Print this article   Email this to a friend

Commission for a sustainable world society

Africa and climate change at top of agenda for SWS Commission

02 March 2009


2 MARCH 2009
General Secretary of the Socialist International, Mr Luis Ayala,
Co-Chairs of the Commission, Mr. Ricardo Lagos, former
President of the Republic of Chile and Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-
General on Climate Change; and Göran Persson, former Prime Minister of Sweden,
Eminent Members of the Commission and former Heads of State and Government,
All Ministers present,
Ladies and gentlemen,
We bring greetings from the National Executive Committee of the ANC and all the membership of the movement.
We are pleased that the meeting of the International Commission for a Sustainable World Society is taking place in our country, and in particular in the African
It is also significant that this session will interrogate the impact of climate change in the African continent, given the challenges facing our continent.
It is important that we meet like this as a group of like-minded progressive social democrats under the ambit of Socialist International to pursue our common agenda.
The meetings have already born some fruits, and ensured that our common agenda is advanced through various international forums that have shaped the future of global politics.
It all began with the UN conference on Environment and Development in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, which set the stage for a new global agenda through a round of global conferences focusing on various aspects of global sustainability.
Other conferences have included the Population Conference in Cairo in 1994, the Social Summit in Copenhagen held in 1995, and the Women’s Conference in Beijing in the same year. 
Other important conferences have been the Conference on Human Settlements held in Istanbul in 1996, the Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey in 2002, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development Conference in Johannesburg.
As social democrats we have made significant contributions in tackling global challenges, and led the world to accept the concepts of global sustainability and global governance as means of achieving the global political consensus.
Our interaction is characterised by a common desire to achieve equality, solidarity, and respect for nature, and a shared responsibility in managing worldwide economic, social and environmental development.
The pending agreement due to be reached by the international
community in December 2009 at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in
Copenhagen, provides an important opportunity for us to hold critical discussions as we are doing today.
As the African National Congress and as South Africans, we view environmental issues as being an integral part of the national political programme given our history. During the apartheid period the vast majority of our people bore the brunt of poor living conditions.
They were located in areas where the most polluting industries existed, and were denied the basic right to defend themselves against harmful activities.
The ANC's vision has therefore sought to embrace a transformative environmentalism. This is based on the idea of sustainable development, emphasising the inter-connection of environmental, social and economic justice.
When freedom dawned on our country we worked hard to ensure the inclusion of environmental rights in the Constitution so that both individuals and communities are able to defend their right to a safe and sound environment.
Environmental justice is firmly entrenched, and the Constitutional base has provided the framework and orientation for a variety of laws.
We believe it is correct and proper for the world to take climate change seriously. Science tells us that an increase in global average temperature above 2ºC poses a danger to all of us, but in particular the poor. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change we need to limit the temperature increase to 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. We are already approximately 0.7ºC above pre-industrial levels. 
This would enable us to avoid or reduce unusual and unpredictable weather events, which jeopardise human settlements, livelihoods and infrastructure particularly in low-lying coastal areas and even inland. We are beginning to see changes in climatic patterns that will result in a shift in rainfall quantities and distribution, which affect animal and plant life. That means agricultural patterns will change, and so will livelihoods.
Scientific research predicts that in all of this, the African continent is likely to be one of the most seriously affected parts of the world. Africa continues to face the challenge of high levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment, low levels of infrastructural development and high reliance on primary commodities and agriculture.
Some of the impacts for Africa, identified in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate ChangeWorking Group 2 report in 2007, include the following:
  • It is estimated that by 2020, between 75 million and 250 million will be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change.
  • Agricultural production, including access to food, in many African countries and regions will be severely compromised by climate variability and change. In some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50% by 2020.
  • Local food supplies will be negatively affected by decreasing fisheries resources in large lakes. 
  • Towards the end of the 21st century, a projected sea level rise will affect low-lying coastal areas with large populations. The cost of adaptation could amount to at least 5-10% of GDP.
