Leaders and ministers from different governments led by Socialist International member parties in Africa were united in their message at the meeting of the SI Commission for a Sustainable World Society held in Cape Town, South Africa, on Monday 2 March. While being the least responsible for climate change and global warming, the African continent was suffering the most from its effects, they declared, and the way forward in the global climate change negotiations required increased solidarity from North to South in order to assist it to adapt to face the new challenges.
A priority for adaptation to meet the demands of climate change
H.E. the President of the Republic of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, opened the meeting, underlining the fact that Africa was the most affected by environmental changes and also the least able to afford the costs of adaptation required to alter behaviour and halt the damage. He emphasised that only once adaptation was accorded a higher priority in the international community’s deliberations could any agreement on the strengthening of the International Climate Architecture be considered balanced. Leadership was required, he said, to translate public will into political action, and political will into action and implementation.
Environmental, social and economic justice are inter-connected
President of the African National Congress and a Vice-President of the Socialist International, Jacob Zuma, welcomed the opportunity to group together like-minded progressive social democrats to pursue a common agenda in examining the impact of climate change on the continent. The ANC’s vision, he said, was to embrace a transformative environmentalism, emphasising the inter-connection of environmental, social and economic justice. The vulnerable were the most impacted and climate change was ultimately a poverty issue for Africa. All nations of the world had to play their role to prepare for a sustainable future, and this included tackling the internecine conflicts that had been so detrimental to the continent, as well as developing the infrastructure which meant Africa was so ill-equipped to cope.
Listening to and learning from the African experience
Co-Chair of the Commission, Ricardo Lagos, former President of Chile and a Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on climate change, said that the Commission had reached a particular moment in its work, one in which the international agenda was quite different from when it had began its activities. However, putting aside climate change issues due to the global economic pressures would be a recipe for disaster and a choice none of us should make. He was certain that the common values and ideas expressed at the meeting would advance and inform the work of the Commission in presenting a way forward for a new model of society based on solidarity.
Responsibility of leadership
Co-Chair of the Commission, Goran Persson, former Prime Minister of Sweden, underlined that there was a formative period ahead of the Commission, one characterised by uncertainty. The United Nations Copenhagen Conference in December this year and the need to reach a global agreement there would come at a time of deep economic recession, when politicians willing to be bold would be few. Proposals would need popular worldwide support but it was clear that decision-makers needed to take this opportunity to present new political initiatives and take responsibility to effect change in their own time and for future generations.
THE AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE
At the meeting ministers from a number of governments led by Socialist International member parties in Africa shared their countries’ experiences of tackling global warming and climate change and the continent’s perspective on the current global negotiations.
Angola: low cost technology transfer much needed
Maria Fatima Jardim, Minister for the Environment, MPLA, Angola, outlined the programme of her government, which had won the democratic elections five months earlier. The Angolan strategy was based on sustainable development through the construction of an open society with full citizen rights. The downturn in the world economy meant that access to technological modernisation was even more difficult. She said the international community needed to develop a more sustainable economy, with technology transfer at a low cost, and make climate change and economies based on the environment a global commitment.
Mauritius: a common international front
Arvin Boolell, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade, MLP, Mauritius, highlighted the plight of his country - a low lying island, vulnerable to coastal destruction with a small economy. He said that the international community could not remain indifferent to the situation in Africa with its urgent demands, and could not be seen to waste its vital resources. Tragically, he added, the continent had everything within its reach yet tackling poverty and resolving conflicts remained elusive. A common international front was needed to ward off the threats of global warming.
South Africa: climate change and development not mutually exclusive
Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Foreign Minister of South Africa and a member of the SWS Commission, described the difficulties facing the southern tip of the continent, and detailed the national environmental policies being carried out by her government. Economic growth and welfare imperatives were understood by her government to be fully compatible with tackling global warming: climate change and development were not mutually exclusive. The adaptation needs of the continent remained overwhelming, she said, and she urged developed countries to do more to support and assist the African nations in enhancing their technological capacity. Her country’s dependence on coal was a major issue but one they were addressing with an obligation that future power plants be carbon capture ready.
