The last week has seen temperatures soar to 44°C at a time efforts to mitigate climate change are insufficient to meet the goal of keeping global warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, hardly a month before a major climate change conference in Durban, South Africa.
A list of options has been laid to achieve the target, including more cuts in greenhouse gases from additional sectors, stronger accounting rules both within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and through other strategies, sharing mitigation efforts based on countries’ capacities or contributions to the problem, and legally binding commitments.
The report, Building the Climate Change Regime: Survey and Analysis of Approaches, reviewed 130 proposals put forward by governments, NGOs, and academics to design a climate regime capable of delivering adequate mitigation.
In Durban, countries have the opportunity to turn these ideas into action and start to bridge the ambition gap needed to truly have an impact. But, is it even within mankind’s ability to solve global warming – not to mention many other major challenges confronting the human race?
Scientists believe keeping to the 2°C limit over the course of the 21st century is crucial to avert widespread disasters, from the disappearances of low-lying island nations under rising seas and searing droughts, famines, extreme storms and flooding, to the extinction of species.
More importantly, the report highlights the need to mobilise a range of public and private sector groups that can contribute to climate governance, emission reductions and adaptation investment.
There is no doubt sustainable development is the agenda for the 21st century.
It means connecting the dots between challenges such as climate change and water scarcity, energy shortages, global health issues, food insecurity and the empowerment of women. On the surface, these might seem like distinct issues, but they are linked.
We have to find those linkages. I am told in Korea they have a proverb that goes it doesn’t matter how many beads you have, without a thread, you will never make a necklace. Hence, global leaders need to find the thread.
Tragically, however many climate summits have failed to do that fast enough. Look no further than the crisis in the Horn of Africa. Conflict, high food prices and drought have left more than 12 million lives at risk.
Extreme weather events such as increased floods, rains, heat wave and droughts in some parts of Zimbabwe continue to grow more frequent and intense as climate change accelerates.
They not only devastate lives, but wipe out infrastructure, institutions and budgets. Some economists predicted droughts and the flood damage could exceed $30 billion.
Competition between communities and countries for scarce resources, especially water, is increasing. Environmental migrants are starting to reshape the human geography of Mother Earth.
This will only increase as sea levels rise and deserts advance. Of course, there are those who say climate change is not real.
The facts are clear: global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise; millions of people are suffering from climate impacts; climate change is very real.
For those still in doubt, just wind back to last week. Temperatures rose to 44 degrees for the first time since 1962 in Zimbabwe. Flooding in Thailand, hurricanes in the Americas, droughts in Africa, the list is endless.
In this struggle, there is one resource that is scarcest of all — and that is time. Global leaders are running out of time. In the first 50 years of this century, the population will increase by 50% and global emissions will need to decrease by 50%. This has been referred to the 50–50–50 challenge. Climate change is showing the old model is not only outdated, but dangerous.
Around the world, wind, solar and geothermal energy are becoming more cost competitive. This is a global race to save the planet.
But it is also a race to see which countries and economies will forge the path to creating green sustainable jobs. It is our hope that Africa and Zimbabwe in particular will lead the way — for the general good of its people, as well as that of the planet.
The Bali Road Map in 2007 launched comprehensive negotiations that have led to global progress.
Starting with Copenhagen in 2009 and affirmed in Cancun last year, for the first time ever, all countries agreed on the goal of limiting global temperature rise to below 2°C.
For the first time ever, countries have made large pledges on financing. On forests, governments have agreed on an action plan to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation – REDD plus.
Cancun also delivered an adaptation framework to protect the vulnerable and a mechanism for sharing green technologies.
We need to keep building, including at the climate conference this year. We need ambitious mitigation targets that ensure any increase in global average temperature remains below 2°C.
Moreover, given the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires next year, a political formula must be found to ensure a robust, post-2012 climate regime is agreed upon, and is not delayed by negotiating gamesmanship.
At the same time, climate finance, the sine qua non for progress, must move from concept to reality – with delivery of “fast start” financing and agreement on sources of long-term financing.
Next year’s “Rio+20” UN Conference on Sustainable Development will also be an important opportunity. Africa must make sustainable development for all a top priority. It is only in that broader framework governments can address climate change and our needs.
So Africa, put your head above the clouds, but keep your feet on the ground. Look over the horizon. But, at the same time, be grounded and practical.
Use your passion to make a difference, to be a part of something larger than yourself. Don’t let the cynics hold you back. Let Africa ensure a fair go for everyone!
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