Think global, act local: Africa Climate Week

Helen Clarkson, CEO, The Climate Group
Reading time: 3 minutes
22 March 2019

On the final day of Africa Climate Week, Helen Clarkson, CEO of The Climate Group, returns to ‘Think global, act local’ and the importance of the mantra to address the challenge of climate change.

I like to think of the dictum “Think global, act local” as the environmentalists’ helicopter – powering up to the big issues at 10,000 ft and swooping down to the hyperlocal.

Take climate change. The Paris Agreement gives us the 10,000 ft view the global agreement to limit warming well below 2°C and ideally 1.5°C by cutting emissions. That’s the birds eye view for action, and everything we do needs to work towards that goal. However, it’s the actions of businesses, states, cities and individuals that are the engine that will power this change.

So how do we navigate the space between the two? Well one approach is to bring the helicopter down from 10,000ft so that we can bring a specific area into clearer focus.

That’s the aim of the regional Climate Weeks. To drive the policy ambitions of Paris, but ask the question – what does that mean for Africa, for Asia-Pacific and for Latin America? And perhaps more importantly, to listen and learn from their experience on the ground.

Of course these are still enormous regions, each covering dozens of different countries with hugely different economies. But the platform and increased interest that regional Climate Weeks provide can help policy makers to bridge the gap between what is being discussed up high and what need to be done on the ground.

Today marks the final day of Africa Climate Week, part of the regional Climate Weeks that will take place this year ahead of the Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit and Climate Week NYC in September.

Africa is the continent that contributes the least to global warming yet will see its most dramatic and damaging impacts. For those attending Africa Climate Week the discussions are not abstract or academic. The sense of urgency is mixed with ambition and commitment because the risks of getting this wrong are too high. And with government Ministers from across Africa participating this week, the bridge between the big global picture and implementation on the ground has unsurprisingly been a key focus.

This week’s Climate Week Accra has been the biggest Climate Week event held in Africa to date. With 4000 registrations, over 80 events and a wealth of media coverage, the notion of the ‘climate sector’ is starting to become a meaningless phrase – something I welcome. Climate change is no longer a lone policy issue, it is every policy issue. The participation of Minsters, cross-departmental and pan-Africa, shows we have started to win this fight.

This bodes well for the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit which will take place in New York alongside Climate Week NYC, September 23-29. As The Climate Group prepares to host the week, our mantra “For New York, For The World” has never been so prescient, as we look to bring together the different hubs of activity for a whole week.

Today the Special Envoy for the UNSG Summit Luis Alfoso de Alba received the agreed outcomes from Africa Climate Week that he will deliver to the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit. As the Ghanaian President explained at the Opening Ceremony earlier this week, “The ravages of climate change affect us most. We cannot work in isolation.”

Our biggest threat is that we fail to live up to the commitments and ambition on display, and that we fail to implement what is needed to be done. There is no better example than Africa to show, in the bluntest possible terms, that all other priorities such as jobs or infrastructure are blown out of the water if climate action is not prioritised. Every part of life is affected, and so the approach must span the broadest possibly group of government and private sector leaders.

The focus on climate action this week in Africa has allowed us to get a clear view of what can be achieved during the United Nations General Assembly and Climate Week NYC. The stage has been set, it’s time to deliver, and it’s time to be frank about where we feel we may fall short – because global climate action is only as strong as the ability of those on the ground to deliver.

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