UNECA Exec Sec calls for climate change revolution

Tuesday, 23 September, 2014

Carlos Lopes, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), took to the pages of the CNN website this week to call for a fair and inclusive global agreement to combat climate change, calling it a “moral imperative” and stressing that time to confront the issue is running out. His tagline: “Superpowers have failed us, so small nations must unite for climate revolution.”

The context for this, and for the many other climate pieces you’ve no doubt noticed in your own feeds, and for the ubiquity of the #climatechange hashtag, as well as #climatesummit, is of course… the Climate Summit. A NYC gathering of world leaders with the aim of reviving climate talks rolling rustily into Round 21. Yup, 21.

Lopes’ angle is essentially that the ‘big’ world - industrialised nations, industry itself - has to all intents and purposes failed the developing world, and that smaller nations need to unite to advance their agenda - the big presumption being perhaps that they actually share one. 

Lopes argues that this is necessary, that “enlightened leadership is essential” particularly because “with China and India -- which together account for almost a third of global emissions -- deciding not to attend, it will be a challenge for the Summit to fulfil its potential.”

In the absence of these two, he says, small nations must unite because it ”is they that bear the greatest burden of climate change. We can no longer wait for the world's dominant powers to act benevolently for the benefit of all humanity.”

We’d be inclined to agree, on the whole, though we’d be equally disinclined to get our own hopes up given how long a united, enlightened world has been desirable with scant evidence of us being able to achieve one. But there are grounds for optimism, as Lopes points out: with next years Global Climate Change Conference in Paris set to replace the busted flush that is the Kyoto Protocol, a window exists for change to be pushed, hard.

“But what is clear is that for the first time Africa is not on the back foot. The continent is beginning to adopt a proactive approach to tackling climate change, empowering its people and strengthening its institutions.

The continent's impressive economic growth, buoyed by an export boom, improved governance and increased foreign investment has fueled the 'Africa Rising' narrative. By 2050, a quarter of the global population will be African, and 60% of Africans will live in cities. The continent is on the cusp of a transformation.

Policy makers are developing ambitious plans to create clean and green economies across Africa. Partnerships are being forged between government, the private sector and civil society for the swift implementation of national climate action plans.”

The piece is light on detail, as you would imagine from an op-ed piece, but the sentiment is strong and laudable. What appeals most to this correspondent (your own views may differ) is to hear a high profile voice point out that “growth at all costs” is not the way forward. Unless someone can apply a torque wrench to the laws of physics and the concept of finitude you’d have thought this would be obvious; but the sentiment of the day suggests otherwise, our ruling classes and captains of industry disagree, and you yourself may find this angle a tangential and pedantic argument. One way or the other, we’ll find out as a race, if not as individuals. And perhaps when we do we’ll look back on arguments like Lopes’ polemic here and think “Ah yes…”