The SOAS University of London community is among the 100 climate-concerned universities and 100,000 students worldwide that are part of Solve Climate by 2030, a global dialogue on green economic recovery, climate solutions and a just transition. On 7 April, the School of Arts and the Department of Development Studies co-convened a panel discussion with three leading academics and activists to address critical issues surrounding climate solutions in both the Global North and South. The event was moderated by SOAS BSc Economics student and UK Green Party candidate Lucy Downes, who said in her opening remarks:
“I am an advocate for the power of individual action and I hope we can inspire others to put themselves forward to make a change.”
In providing a policy context that lays out the scale of the challenges in addressing climate change globally, Professor Navroz Dubash from the Centre for Policy Research in India referenced the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report. The report finds that the world is still heading for a temperature rise in excess of 3°C this century, which is far beyond the 2015 Paris Agreement goals to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C.
“The gap between what we have said we will do as a global community and where we have to end up is enormous,” said Professor Dubash. He explained that one of the biggest challenges in shifting away from carbon dependency is addressing individual and collective choices in technology, lifestyle and behaviour, as well as the governance and institutions that underpin the current structure. Carbon emissions are highly concentrated in the top one percent of income earners in the most developed nations of the world, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and elsewhere in Western Europe. But despite its relative inaccessibility and unavailability to low and middle-income earners in the Global South, energy is far from a luxury item. Energy is closely linked to human development and it brings access to health, livelihood and mobility, among other things.
Thus, the question is how climate change mitigation and development can effectively co-exist. Professor Dubash believes citizens have an important role to play in setting and tracking progress towards net-zero emissions goals, pursuing climate-development linkages and their co-benefits, supporting low carbon transitions in transport and electricity and in paying for a low carbon transition. He also points out the dropping costs of renewable energy worldwide, and an encouraging recent trend of countries, companies and communities to commit to carbon neutrality. So far, 126 countries covering 51 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions have formally adopted or considered net-zero goals. However, Professor Dubash notes that there is also a vast discrepancy in the ambitiousness of these goals, current emission trends and the commitment to take urgent action by 2030.
A climate adaptation case study in Namibia
Namibia provides a useful case study to examine the present impact of climate change, as well as the opportunities for community adaptation and capacity building, particularly amongst rural women. Panelist Margaret Angula is a gender and climate change senior researcher at the University of Namibia. She is currently implementing the Climate & Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), which supports local community members and decision makers to design and deliver climate-compatible development in Namibia.
Angula said governments with minimal funding and NGO support should consider the intersections of social differentiation factors including gender, ethnicity, disability and literacy to effectively and efficiently target the most vulnerable communities. She added that empowering and educating communities about how to enhance food security, generate income and adapt to climate change will further enhance resiliency.
“The line between rural and community development and adaptation is quite thin,” she said. “If you do rural development well, you will increase adaptive capacity to respond to climate change impacts.”
She added that the CDKN is addressing poor awareness of climate change by distributing a simplified graphic in local languages that reveals the likely impacts on different sectors in Namibia and their consequences, as well as the options that are available to individuals, households, communities, and regions in responding to these impacts.
Awareness through the arts
The impact of climate change here in the United Kingdom is felt differently than in the Global South, yet we currently have some of the highest levels of nature depletion in Europe and some of the lowest amounts of remaining biodiversity due to deforestation, urbanisation and pollution. Mercury Prize-nominated folk singer, conservationist and activist Sam Lee emphasized the importance of using arts as activism, and in raising awareness of this environmental devastation beyond academic and policy perspectives.
“The arts have a vital role to play,” he said. “It is when the heart is engaged and emotionally moved that we as a species can do the hard work of bringing about change.” Lee is a member of the Nest Collective, which aims to rekindle connections with people and nature through music. His annual Singing With Nightingales event brings people into the forest in southern England to experience the song of the nightingale birds and reconnect with nature. Lee is also involved with Music Declares Emergency (MDE), which raises awareness of this issue by acknowledging the environmental impact of the industry and calling on governments to take urgent action before 2030.
In their closing remarks, each of the panelists highlighted key actions individuals can take to address the climate crisis, including lowering meat and dairy consumption, choosing renewable energy sources, using sustainable public transport options and raising awareness about the fossil fuel investments of major institutions, including major banks.
But Professor Dubash said the urgency of the problem requires collective, sustained and urgent action, and a desire to hold the most powerful institutions and governments to account. “The scale of this problem is such that we need structural changes in how we organize our economies, lives and systems,” he said. “We have to hold our governments accountable to how we want them to exercise their power. That’s a core element of what it means to be a citizen today.”
As part of our commitment to Solve Climate by 2030, SOAS and other climate-concerned universities and high school teachers are using the hashtag #MakeClimateaClass to share these webinars and discuss regional climate solutions, energy justice, and a green recovery.
Maxine Betteridge-Moes is a SOAS Digital Ambassador pursuing an MA Media in Development. Born and raised in Canada, she has worked in Asia and Africa as a journalist, podcast producer and occasional music blogger. Follow her on Twitter @maxine_moes