Although great strides are being made in the area of climate change, the planet will lock in “some pretty devastating impacts” if these are not accelerated.
This stark warning was shared during a panel discussion at the recent Rotary Africa Centennial event, which unpacked challenges and solutions for a Greener Africa.
“Climate change is very much a race and we’re racing against the atmosphere, which is quite unforgiving, unlike politics, which is an art of compromise,” says Dr Alex Lenferna, Climate Justice Campaigner. “The physics of the atmosphere does not compromise. It just delivers warming and impacts, so we need to move a lot faster.”
Science needs to lead the solution, says Dr Tommy Bornman, Manager SAEON Elwandle Coastal Node, one of six nodes of the SAEON network and part of the National Research Foundation.
He supports scientists, activists and environmentalists aligning so that these can talk in one united voice. “At the moment, people say different things and that allows governments and the polluters to get away with what they’re doing.”
Dr Bornman is confident that there is still a chance to align those voices. “As soon as there is a threat and the threat is perceived and people realise that it is real, we do tend to stand together.
“Of course, (the climate change threat) is much bigger than anything else that we have faced. And the sooner we can all stand together and come up with the correct solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to sequester some of the carbon already in the atmosphere and to try and reverse some of the changes that have taken place, the better.”
Equally quick not to underplay the important role of individuals in climate action, Dr Bornman says: “The more of us that stand together and refuse to use plastic bags, that use clean energy and so forth, the better, because then it’s only when we’re a united voice that governments, and big industry, actually listen to us.”
Dr Lenferna also highlights the role of social movements to “climate justice in our lifetimes” where young people are taking to the streets, demanding climate action and pushing back against the political interests that are trying to lock us into that polluting recovery.
While polluters have strong and powerful holds on governments across the world, one way of mitigating this, he says, is to ensure that policymakers have the scientific facts, and that they are compelled to act.
“We are focusing a lot on building the political movements, building the political power needed to really push back against the capturing of our government by those interests that are holding us back from a cleaner, more affordable, more reliable energy future, as well as from action on the ecology crises that we face. And that science is telling us, we must act on,” says Dr Lenferna.
He adds: “There’s an urgent need for us to ensure that any recovery from COVID is a recovery that puts ecological and social justice at the heart of it. The studies tell us that this really is the last window to keep to those Paris Climate Agreement targets. If we miss this window, we miss that opportunity and we move on to a much more dangerous and warming world.”
The role of the younger generation is critical, says Dr Bornman, who advocates listening to and supporting the “next cohort of young people’s voices” by those in power, because “they are going to inherit the planet and it’s important that we listen to their concerns”.
Also on the panel, 10-year-old Ellyanne Wanjiku Chlystun-Gith, who is East Africa’s youngest climate change ambassador, explains how she rallies younger generations in the fight against climate change.
“Some say we are just children; we don’t know what the world is like. Some children only know the good side of the world. You need to help us; we need change. It’s not just our world; it’s also yours,” she says, calling on the older generation to support her cause.
Africa and climate change
Panellists agree that Africa already has the upper hand when it comes to respecting the environment and can potentially be a good example of how we can live on this planet better.
“Environments in Africa are reasonably better protected and looked after then elsewhere in the world,” says Dr Bornman. “Africa stands head and shoulders above the world because in Africa we’ve always lived much closer to nature, have a lot stronger indigenous knowledge related to nature and look after our environments.”
Looking to the future, Dr Lenferna says that Africa has an opportunity to reap the benefits of renewable energy whose costs are much cheaper than fossil fuels and which have been shown to be not only environmentally beneficial, but also socially and developmentally beneficial.
“When you look historically, Africa hasn’t contributed majorly to issues like climate change as much as countries in the global north have. And so that means, while we need assistance to deal with the impacts for an issue that we haven’t caused as much, we also have an opportunity to leapfrog the more harmful and polluting forms of development that other countries have taken.”
“Africa has an opportunity to look to its indigenous past, as well as to the technology of the future to a form of development that is more inclusive, more sustainable and more prosperous,” concludes Dr. Lenferna.