Should people expect their political leaders to tackle multiple crises – including the changing climate, hunger, economic disparity, and a collapse of financial systems – in a comprehensive manner?
If so, what are the appropriate international bechmarks?
A few years ago, the world was busy preparing for the biggest UN summit in history (COP 15). The world was watching as heads of state and government, 132 ministers and thousands of negotiators, business leaders and civil society actors gathered to strike an elusive climate change deal that would stop dangerous global warming and thereby save the world – this failed.
Just three weeks ago, not many were paying attention to the negotiations at the Durban summit, also known as COP 17. Global political leaders are fighting the global financial crisis and economic recession in Europe.
Although it has changed form and names, the crisis remains a serious threat to prosperity and the welfare of all our economies if it is not tackled at the roots.
But lack of public interest and increasing distrust and disengagement by relevant actors from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP 17 process potentially concealed what was really at stake.
Canada, which branded the legally binding Kyoto Protocol history, last week finally pulled out, effectively denting the prospects of developed countries funding repairs for the damage they are causing to developing countries.
Although the Green Climate Fund was agreed on, Europe had insisted COP 17’s decision would need to be consensus by all – including all the 37 developed nations, hence the decision by Canada, which was supported by the US, India and China – the world’s major pollution emitters. Africa must not anticipate any funding.
Can you imagine yourself in a filthy toilet, and very hungry. Somebody brings food for you in the toilet. What would you do – what about your ego?
Africa has found itself in this invidious situation. For if you decide to eat while in that position, the one giving you the food will lose respect for you – if you decide not to eat you die of hunger.
Climate change gnaws at the very foundation of our societies, as it upsets the existing fragile social balance between the haves and the have-nots.
The poorest people who bear little to no responsibility for the climate problem, face the most dire, even catastrophic consequences. They are also the ones unable to cope with these consequences.
Ironically, the security threat posed by climate disruption has become an important reason for climate action by the richest economies.
Hence climate change is not simply an economic or environmental challenge requiring that the polluters pay.
Climate change in the context of a much broader crisis of ecological injustice and persistent global poverty on the one hand and the resource overconsumption on the other, is very much a moral challenge and not simply an economic and environmental one.
One is compelled to think of the perennial shortage of drinking water, garbage piling in Mbare, potholed roads across the country, water pollution, drought and the increasing number of poor families countrywide.
Does the government have the capacity to deal with this problem without partners?
With enough mineral resources, is government distributing the mineral resources revenue equitably to mitigate these factors of changing climate conditions in and around the country?
The key question negotiators faced in Durban was: With the first commitment period of Kyoto Protocol ending next December, was there need for a second commitment period?
What at first glance looked like a very technical or legal problem was in reality one with much wider implications.
The challenge to keep global warming below a dangerous threshold of 2 degrees Celsius or even 1,5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels requires an urgent shift towards a zero-carbon economy globally.
Despite the crossroads where we stand globally, in particular as a nation fighting to save the best features of Kyoto Protocol – the only binding instrument to reduce greenhouse gas emissions required us to form unusual, new, and broader alliances and strategically move beyond UNFCCC process to mobilise political will and public support.
Although climate change is hitting Africa the most, less than five heads of state and government of the 54 African countries showed interest in its impact by attending a high-level session at COP 17.
And so the future of the continent was left to these few to chart the way forward.
Isn’t this curious?