International to gather his thoughts on the state of debate in the United Nations Environmental Protection Programme (UNEP) room.
BOSTON – The UNEP’s committee room is narrow space crammed door to window with rows of chairs and excitable delegates. Despite it being -6 degrees outside, it’s particularly hot and stuffy indoors. This is rather ironic considering the committee is debating the problem of poor air quality. It’s no wonder that Sean Havel, from Greenpeace International, is more than pleased to step outside for a breath of fresh air.
He sits down in the chair and sighs, shaking his head at what he’s just witnessed. “They’re completing dodging the bullet, it’s like they’re trying to smokescreen the issue.” By they he is referring to the United States, China, the European nations and other regional blocs currently debating air pollution and human health. As Greenpeace, Mr. Havel is responsible for providing an insightful and independent voice to the committee session and advocating the interests of his organization. For Greenpeace, his primary concern is to hold states accountable for failing to uphold their obligations against environmental degradation. So far, Mr. Havel is exhausted with the ‘oxygen-wasting speeches’ completely avoiding discussion on the eradication of air pollution entirely.
In this UNEP, Mr. Havel laments that states are ‘focusing on how countries can live with air pollution, as opposed to solving how we can live without it.’ Much of the debate, from his perspective, is too centric on healthcare concerns that he believes in more in the purview of the World Health Organization (WHO). Whilst health concerns are critical, they are ancillary to the actual issue of how air pollution should be eliminated. He references the United States’ failure to recognise the intersection between pollution, poverty and health care. When states try to compartmentalize issues they miss the larger context of the connection between humans and the environment.
He is quick to point out that Greenpeace is privy to the concerns of developing states that feel that environmental protection measures will hinder their ability to develop. However, from Greenpeace argues that economies can flourish without primary energy sources being based on coal and oil. He references the city of Ontario, Canada, that has recently switched its entire automotive sector to clean energy. When asked how such models can be implemented on a global scale to reduce air pollution, he provides some suggestions. First, there needs to be a direct United Nations Committee tasked with solving air pollution. This could be a ‘Sustainable Development’ group under the umbrella of the UNEP. Secondly, states need to provide incentives for organizations and businesses to take action. Thirdly, and most potently, states need to start taking climate change seriously.
Despite his lamentations there is a silver lining. Mr Havel is quick to endorse Spain, Uruguay and the Philippines as the only states currently proposing more environmentally sound solutions. Before we end our questioning, there’s a loud rumbling from the committee room signaling something significant. Before quickly hopping back through the door he pokes his head round and whispers “There’s still hope. We just need to remember to trust in nature.”