How the Privileged Continue to Slow Down Efforts on Climate Change, More So in the Global South.
Co-authored with Liz Mwangi.
Amidst the ongoing political outrage towards developed nations shutting out African countries following the discovery of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, we continue to see just how easy it is for richer countries to keep on propagating the never-ending cycle of exclusionism. In the recently concluded COP26 climate change conference we observed how, despite the conference being termed the most inclusive COP fora to ever be held, representation and voices from the Global South could hardly be seen. This, despite the fact that the majority of the conversations and funds committed to mitigating the effects of climate change were directed to nations within the Global South. The Adaptation Fund, for example, raised a record-breaking US$356M to continue its work in “supporting developing countries as they adapt to climate change.”
And while we do not discount the efforts that continue to be put in place by various nations and governments, we see and feel the need to communicate how deeply rooted the notion of privilege continues to lead what climate change looks like; the stories told, the portrayal and exclusion of certain voices and faces, and if anything, the urgency to realize that climate change is more than an environmental issue. If we are to look at individuals, and more so those from the Global South where the effects of climate change are heavily felt, as key players within the climate sphere, we must recognize how privilege can drastically deter the efforts for realizing a climate-just world; and work towards ensuring that everyone is able to contribute their quota in sustainably addressing climate change issues.
Both of us come from a continent that has been heavily affected by climate change, experienced through natural disasters, forced climate migration, adverse seasonal & weather patterns, and more. Madagascar, for example, became the first nation globally to experience a climate induced famine. Just 3 months ago, Kenya’s president declared the ongoing drought a national disaster with nearly 2.1M Kenyans facing acute food shortage; while Nigeria continued to experience massive floods mid-2021 displacing more than 4000 Lagos residents. With each hard-hitting reality of where our environment might be headed, we have also seen how each generation within our countries has given rise to forward-thinking and passionate environmental activists; Ken Saro-Wiwa and Wangari Maathai being core examples.
Yet, even with others stepping forward to carry on with the same passion, it strikes us how the awareness, understanding and activism around climate change in global events continues to be deeply rooted in privilege, opportunity, and exclusionism. This dangerous track of narrative is what subtly gives rise to the notion that those on the frontlines of climate change continue to remain victims to the issues; forgetting that language alongside other genuine, imminent obstacles like hunger or poverty can impede people’s abilities to fully grasp and understand the core issues. As we have come to see with a number of the climate activists from the Global North, it can be easy to express one’s deepest convictions through the lens in which they have been exposed to the issue; largely built around class, upbringing, educational opportunities and freedom to engage critically. While it is not wrong to be privileged, it should be acknowledged that privilege can often blind us from seeing the real issues and impact felt by those hit hard with the realities of the problem. There is a deep need to show empathy in understanding the various contexts within which conversations around climate change are happening, and educating ourselves beyond that which our own societies have shown us.
The framing and understanding of major climate-centered fora such as COP can feel very far away for those most affected; many of whom are living in a reality where more pressing issues demand attention. This gospel of preaching about the climate change crisis to people that can barely put a meal in their mouths per day will hardly yield any fruits. It is not enough for leaders to deliver speeches after speeches, commit to taking action, sign pledges, or announce their nation’s commitment to pumping funds into climate-centered initiatives. For us, we envision a climate-just world where leaders utilize opportunities such as COP to build trust between themselves and the people they govern.
In a continent where less than 46% of its population trust its leaders, it is time that governments show the desire and the willingness to solve these pressing issues by taking action that can be SEEN and FELT; and not just within developing countries, but so too for the developed nations taking the lead in framing these major conversations.
More than anything, creating awareness and addressing climate change issues must go hand-in-hand with improving the quality of life and standard of living for everyone on this planet. Providing education to young people at a very ‘aggressive’ rate will not only allow them to gain knowledge and learn skills that can help them in securing their future; but will also allow them to gain access to spaces where conversations around climate change are going on. Strategically solving current, imminent problems, such as education, employment, will by default trigger more understanding of climate change issues and will give people the willingness and desire to contribute to solving them.
It’s time we lay to rest the ‘business-as-usual’ narrative; and begin to acknowledge and realise that for many others — for the world’s larger population — ‘business as usual’ is the difference between life and death.
This article was first published on Medium.com.