6 December 2012

Africa: COP18 - 'Tis the Season for Hope and Awe


I did not watch the film 'The Hunger Games', but my 11 year-old niece tells me it is "awesome", and it scares me that her amusement with this Hollywood fiction is a far cry from the feelings of the many girls and boys already experiencing the brunt of climate change.

As we enter the end of the year season -with German Christmas markets popping up everywhere, joyous Christmas jingles starting to hit our nerves, and at last the climate change negotiation process gaining front-page headlines on @COP18 in #Doha - I find myself asking the rhetorical question: 'What will it take to convince our world leaders meeting in Doha to break through the less-than-awesome deadlock of the climate change negotiations and genuinely commit to tackle climate change?'

Will it be more of the likes of Hurricane Sandy that, following the loss of 131 American lives and damages estimated at US$63 billion, finally convinced re-elected President Obama, at the 11th hour, that climate change is a US priority?

All of us engaged in climate change work must confess a moment of awesomeness when President Obama included these great lines in his eloquent victory speech: "We want our children to live in a world without the destructive power of a warming planet". For the 175 million girls and boys set to experience, in real life, on a yearly basis, the impact of climate change, let us hope this political rhetoric becomes more than a slip-of-the-tongue-moment of camera snapping euphoria.

And that this time round, the US really steps up to the mark and constructively engages in positive solutions in Doha to tame our warming planet.

Politicians who need the evidence can no longer ignore the impact of climate change of children's survival, their protection and their development. Recent research by Plan, conducted with ODI in five South Asian countries, brings to light the growing number of girls and boys experiencing child labour, family break-ups, gender-based violence, and barriers to their development and education - because of climate-related disasters.

Yet the rights of these children on the frontline of climate change remain a neglected priority amid the plethora of issues being debated at Doha's scorching jamboree these two weeks. Plan, together with governments at the forefront of climate risks (the Philippines and Indonesia), global leaders with energy still left to fight for climate justice (Mary Robinson) and organizations working for children's rights, made an appeal for the negotiators in Doha to focus climate talks on children.

Let us hope that every global leader in Doha this week who has children and grandchildren of their own does not choose to ignore this call for action.

Ironically, the non-discriminatory nature of climate change may be just what it takes. Last week I received an email from a concerned colleague in the Philippines (aka one of the countries on the forefront of climate risks), enquiring after our wellbeing, given the nation-wide floods that hit the UK over the weekend.

This week it was my turn to email this same colleague and express concerns over the devastation of typhoon BOPHA which has just struck his country. Sadly, this global solidarity brings to light the 'Hunger Games' scenario we are set to face in the not too distant future...

But in true end-of-year seasonal spirit, hope remains for Doha. Hats off are due to the UK government for announcing yesterday its additional contribution of £133million to help Africa - and its children - tackle climate change.

Let us hope that the seasonal goodwill continues to spread in Doha, so that the tables do turn in our survival battle between economy vs environment - and that more political leaders (hello Mr Obama) commit to a fair and accountable post Kyoto Protocol agreement. That would be truly 'awesome'.

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