Why is there such a lack of urgency about climate change on the lives of the poorest communities in the world? Is climate justice a pipe dream? Is the nexus of vested economic and political interests so powerful that they cannot see we are staring into the barrel of the gun? Are the ones that provoked the global crisis now ready to slaughter the hopes of our children and grandchildren?
Something is fundamentally wrong as I watch COP17 proceedings. The people who are most vulnerable are missing. Yet the technicians of some of the most powerful governments act as the shop stewards of powerful global interest groups peddling their influence behind the scenes and marginalising the civil society presence. It has all the hallmarks of a Shakespearian tragedy with its deceit, betrayal and murder of hope.
History reminds us that in any negotiation process the bargaining power of the people comes from the streets and ballot boxes. While global capital has recognised its power over the last decades, we are only now seeing the resurgence of outrage on the streets that has driven the seismic changes that has come from the Arab Spring and Occupy Movement.
In our own South African experience it was the struggles of massed workers, students, youth, women and communities that created the political stalemate that culminated in the miracle of 1994.
Today no one can deny that extreme weather conditions are becoming the more regular pattern. In fact “Mother Earth” sent a powerful portent as delegates arrived in one of Durban’s worst storms in living history. My guess is most delegates were not facing the brunt of that storm in the sprawling shantytowns around Durban.
I wish that those delegates who vehemently oppose a legally binding agreement had spent a week with communities living around Lake Turkana in the north of Kenya, or the slums of Mumbai, Nairobi, Darfur or Dhaka. Then they would understand the urgency in these places. They would bear witness to the devastating impact climate change has wrought and the massive migration that has compounded the desperation of billions in the world’s growing urban slums.
But they will not experience the crisis of 13 million people of the Horn of Africa. The hunger there is chronic, systemic and an indictment on our humanity. Sheltered in air-conditioned conference rooms, they will not have the daily challenge of eking out a fragile existence. They will not be counted among the billion people who will go to bed hungry tonight. These are just statistics without a human face.
Africa, already burdened with its “resources’ curse” that has spawned some of the most violent conflicts in the world, now has to contend with wars over water, land and food driven by climate change.
I realise that my generation does not want to relinquish power. We are determined to maintain the status quo. Change will not come from us. We have constructed a world driven by our own material needs and want to perpetuate it irrespective of the consequences.
As we learn from history, a generation never voluntarily gives up power. The seismic shifts in power that brought down the dictators in the Arab Spring was driven by the desperation of youth battling joblessness, denial of human rights and social justice. The same exclusion is what is driving the turbulence of the developed world. The groundbreaking Occupy Movement shares the frustrations of the youth in the rest of the world. Something is happening.
The restlessness is growing. It will explode soon. The current impasse is unsustainable. The perfect storm of the global economic crisis and its intersect with the food, fuel and environmental crises have given birth to a politicised generation that does not trust the current global institutions or leadership.
We need a fresh approach. We need an inclusive approach to climate negotiations at RIO +20 with civil society organisations from those countries most affected fully represented at the main table. We need to return to the excitement of the first Earth Summit 19 years ago.
We also need an urgent global debate among civil society of our vision of a different world beyond RIO. At the core of our developmental agenda should be our determination to eradicate poverty and inequality and place the critical issues of women’s empowerment and incomes, food security, water, energy and human rights.
Our demands are simple. We want a legally binding agreement to limit temperature rises and CO? emissions to prevent a vacuum when the Kyoto Prococol expires. We want the establishment of the Climate Green Fund to pay for the impact of climate change and a just transition to a green economy.
RIO must become part of the process to redefine the priorities as part of a new political narrative in the world. We need to think more ambitiously about raising the bar for the Millennium Development Goals and demanding accountability from global and national leaders in both public and private sectors. The reform of global institutions has to be part of our agenda. Civil society cannot continue to fight in the corridors propping up a sense of legitimacy to an increasingly meaningless consultation process. The people demand a seat at the main table and inclusive democratic governance.
COP17 has to ensure we establish these principles in the process to the next Earth Summit and beyond. South African leadership must forge the same determination we had in our democratic transition to place the African agenda on the map. The commitment we made to reduce our greenhouse emissions is a good start.
The “Robin Hood Tax” that we supported must be agreed and the Climate Green Fund established. But as Africa we should insist on a mechanism in its management and spending priorities through the African Development Bank.
We must break the deadlock and throw down the gauntlet to countries that still resist. We cannot ask the poorest in the world to bear the brunt of the greed of a few. If there is further dithering by the political elites that fly in for final negotiations, we need to draw the line on the floor of the International Conference Centre in Durban now. DM
Despite receiving a knighthood from the Queen, Bill Gates cannot use the title "Sir" due to his being American.