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Climate change solutions must incorporate development and equality

- Wits University

Energy, water and food security must be prioritised, as global warming puts millions of vulnerable people, particularly in developing countries, at grave risk.

One of the global South’s leading thinkers on climate change and development, Professor Ramón Pichs Madruga, said that because climate change occurs within a nexus of other critical challenges, solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change must incorporate social justice, development, sustainability and equality. Furthermore, energy, water and food security must be prioritised, as global warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius puts millions of vulnerable people, particularly in developing countries, at grave risk.

Madruga, from the Centre for World Economy Studies in Havana, Cuba, was recently hosted by the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Climate, Sustainability and Inequality, Professor Imraan Valodia, the Global Change Institute, and the Future Ecosystems for Africa Programme at Wits University. His lecture, entitled Key messages of the recent IPCC report on climate change mitigation:  relevance for the global South, aimed to highlight the key messages of the 6th IPCC report and the appropriate responses from the developed and developing worlds.

“We cannot forget that climate change is one of many of our human concerns. There are military conflicts, financial pressures, public health crises and growing socio-economic assymetries. The fact that global military expenditure capped two trillion dollars in 2021 should tell you something,” said Madruga. Furthermore, inequality is at astonishing levels: less than 15 percent of the global population, mainly in developed countries, produce 61.4% of global exports. Sub-Saharan Africa, comprising 45 countries, produces less than two percent of global exports. Developing countries’ foreign debt is cumulatively USD 12-trillion. As a consequence, more than 40% of export income must service this debt. It seems a Sisyphean task to then, in addition, finance mitigation and adaptation.

Political will is lacking, while systemic change is necessary

“This is our context, and climate change will only deepen inequality, vulnerability and poverty,” said Madruga. “Whatever is happening now, without drastic intervention, will worsen.” In Madruga’s presentation, he cited the Global Risks Report 2022, which says that half of the 10 global risks for the next 10 years are environmental. “The first risk is the failure of climate action. Political will is paramount.”

Madruga noted that the IPCC’s 5th impact assessment in 2014 clearly and unequivocally revealed the human influence on global warming. This means we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and rapidly. “The commercial energy balance is still skewed in favour of fossil fuels though. So what’s required is a systemic change pushed by political leaders. We know that accelerated and equitable climate action is critical for sustainable development.”

While achieving zero emissions is challenging and is no where near where it should be to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, industries have options, says Madruga. Low carbon technologies are becoming cheaper, and some cities have prioritised climate-smart initiatives, such as green buildings.

“We need more investment though. Climate change mitigation and adaptation investments are three- to six-times lower than what they should be to limit emissions by 2030. There is sufficient global capital for this, but it needs to be adapted to the mechanisms of climate finance, and must prioritise developing countries,” said Madruga. He added that developed countries must meet and exceed the goal of USD 100 billion in financial support to developing countries annually.


The 6th IPCC’s major contribution has been to highlight the interconnectedness of humans and nature

Madruga said that the IPCC Working Group II acknowledges the crucial services provided by nature, which include climate control, health, tourism, food and water. Indeed, COVID-19 occurred because precious ecoystems have been encroached upon and destroyed. Preserving environmental biodiversity and health is critical in mitigating future pandemics.

An inclusive multilateralism that combines a post COVID-19 recovery strategy is necessary

The IPCC Working Group II’s other major contribution included highlighting that climate change mitigation and adaptation needs an integrated approach, which prioritises development, equity and sustainability. “With COVID-19, global assymetries and inequities became apparent. It will be worse as global crises deepen,” said Madruga. “As the world came together to respond to COVID-19, so should multilateralism be harnessed to promote a post-COVID-19 recovery based on more sustainable patterns of production and consumption. We should combine a post COVID-19 recovery strategy with the Paris Agreement.”

Madruga noted that a neoliberal ideology will not serve humanity and that local responses to crises are paramount. “Local responses, science, and international cooperation will go a long way in the future.”