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Stemming the cash flow

Updated Friday 18th June 2010

Founding member of the Tax Justice Network Matti Kohonen talks about his work in building a global tax justice campaign, to help developing countries, who lose enormous amounts of money in the form of unpaid taxes due from big companies.

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Counting money Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC Copyright The Open University

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Interviewer: Can you tell me about a time in your life when climate change seemed, there was a turning point in your life when you started getting really interested in climate change? Or environment change?

Matti Kohonen: I mean singling out a turning point, I think, would be slightly difficult. I do remember reading about climate change but I mean, and a number of other environmental and social issues, I was in high school in Finland, and I think I probably first read about climate change when I was about 17, 16. To find a turning point when I thought that climate change was really important, I can’t think of a single turning point actually.

Interviewer: That’s fine. What are you working on right now?

Matti: I work on a campaign which is called Tax Justice, where we look in how much developing countries lose public and private money. So we look at illicit capital flight out of the developing regions into Europe and the US. And we look at tax havens: how they facilitate big companies not paying tax in developing economies. And we try to count, you know, how much that would be towards the eight promises or towards, you know, assisting these countries in fighting poverty and inequality.

So we look at, really, global flows out of developing regions and we have a number of about 800 billion leaving developing countries every year illicitly. So it’s coming out of their economies, without it being legal, and we also counted multinationals dodging taxes in developing countries, costs about 160 billion US dollars of lost tax money, in these same regions, which is about 1.5 times the amount of aid going in to these regions. So we look at the, kind of, global injustices with the financial system.

Interviewer: And how are you relating your work to climate change? Can you maybe talk a little bit about what you’re doing in Copenhagen?

Matti: Well, I mean, in the climate change debate we find that a lot of the developing regions will be hit the worst. Partly because actual climate changes will be the hardest in areas like the Sahel region in Africa, which is quite dry already, but getting even worse, even dryer. So, I mean, they will be the ones who will be needing some of the so called adaptation costs from climate change.

Another country where we work, we work in Kenya which is directly affected, and we also work in Bangladesh, which has, you know, rising sea levels. You can imagine they will create lots of climate refugees, and also will require from the Bangladesh state and civil society to adopt and, hopefully, mitigate the bad practices of polluting.

So, I mean, we see that climate and poverty are very much linked, climate change makes poverty much worse. And also in the other way if we are able to adapt to climate change, we can adapt to more, you know, better lifestyles in other ways as well, you know, education will be a major component of mitigating climate change.

Interviewer: What do you see yourself working on in the next maybe one, five or ten years?

Matti: I see myself still working as, in this kind of broad NGO community, looking at developing countries, you know, poverty and climate issues. But I also see myself maybe working in the academics field a little bit more. That’s something, you know, I’d like to work as a teacher, maybe, at some point. And as an author, I’d like to become a more creative author in this area.

Interviewer: Where do you see yourself on this scale of optimism and pessimism about climate change and/or environmental change?

Matti: Well, I mean, I could say that I’m a very much of an optimist and a pessimist, at the same time; I don’t think they mutually exclude each other. So I’m a very pessimist about the current promises and the pledges, as they’re very insufficient in dealing with the problem. I mean we’re ten times short from what is estimated to be needed. And even if we believe in numbers, which I don’t always believe, I think just the awareness isn’t even yet enough on how much this is a global problem, and not just a problem of throwing money on the table.

On the side of – that’s the side of pessimism that I’m really feeling that our governments are not doing enough in understanding how deep this climate crisis goes. Because it’s also a crisis of our global society to crisis of governance, and it’s a crisis of understanding the problems of others in this world. On the side of positive and optimism, I am a high optimist, at the same time, because I feel that, although the governments aren’t listening, we find a very big civil society community here, which are connecting the dots much quicker than the governments are, and that’s extremely positive. Look at the 350 Campaign, we seem to understand that there is a sustainable level of carbon emissions and we can’t, somehow, seem to be able to agree on that.

Now we haven’t been able to agree on just about anything in civil society for quite a long time, and saying it’s 350, well the government say it’s 450, whatever it is, we seem to get an understanding that these things affect all of us, and I think I was quite inspired by the 350 campaign – very simple, very much to the point. Those things can create a political lobby on a global level, that’s what global civil society is about. We connect the Filipinos with the European campaigners and we shout together. So I think this is a very, extremely optimist development and I’m happy to follow that and be a little bit a part of that.

Interviewer: Excellent thank you.

Matti: Thanks.

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