Our Burning Planet

NELSON MANDELA LECTURE

Barbados PM Mia Mottley: Struggle for freedom and climate justice go hand in hand

Barbados PM Mia Mottley: Struggle for freedom and climate justice go hand in hand
Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley, addresses the 20th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the Durban International Convention Centre on 12 November 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley delivered the 20th annual Nelson Mandela lecture, held for the first time in KwaZulu-Natal in light of the devastating floods in April 2022. Known as a sound, passionate and fierce voice against unjust barriers that result in delayed climate crisis action, Motley brought the same insight and passion to the lecture.

‘I don’t talk about climate change; change happened a long time ago — crisis is where we are and crisis is what we have to fight,” said Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley at the 20th annual Nelson Mandela lecture held on Saturday at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in eThekwini, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). 

In an enthralling hour-long speech that tied the struggle for freedom to the fight for climate justice, Mottley called for the end of climate injustice with gracious force. The speech simply yet emotively laid out the challenges and effects of decolonisation and how these factors resulted in delayed climate action, particularly for the Global South.

Professor Njabulo Ndebele, chairman of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said before Mottley’s address:

“Increasingly in the Global South — and thanks to the powerful voices like that of Prime Minister Mottley — we are beginning to understand the connections between climate justice and decolonisation. For too long, here in South Africa, we have not only not seen the connections, but have regarded them as almost competing with one another; this is a distraction we can no longer afford. The struggle for decolonisation cannot be separated from the struggle for climate justice.” 

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Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley said the fight against climate injustice was a call for ordinary citizens to take action by placing pressure on leaders and participating in advocacy that would make a difference. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Mottley told the audience: “I want us to reflect on the principles of justice and solidarity, and on the moral compass that Madiba provided for us … we have come to a stage where the evidence of the science is palpable… We speak in the shadow of Sharm el-Sheikh, a conference of the parties intending to pursue progress and action; progress I fear, is not far enough, but still yet there,” said the Prime Minister.

She delivered the lecture in KZN, a province hit by floods once again this week after the Msunduzi River burst its banks, leaving almost 20 families in Pietermaritzburg homeless. The recent floods come seven months after April’s catastrophic flooding in the province left more than 400 people dead.

Said KZN Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube: “This annual lecture is being held at the right time, at the right place; seven months after the devastating floods hit mainly the coastal areas, resulting in a massive loss of lives and the destruction of infrastructure.”

Mottley also said the fight against climate injustice was a call for ordinary citizens to take action by placing pressure on leaders and participating in advocacy that would make a difference. 

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“How many more hurricanes; how many more floods; how many more people suffering from droughts as is happening in Kenya, will the world endure, and have to endure before action is taken? The difficulty is — and this is where the complexity of the conversation enters — that it is not simply the commitments made on stage that matter, but it is the capacity to deliver on those commitments,” Mottley said.

Last year and this year’s COP gatherings saw the International Partners Group  (France, Germany, the European Union, the UK, and the US) pledge $8.5-billion towards South Africa’s just energy transition. 

“The reality also is, justice demands someone to pay, particularly when countries who don’t have capacity to pay, no fiscal space, no balance sheet, cannot do so. And that is the big debate that stands before us today,” the prime minister said. 

Countries providing climate financing — first-world countries — are hoping South Africa will act as a blueprint for emerging market economies on how those countries can move away from fossil fuel dependence. This year at COP27, the country once again secured €600-million towards its just transition. 

While the announcements have been met with great jubilation, concern about the funding being in the form of loans and not mainly grants has caused some unease, as interest rates range from about three to four times higher than those of countries in the global north.

“This weekend in Sharm el-Sheikh, I called not just simply for capacity to match commitment, but also for us to ensure that we have a just industrialisation. The Global South has for too long been the place from which wealth has been extracted and for which there has been no determination to put back into the South the resources to move from primary materials to finished products,” Mottley said. 

She said the capacity to ensure a just transition was not in the power of countries in need of climate finance, and there would be more innocent victims as a result of the lack of capacity to manage the transition. 

Natural gas has been touted as a transitional fuel, though some environmentalists and academics alike have cautioned against this due to methane emissions and the possibility of stranded assets. Mottley said, however, that the luxury to choose not to use gas by governments that had failed to take action in the past two decades was no longer an option: 

“Regrettably, what we are getting is the standoff, because mankind is so consumed with the geopolitics of today’s world that we are forgetting the reality of the planet on which we live… time waits on no one and the climate equally is not waiting on anyone to minimise its impact on our living and way of life.” DM/OBP

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