THE ELEPHANT WILL STILL BE IN THE ROOM FOR A LONG TIME
Over the last weekend, we experienced some of the most horrific natural disasters in the history of South Africa. The floods in KwaZulu Natal claimed the lives of more then 500 lives at the time of writing this blog, and left in its wake a trail of destruction never seen in our country’s history. As rescue efforts continue, many lives are still unaccounted for and the livelihoods of thousands of people have completely been wiped out. As one goes through the news daily, there are some horrendous stories of death, pain and suffering that definitely touches all of us. My thoughts and prayers are definitely with my fellow citizens in KZN.
On the 9 June 2008, I had the rare honor and privilege to address the United Nations in New York as part of a panel in a thematic debate on Global Capital and Climate Change. I remember stating at the beginning of my address that we have an elephant in the room called climate change, that cannot be ignored indefinitely. One of the other speakers mentioned that at that point in time, we needed about $ 200 billion just to return carbon emissions to current levels by 2030. It was evident after the debate that the financing and investment challenges to de-carbonize economies, adapt to new conditions, put communities on a new clean energy footing and create green transport and industrial infrastructure needed, will be the defining challenge for financial services and capital markets in the coming years. Well, a lot of water went under the bridge since that historic gathering in 2008; some notable successes on the adaptation and mitigation fronts were indeed registered. There is however this illusive milestone where world leaders could up till now not reach consensus and commit themselves to a binding agreement.
The last global climate change conference was held in Glasgow Scotland under the United Nations Framework on Climate Change. Though progress has been made in a number of important areas; it is still not enough. To keep global warming below, what most experts regard as the critical threshold of 1,5 degrees Celsius, we need to cut global emissions in half by the end of the decade. The reduction in greenhouse gases will be a major challenge specifically for countries like China and the USA given its major industrial activities. There is also another key commitment for the sustainability of this global effort; the establishment of a $100 billion-a-year commitment from developed countries to help developing countries in their efforts to tackle climate change through sustainable development. Pledges made at past conferences have not reached its targets as envisaged.
ENJOY, DO NOT DESTROY
Since the Industrial Age in the 1700’s, human activity has increased with a concomitant need for more carbon producing fuel, giving rise to an increase in the average temperature of the earth. One cannot simply discount the tremendous advantages brought about by the invention of electricity – lights, heating, air conditioning, cooking, heavy industrial machinery, entertainment, telecommunications….. In our quest for higher industrialization, regrettably unbridled greed became part of the world economic fabric, resulting in mismanagement of our natural resources through irreversible air and water pollution, deforestation, plundering of our marine and animal life; all done in the name of development. As the saying goes – there is enough for the world’s need but not enough for the world’s greed!
In Mpumalanga, the high demand for coal to feed the Eskom power stations led to very bad environmental practices where sensitive ecosystems have been destroyed and water resources badly polluted. The devastating effects of Sasol’s emissions in its large coal to fuel plants, are well documented. Failure to properly rehabilitate old gold mines in the Gauteng area has led to a major problem in acid mine drainage; I timebomb waiting to explode. How do we strike a balance between development and environmental integrity?
In Genesis 1: 27-28 mankind has been given a divine mandate to harness the potential of the earth, use it to mankind’s benefit but not to ruin or destroy it. We are holding the environment in trust for the next generation. All our decisions and actions have intergenerational implications. This warrants decisive leadership and regrettably, this is sadly lacking. A lack of leadership contributes and accelerates the diminishing of limited resources and leads to destruction.
As the big debates on the global stage are unfolding around climate change, all manner of contradictions are emerging and fierce lobbying are taking place behind the scenes, in most instances out of self-interest. The question might be ask, where do I as an individual fits into this complex scheme of things? As Nelson Mandela taught us – the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. All of us at both an individual and organizational level, has a part to play. Here are some practical steps for your consideration:
- Retrofit all your lights in the home with energy efficient ones.
- Be careful how you use appliances like toaster, dishwasher, blender, refrigerator; the kitchen can be a major drain of energy.
- Recycle paper, plastic and glass waste from domestic waste.
- Buy food that is packaged in recyclable containers.
- Fit your home with a solar system for hot water.
- Plan your travelling and errands to reduce your carbon footprint.
- Involve your children in discussions to engender positive behavior.
- Respect and protect green space – parks, gardens etc. They are important means to absorb carbon dioxide and by so doing, it helps to reduce temperature.
Any other suggestion?
The reality of climate change cannot be reasoned away anymore. This elephant is going to be in the room with us for a long time. Closer home we have already experienced the impact of global warming causing havoc in our weather through extreme droughts, flooding, wildfires and severe storms. The impact on food security, settlement patterns and sustainable development cannot be underrated. I am the eternal optimist and firmly believes that if we apply our collective ingenuity, we can make a difference.
It is time to act!