The human face

2011-11-30 00:00

THERE is a human face to COP17, blurred by the rhetoric of greenhouse gases and calculations of carbon credits. This is the face you need to focus on to make sense of what is going on at Durban’s International Convention Centre.

On Monday, I met some amazing human beings, like Tomy Matthew Vadakkancheril from the Fair Trade Movement. He spoke of farmers in his home province, Kerala in India, who were caught up in monocropping until there was a collapse in the cash crop prices. Faced with mounting debts, farmer suicides began to dominate newspaper headlines. The Fair Trade Movement took root, encouraging farmers to go back to old practices of organic farming and biodiversity. They did this by guaranteeing minimum prices for crops. In the end it was trade justice, countering greed and enabling everyone to benefit, that saved the situation, said Vadakkancheril. “It is about mutual respect,” he added.

Then there was Juliani (just Juliani), a musician from Kenya who has travelled to Durban as part of a youth caravan. The story of the caravan and its more than 180 ambassadors is an inspiration on its own. Lily Agoya from Kenya and Justina Zulu from Zambia fill in the details. According to Agoya they are part of a faith-based global youth movement and started preparing to come to COP17 in April this year. They networked, raised funds and set out in a convoy of green trucks on November 7 from Nairobi. They passed through several countries, including Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Botswana, arriving in Durban on Monday, November 28, and the start of COP17. Zulu said that in preparation they had regional climate workshops and the journey down south included awareness campaigns and passing the message along about caring for the environment. “We see ourselves as climate-change ambassadors. We are the youth and it is our future that we have to take care of,” Zulu told me.

According to Agoya, the caravan is also about human connections, because caring for the planet is actually about caring for each other. She said the project was coordinated by the Kenya Youth Network and although it was an African initiative, youth from other continents were invited on the journey. In the end, they worked out to be a group of between 180 to 200 young people, representing 16 countries. They’re living in tents around Durban with senior leaders been accredited to attend events at the ICC. The rest are using every opportunity to network and engage with fellow activists.

Dr Nancy Dubosse from Haiti currently works for African Democracy institute, Idasa. Speaking at a seminar on Africans dealing with climate change, Dubosse had an interesting take on the issue. She noted that when climate-change disasters hit, the first respondents have to be the municipalities in terms of disaster management. She believes that the human face that ordinary citizens need to focus on are the officials of their municipality and fellow residents in a city.

The next time there is a thunderstorm in the city and houses are washed away in Edendale or Raisethorpe, it is not just about dropping off food and blankets to ease one’s conscience. It is about getting informed, participating and holding local government to account. Dubosse believes these issues are not that of government alone. “The truth is we don’t operate in isolation,” she said.

She believes there is a need to reorganise the way our government is delivering basic services. It is about long-term planning and about more citizen participation. There is a need to redo the social contract in our society. Today it is about issues of climate change, yesterday it was about HIV/Aids and tomorrow it will be something else. According to Dubosse, moving forward there has to be a culture of caring and of involvement.

This theme was continued by Greenpeace executive director Kumi Naidoo who, sharing a platform with Dubosse, said that we have to move away from thinking about climate change as an environmental issue. We have to see it in its totality as a human and moral issue. Naidoo referred to a 2003 report that he said former United States president George Bush buried and which was supported by both the CIA and the Pentagon. According to the report the biggest threat to world peace and security is going to come from the impact of climate change. Naidoo said the issues are about pending natural disasters and the scarcity of resources, about curbing greed and seeing the world as a legacy to leave to our children and grandchildren. “I want to encourage all of you to see this as your struggle,” he added.

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