In the face of the risks and vulnerabilities outlined above, the debate on climate change becomes one of both socio-economic and environmental security.Those least able to adapt are the poor. Therefore, climate change is ultimately a poverty issue for Africa.
African human settlements already face the impact of such weather patterns even in middle-income countries such as ours. In our country we are currently dealing with the dire consequences of severe flooding in Soweto in Johannesburg. We have had other serious disasters as well this summer especially in the coastal provinces. The devastation and the pain are unimaginable and very sad indeed.
The African lesson is that due to historical reasons, the infrastructure of African settlements is weak and any change in weather patterns has a devastating effect.
Many African regions and countries lack the capacity to generate effective adaptive responses to changes that climate change will bring; because of competing development priorities. 
Also important to note is that the predicted future changes in weather patterns will not only have an impact on food security, but also on health and well being in many African countries. For example in South Africa, it is envisaged that global warming is likely to result in wetter and hotter temperatures in the eastern side of the country resulting in the spread of diseases such as malaria. It also means that more money will be spent on disaster management.  
We must also bear in mind that some parts of the continent have gone through internecine conflicts, which have a severe environmental impact.
We are still working to resolve a number of civil and regional conflicts. Peace processes continue in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a conflict that indirectly involves a number of countries in the region.
There are also ongoing processes in Darfur, Burundi, Somalia and others. These peace processes have to be borne in mind by the international community when discussing solutions to global problems. Going forward, all nations of the world need to play their role to prepare for a sustainable future. The bulk of the world's greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the developed world.
However, as the pace of development increases, countries such as South Africa are also contributing an increasing amount to the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. South Africa is responsible for about 1% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. This is a relatively small proportion, but it means that we are the world's 14th largest producer of greenhouse gases.
Along with India and China we are seen as one of the "large" developing country emitters. The reason for this is our country's heavy reliance on coal as the main source of our energy.
This places an obligation on South Africa, in terms of fulfilling our international responsibilities, to demonstrate our seriousness and commitment to greenhouse gas reduction.
In response, we want to escalate our national efforts towards the realisation of a greater contribution of renewable energy sources, including solar and wind power, as part of an ambitious renewable energy target. The hydroelectric potential of the SADC region will be included in our plans.
Since the world faces a global climate emergency, it is now clear that only action by both developed and developing countries can prevent the climate crisis from deepening. While developed countries bear most of the responsibility for causing the problem to date, developing countries must face up to our responsibility for the future. Whilst we have different historical responsibilities for emissions, we share a common responsibility for the future.
While it is critical that all countries adopt plans to respond to this threat, it is necessary that the global community respond to this challenge in unison. We will also need to achieve a balance between the economic growth of countries in the developing world and the need to radically reduce emissions. We also need to ensure that the development of poor countries is not constrained by the environmental sins of rich countries.
One of the great strengths of the movements of the Left is that they are rooted in the struggles of the people, and understand the issues we raise as the developing world. Another great strength is the principle of solidarity, which not only informs the ideological perspectives of the Left, but also lays the basis for a progressive global movement united in pursuit of the shared interests of all humanity.
Internationalism has always been a hallmark of the Left. It has managed to transcend national interests, and find common cause among people of very different backgrounds, cultures and economic means.
The challenge today is to translate that proud tradition of internationalism into a practical, coherent and effective programme of action that harnesses the energy and capacity of all the forces of the Left across the world. That is the challenge facing the Socialist International.
We need to exploit the fact that many Left parties are today in government in important countries of both the developing and developed world.
These governments should form the core of a progressive inter-governmental grouping that can play a leading role in important areas like UN reform, WTO talks, climate change, conflict resolution, and others. Working together we can do more to alleviate the impact of climate change and make the globe more habitable for all, especially the poor and marginalized.
I wish this seminar success.
In addition, may you all find time to explore this province to enjoy the beauty of the Western Cape and our country.
I thank you.

Other activities

If you are looking for an earlier meeting, please consult the LIBRARY section.