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Living in a heating world: lessons from the global South

Living in a heating world: lessons from the global South

A Tortoise ThinkIn in partnership with

Date: Thursday 10 November 2022

Host: Jeevan Vasagar, Climate Editor, Tortoise Media

The focus for this ThinkIn was to consider the lessons learned from adaptation to climate shocks in the global South, and the question of compensation for climate damage, once the limits of adaptation have been reached.

The contributors for this ThinkIn were: Adenike Titilope Oladosu, climate justice activist, Luisa Neubauer, climate justice activist, Raymond Onovwigun, CEO & founder, Romco Group Ltd. There was also input from the audience in Sharm el Sheikh and from the online-audience in the Zoom chat. Watch again here.

Select points from the chat:

Feels quite pertinent this one – I just heard on Radio 4 that temps here in the UK will reach 18 degrees today.” – Liz Moseley

Luisa great words to hear from a environmental activist cutting through all the pompous nonsense.” – Iain Campbell

Very true. Timely, impactful  and targeted action is vital – it needs to address the root causes.” – Josephine Oyinlola

“One source of green funding – Green bonds, for example, are often funding large polluting companies to tack on a sustainable project on the side. The barriers to access for meaningful funding for local enterprise and entrepreneurs in the global South to transition and reduce emissions are incredibly high.” Stuart Herbert

Cop27 – a status update 

The UN’s climate talks regularly see countries make ambitious pledges on cutting emissions, but relatively few nations have embedded these pledges in national legislation or made detailed plans. Carbon emissions from energy are projected to rise higher than pre-pandemic levels this year.

This year’s Cop takes place in Africa, which has the lowest carbon footprint of any human-inhabited continent but is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The need for adaptation to climate impacts has been a sidelined issue at previous COPs, and promises to deliver finance have not been kept; in 2009, rich countries pledged $100bn a year (£87.5bn) by 2020 to help developing countries adapt to climate change, but this has not been delivered.

This year John Kerry, US special presidential envoy for climate, announced a plan to sell carbon credits in the North to fund projects in the global South, which Adenike suggested was like giving polluters an allowance to continue destroying communities. Several leaders of major polluting countries have stayed away from this year’s conference, which doesn’t bode well for wealthy countries’ commitment to cutting emissions or supporting adaptation 

Moreover, Cop27 had more than 600 attendees linked to coal, oil or gas companies, 25% more lobbyists than were in Glasgow last year, outnumbering the representatives of populations most affected by climate change. 

Climate justice 

A central theme at Cop27 is climate justice and more specifically, the question of financial compensation for climate-related loss and damage.

This is the loss of life, cultural heritage or species which cannot be recovered and damage to vital infrastructure which must be repaired.. The impact goes beyond finance – although the scale of potential financial loss is eye-watering. If heritage is lost, Adenike asked:  “How do I tell stories to the next generation? It takes away the stories… everything we can use to trace our history.”

The question then becomes one of legal liability for historical injustice, and seeking compensation for damage that is being done to other countries or to future generations as a result, an idea that has been resisted for years by rich countries.

Adenike welcomed recent promises of direct climate aid from wealthy countries including Scotland, Denmark and Austria, but said that solutions also needed to address the root cause – phasing out the use of fossil fuels.

Changing the system

In 2021, a group of young German environmental activists won a court ruling against their government, finding that the country’s climate protection measures were insufficient. The case of ‘Neubauer et al v Germany’ was named after one of the activists – Luisa Neubauer – who joined the ThinkIn to describe the usefulness of legal challenges in driving change.

“Growing up in a democracy it was never my dream to sue my own government… it’s something that no child should ever do,” Neubauer said.

There are now hundreds of climate litigation court cases worldwide, which Neubauer said could be a “hugely valuable tool”, but she warned against a tendency to romanticise what climate litigation can do, noting the court system was created by “those who tended to benefit from the climate crisis.” The courts can also be used to hamper climate action, as in the US where the Supreme Court limited the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions from power plants.

The role of business

Only a small fraction of waste in Africa is currently recycled,  and Raymond Onovwigun of Romco spoke about the role of businesses in driving change in this area. The business, which recycles scrap aluminium and other non-ferrous metals in Nigeria and Ghana, struggled to raise capital and had to “create its own infrastructure” by encouraging other entrepreneurs to support its operations, Onovwigun said.

What next? 

The power of organised groups of individuals is tremendous, as proven by Neubauer’s case. It’s important that people stay engaged; feeling powerless is a privilege afforded by the apparent safety of wealthy countries.

“There is no space for despair,” Neubauer said. “To tell ourselves that we as an individual can’t make a difference while we are surrounded by structures and systems that have been created by people who went out to make a difference… all of us have a weekend, weekends were fought for by unions, by workers.”