We can address climate change and reduce inequality if we act together

Henley Africa adds its voice to Africa’s second largest climate change conference since COP27.

“Within every massive tragedy, there’s a story of an individual … In every disaster, you see the mass effect of hundreds of thousands of people being affected. But in that hundreds of thousands, everyone has a personal story to tell.” These were the somber words of Gift of the Givers CEO Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, who gave the closing address at the Daily Maverick Earth Gathering last Friday.

After a day of insights and statistics on everything from what it will take to dig Eskom out of its hole to fix SA’s energy crisis, to the fact that we are living through the 6th extinction event of our planet, Sooliman brought the 1,500 plus delegates at the Cape Town Convention Centre back to the human scale. Through a series of inspiring stories of how humans had helped other humans in recent disasters wrought by climate change – including the Natal floods and droughts in Sudan – he reminded delegates that ultimately what we face is a very human tragedy. Human suffering is likely to become the norm and the need for humans to work together to help each other through future decades will become paramount, he said.

As a key sponsor of the day – Henley Africa – was there to add its voice to the discussions.

“We can rewrite the end of the story that is climate change, but to do so we have to work together,” says Jon Foster-Pedley, dean and director of Henley Business School Africa. “There is so much we can do and indeed so much that we have succeeded in doing already. In the 1980s, the great challenge was the hole in the ozone layer that threatened to burn us all to a crisp by 2050. Today that is no longer a concern. We won the war by working together.”

Henley Africa hosted a stand and lounge area for delegates to visit between sessions. The stand featured the climate graphic designed by Professor Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading – the parent institution of Henley Business School. The graphic, which has since featured on the cover of Greta Thunberg’s The Climate Book, tells a powerful story about the warming planet. 

“The importance of Hawkins’ climate stripes infographic, with its ability to let viewers zoom right into their own cities and countries to see what is happening there, is that it provides a rallying point. A stark, recognisable clarity around which we can build out a story of action,” comments Foster-Pedley.

“As Noah Yuval Harari points out, humanity needs stories to make sense of its world, to discover the purpose to be able to coalesce and work together for the greater good,” he continues. “This graphic is the starting point to our story. When you drill down to look at the story for a particular region, it becomes very clear that the African edition is not ending well. It hasn’t been for years now. Africa is waring at twice the global rate – and Johannesburg is warming faster than Cape Town. This speaks to human suffering of unimaginable proportions coming our way in the decades ahead unless we act to do something and do it fast!”

This sentiment was borne out by conversations throughout the day. Local and international leaders, business and finance professionals, journalists, scientists and activists gathered on various panels to discuss the threats of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss and the myriad solutions through engaging communities, enlisting the private sector, using technology and AI, and strengthening our political and legal systems.

The day began with a virtual address by former Eskom CEO, Andre de Ruyter, who said that South Africa’s interrelated energy and environmental crisis was an opportunity, not a threat and that it is within our grasp to address it, but stressed that we risk running into a brick wall of opposition if we do not make the transition equitable. “We need to engage and engage in a way that demonstrates empathy, understanding and a willingness to listen and to co-create solutions with those people who will be affected by this transition.”

The intersection between environmental issues and social justice, and the recognition that environmental degradation disproportionately affects the most vulnerable communities, particularly those living in poverty was a key theme throughout the day.

Youth leaders Raeesah Noor-Mahomed and Otsile Nkadimeng, in particular, captivated the audience with their uncompromising message of transformation.

“When we talk about the climate justice base in South Africa, what’s important to note is that it’s rooted in justice. So that is to say that the movement as it started was fundamentally about protecting and making safe environments for people in rural communities, in semi-urban communities, mining affected communities,” said Nkadimeng. He went on to explain how previous generations tried to urge the message of climate change without connecting it to on-the-ground issues. Now, the youth are stepping up and taking over the dialogue around climate to say: “Ok. We’ve talked about the environment, now let’s talk about how climate relates to the future that we want.”

“We can stop climate change and we can also reduce inequality in all its various guises so long as we make sure that all people are engaged in and lifted up by the solutions,” agrees Foster-Pedley. “Business can play an important role here by helping to build prosperous societies, create sustainable jobs, provide shelter and services for all, and lay the foundation stones for peace and stability from the Cape to Cairo – and every point in between." 

The Gathering, Earth Edition brought together experts across business, science, civil society and politics to address the greatest threat to humankind: the climate crisis. If you missed it, you can delve into their collection of articles and replays here: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/the-gathering-earth-edition-solutions-for-a-sustainable-future/

For more on this issue from Jon Foster-Pedley also read: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2023-05-22-climate-change-stripes-cast-a-dire-shadow-on-the-world/

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