Africa: Governments Must Confront Climate Change in 2013

opinion

I hope I am wrong. But in 2013, we can expect to witness more devastating extreme weather events, fuelled and supercharged by the destructive power of a warming planet brought about by climate change.

I hope to witness - and be part of - the exponential growth in popular pressure to force governments to take steps to avert catastrophic climate change. I hope to see even more unusual allies joining the global movement demanding climate action.

In particular, women's movements, trade unions and religious organisations continue to get more actively involved in the struggle to avert catastrophic climate change. As Sharan Burrows, the head of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) puts it: "There are no decent jobs on a dead planet."

Every year I begin with the hope that governments will step up and provide the leadership humanity so badly needs. I hope they will stop being laggards, and that they will find the political will to act beyond short-sighted electoral cycles and the corrupting influence of some business elites. My prediction is that in 2013, they will start listening more.

We recently saw the Philippines' climate change commissioner at the UN Climate Talks in Doha tearfully ask: "If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?" He was not only asking on behalf of his people but on behalf of all of us everywhere.

Hot on the heels of superstorm Sandy wreaking havoc through the Caribbean and the US, typhoon Bhopa (Pablo) swept the coasts of the Philippines leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and killing more than 900 people.

Heavy equipment digs in the rubble of destroyed buildings near the railway line in the Hurricane Sandy devastated Rockaway community. 11/15/2012 © Bruce Cotler / Greenpeace

The storms came as a profound counter point to warnings from the World Bank that the current trajectory will mean a 4C warmer world by the turn of the century; making the dream of poverty eradication impossible. Investor groups and insurance companies have been demanding that governments create a strong regulatory framework to avert catastrophic climate change. They have not suddenly become ecologists, but as economists they understand climate change is no longer 'just' taking lives and destroying infrastructure but will wreak havoc on businesses.

The main question is whether these extreme weather events, the science, public opinion, and increasingly, economic interests, will change the political world and rouse our governments from their slumber.

The issue of government action will continue to be played out and hopefully led by president Obama in his second term. Will he step up and keep his promise to become a climate champion? During his acceptance speech, he said: "We want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."

Perhaps his change of will came too late for the Doha UN climate talks. But the time has come for decisive action, and I hope that 2013 will see the US become a world leader in addressing the imminent and real danger of catastrophic climate change.

I am not only looking at Obama for hope - other developed nations must also step up and Europe should rise to the role of global environmental champion. Emerging economies such as China, India, South Africa and Brazil need to take a more progressive role in constructing a climate saving deal at the UN. That work needs to start now rather than waiting for another two weeks of negotiation in two years time when governments have agreed to secure a fair, ambitious and legally binding climate treaty.

In 2013 I expect to see an increase in renewable energy investments and more innovation and technology that can deliver solutions for the climate while also delivering economic regeneration and helping lift people out of poverty.

This gives me hope that a transition to a low carbon global economy will become easier and that politicians will no longer be frightened by change and realise the need for progressive legislation. Legislation that creates an enabling environment to generate millions of new, decent, green jobs that ensure a double win for the climate and social development.

We can no longer talk about climate change as an ominous threat on the horizon; the climate has changed and what we saw last year is only a small bitter taste of our common future if action is not taken immediately to alter course.

I hope, I expect, and I appeal on behalf of current and future generations that 2013 goes down in history as the year that governments, industry and civil society secured our planet for current and future generations.

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