Guest Column

OPINION | A world ablaze: declaring a climate emergency

2019-09-17 18:30
Schoolchildren protest outside Parliament in Cape Town to draw attention to climate change. (Photo: Ethan Van Diemen)

Schoolchildren protest outside Parliament in Cape Town to draw attention to climate change. (Photo: Ethan Van Diemen)

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The debate of whether climate change is real or not, is passé. Our planet is in crisis and the only fitting response is one of great courage, writes Bukelwa Nzimande.

The world, including Africa is burning. Raging fires are ripping through stretches of forest land across the globe at unprecedented rates. From the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa to Siberia in Asian Russia; the Amazon in South America to Alaska in North America, thousands of square kilometers of forests are reduced to ashes. Iceland held a funeral for the first glacier lost to global heating.

The frank truth is that a meek acknowledgement of this burning reality would be disingenuous and hypocritical of anyone concerned about our future. It calls for a loudhailer announcement: we are in a climate emergency, and we have brought it upon ourselves.

All that humanity has inflicted on the planet is being returned to us as the anthropogenic global heating scientists have long preached of. 

The debate of whether climate change is real or not, is passé. The extended drought, uncontrollable storm and flooding events, fires, droughts, pests and disease, loss of infrastructure, crops and life ravage our own in plain view. We no longer have the luxury of debate. 

Time is lapping us and at the current rate even the Paris Agreement and associated nation pledges will not keep global heating under 1.5 degrees as we are in fact speedbulleting to over twice this cap. The 11 years communicated by the IPCC report should be taken as eleven years of grace for crisis management; not policy uncertainty, not further exploitation and future gambling, but definite and ambitious actions to reduce global CO2 emissions, accelerate a transition to renewable energy and ultimately eliminate fossil-based energy generation. 

Frankly, the estimations of the time we seemingly have to make a change are extremely buoyant, best-case scenarios which would apply in a world where strong actions were immediately taken. Drastic and far-reaching changes have to be taken for us to even have a chance at keeping heating below 2C, let alone 1.5C. 

What we are seeing with movements like School Strikes for Climate is that the younger generation recognises the threats global heating poses to their future – met with inaction and poopooing by governments. This further highlights that, if informed, citizens young and old mobilise and pressurise governments to prioritise climate action directed at reducing carbon emissions and fighting climate breakdown. The power of these voices has positively led to countries, regions and cities, recognising that committing just to the Paris Agreement is not enough.

Nonetheless, countries such as the United Kingdom and Ireland are already ramping up their Paris Agreement commitments ahead of schedule, and some cities like Sydney and New York have declared an emergency with strategic goals to support these declarations with action. Having nations and states doing the same is a strong boomerang path from the complacent and nimble approach that has been taken in dealing with the core issues driving the climate crisis. Symbolically, the Paris Agreement needs its clout reinforced by declarations such as these. 

It is on this basis that the call for the South African government to declare an emergency is premised. Climate emergency declarations have triggered action and resource mobilisation to support and enable countries to reduce their carbon emissions. The declaration of an emergency by the South African government would be a recognition of the facts, as well as a resolution to facilitate the necessary change – a mighty step towards action ensuring a fighting chance for the future. At such critical times our government and political powers cannot be passive and assume indecisive politicking. South Africa declaring a national climate emergency would also be a strong stance in upholding social and economic justice as we consider a just transition from a coal-dependent economy to one reliant on renewable energy. A necessary turning point!

Signing the Paris Agreement has not resulted in significant changes in the country and, despite its name being invoked, polluters are still following business-as-usual models and allowed to run rogue with minimal to no accountability. Additionally, the carbon tax seems to be a tiny stick with no bite to the emitter.

Education and awareness raising about the impacts and the extent of these are our only chance and signal of hope and direction. From climate strikes, to youth marches to Parliament, we see a climate movement building; like a wave it's coming against strong forces, but as waves do, they have not surrendered, nor retreated. While people are mobilising and raising their voices, there is a lingering hope that our government will not be a counterforce, but will move with and for its people.

Our planet is in crisis and the only fitting response is one of great courage. So let us ring all the alarms, mobilise all bodies and raise all voices, because our houses are on fire, our rivers are dry and our seas in unpredictable uproar and it's not about to get better, unless drastic leaps in the right direction are taken. Hope outside of action is empty hope, and perpetually passive messaging, indecision and inaction is a true head-in-the-sand stunt, not only from civilians, but from the governmental powers who are the custodians of our environment and its highly threatened resources. The future of our environment and that of humanity are both intrinsically intertwined and dependant on each other. Recognising this communion is key to protecting the future.

- Bukelwa Nzimande is a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Africa.

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Read more on:    carbon emissions  |  paris agreement  |  climate change


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