Morocco: political willingness and education key to way forward
Mohamed Elyazghi, Minister of State of Morocco and a member of the SWS Commission, gave his impressions from the other extreme of the continent. Countries in many parts of Africa shared the same vulnerability to floods, drought, coastal destruction, water stress, but equally shared a political willingness, as demonstrated by the South African government, to solve the issue themselves. Education on the issues was improving and people were becoming more sensitised to the demands of addressing climate change and the resources needed to finance it.
Namibia: assistance in harnessing natural energy resources
Hage Geingob, Minister of Trade and Industry, SWAPO, Namibia, described his nation as a land of contrasts and underlined the dimension of climatic change there. Going from drought to floods in a short period of time had dramatically endangered food security there and constituted a major part of the impact of global warming in Namibia. It was a nation rich in natural resources and needed assistance in harnessing solar and wind energy, and he appealed to developed nations to share funds, skills and know-how.
Mozambique: strengthening regional, continental and international coordination
Coming from a country prone to natural disasters, Oldemiro Baloi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Frelimo, Mozambique, highlighted that the devastating impact of climate change not only aggravated the situation of absolute poverty in his country, but also formed a threat and an obstacle to the country’s harmonious development. The programmes undertaken by his government covered environmental issues, as well as emergency disaster management plans. He stressed that the mitigation and adaptation to climate change and the prevention and reduction of natural disasters required the engagement of the whole international community, and that the importance of strengthening regional, continental and international coordination could not be overemphasised.
Turning the fiscal crisis into green jobs
Sergei Mironov, Chairman of the Council of the Russian Federation, and Chairman of A Just Russia Party and a member of the SWS Commission, said that while financial crises may come and go – problems of environmental protection would remain. The economic crisis would inevitably transform labour and employment markets, but perhaps the creation of green jobs could provide a solution to both problems. The world’s 1.3 billion working poor could successfully use eco-friendly technologies and work for environmental programmes, for example, and food aid to Africa could be complemented by technological assistance to allow local self-sufficiency.
Zhijun Zhang, Vice-Minister, International Department, CPC, said that his country had set itself energy efficiency targets and had introduced bold reforms in pricing and taxation, to promote an energy conservation culture in Chinese society. These and other initiatives had been undertaken by the government itself, not as part of a negotiated deal with other countries but because it was vital for the future development of the country. With such measures, he felt that countries such as his that were in a period of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation could contribute constructively to reconciling the issues of development and environmental protection.
Fostering climate change awareness
Aleksandr Kwasniewski, Former President of the Republic of Poland and a member of the SWS Commission, underlined that “financial crisis versus climate change” was a false alternative and applauded the efforts and results already outlined by the representatives from Africa. Pragmatic politics was required, he said, and an environmental understanding of economic questions had to be developed. He hoped that the Commission’s Report would ultimately contribute to better preparing societies for the future. The problem of climate change was not only technical, he concluded, but also one of culture and education.
Bringing together science, principles and politics
Luis Ayala, Secretary General of the Socialist International, presented the first draft of the Commission’s Report. The activities of the Commission had been, and would continue to be, in line with those of the international community, and in this sense the report had interwoven the outcome of the meetings of the Commission with those of the United Nations. This document reflected the SI’s ideals and values regarding climate change and sought to provide a platform where scientific facts, principles and politics found a common place. There were already numerous concrete proposals in the draft Report to which others would be added responding to a number of outstanding questions that needed to be dealt with by the Commission in the coming months.
The outcome of this meeting in Africa and future meetings would also be integrated into the Report and the members of the Commission would next meet in Beijing this May to advance with the work for its Report due to be presented at a special meeting in September at the opening of the UN General Assembly with leaders of the International, Commission members, and Heads of State and Government from the social democratic political family.