Opinion: Climate action will not wait for 2020

By Mary Robinson 17 November 2016

A participant holds a sign in a march to demand climate justice for all during the twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Marrakech, Morocco. Photo by: Richard Dixon / Friends of the Earth / CC BY-NC-ND

Marrakech is hosting the first Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change since the Paris agreement came into force — and the Moroccan hosts are making sure the focus is on “action.”

Thousands of delegates representing 196 countries are at this “African COP,” slowly beginning to draft the rulebook that will guide climate action from 2020. But action will not wait for 2020; with climate impacts an everyday reality climate action has already begun.

The Paris agreement is a symbol of success for multilateralism: never before has an international agreement been signed by so many countries and ratified so quickly. Climate change continues to be an issue that brings countries to the negotiating table; no country alone can protect its citizens from the impacts of climate change, just as no country alone will dismantle this agreement.  

But having secured not just the Paris agreement but also the Sustainable Development Goals, the imperative now is implementation — to reach the goals set in 2015. One way or another the transition to low-carbon, climate-resilient development has begun.

The benefits of a new way of doing business, of sharing the earth’s resources equitably and of ensuring a bright future for today’s young people and generations to come are within our grasp. Climate action is happening and there is a choice to to be made by all of us — to choose a transition with climate justice or a transition without climate justice.

Marrakech plays host to the first ever Climate Justice Day at a COP. This reflects the commitment of the Moroccan presidency of the COP and Patricia Espinosa, the executive secretary of the climate change convention, to equitable and people-centred solutions to climate change.

Climate Justice Day offers a time to celebrate the fact that the Paris agreement gives unprecedented attention to the social dimensions of climate change and the need to respect and protect the rights of all people, including women, indigenous people, workers and migrants, in climate action.

Cities, communities, businesses and countries are already taking action to reduce emissions and to collectively achieve the goals set down in Paris to keep warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue 1.5 degrees Celsius. These actions are also delivering the SDGs as they embrace sustainable transport and food production, build resilient cities and low carbon infrastructure, and improve human well-being through enhanced access to education and health care. The choice is whether or not we put people at the center of these actions, making sure that the actions respect human rights and share the benefits equitably. Everyone needs to be involved if we are to take action on the scale required to mobilize a zero-carbon revolution.  

This transition from a fossil fuel dependent development is happening in an increasingly fractured world. It is worth reflecting on the time we find ourselves in and what it means for global development, justice and cooperative action.

In this past year, as I traveled to Africa, the Middle East and Europe, to the United States and Latin America, I was struck by the moment of history we are in. Violence, injustice and natural disasters are all taking their toll. It is hard as observers of the news and social media not to be worried and afraid as this deluge of suffering, hate and intolerance undermines human dignity.

It is no wonder that people are fearful when the messages they hear from some of their leaders and in certain media outlets seem to threaten their way of life or tell them there is something to be scared of.

At times of change and anxiety such as people around the world are experiencing now, the challenge is to get people engaged, positively, for a better future, rather than to exclude them or let them withdraw. Being engaged is empowering. Being empowered to engage is critical. When people are empowered they can demand dignity and defend their rights. The right to participation is fundamental to an inclusive and healthy society — and indeed climate justice. And inclusive diverse and tolerant societies are what is needed to deliver the transformation we need to sustainable development and a zero-carbon, climate-resilient world. Governments cannot achieve the SDGs or implement the Paris agreement’s goals without the actions of their citizens.

In recent years the narrative on climate change has changed, from one of doom and gloom to one of purpose and opportunity. For example, many business leaders have stopped seeing climate actions and the need to reduce carbon emissions as a threat to business. Instead, they can see the benefits in terms of reduced risk and the potential for innovation, new technologies and greater efficiency through low-carbon alternatives.

This change in narrative — as climate technologies have been developed and the benefits of sustainable development have been better understood — is one of the reasons why an ambitious agreement was possible in Paris last year.

Recent world events could be interpreted as a demonstration of the fact that people are fearful of change. But this only applies to those who have something to lose and who have benefited from fossil fuel powered growth. For the millions who have not benefitted from the current way of doing things, change is good — a chance of something better.

For them, a new approach to development based on inclusiveness, equity and sustainability is the chance of a better life. It is up to us all to make sure that we achieve sustainable development for all and leave no one behind in the transition to a zero-carbon, zero-poverty world.

Over three weeks, Devex will explore how the development sector can work together to promote inclusive local, and sustainable approaches to development. Global to Local will reimagine how to work together to address a myriad of interrelated challenges, pivoting toward more connected and crosscutting approaches to solving global problems. Join the conversation, tagging @Devex and #Global2Local.

About the author

Oped maryrobinson ed
Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson is president of the Mary Robinson Foundation — Climate Justice. She served as president of Ireland from 1990-1997 and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997-2002. In August 2014 she was appointed the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Change.


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