The environmental challenges are becoming ever more pressing and urgent, and progress on addressing these challenges is still slow mainly because they are low on the agenda of many political and business leaders as well as of the public as a whole, much to the disappointment of especially young people around the world.
You would remember the striking intervention of the 16-year-old Swedish student environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, who, at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, rang the alarm and sounded the warning signal regarding carbon emissions in the atmosphere and the need for transformational action to slash carbon emissions by 50% within the next 12 years, now that we are less than 2 years away from being unable to undo our mistakes. “Our house is on fire,” she hammered home. “I often heard adults say: we need to give the next generation hope. But I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic; I want you to feel the fear I do. Everyday. And want you to act. I want you to behave like our house is on fire. Because it is.” She couldn’t have sent us, adults, a stronger message, a message of distress beseeching us to act NOW.
I come from a small island state and, as you know, small islands are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Why? Simply because, on several of those islands, there is nowhere to go when the sea rises, nowhere to hide when extreme weather events like cyclones arrive. It is predicted that due to climate change the intensity of cyclones will increase leading to scenes of utter devastation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its latest available report reveals that world sea level could rise up to 23 inches or 58 cms by 2100. The threat of complete erasure for low-altitude small islands is quite real. We are not talking of probability but of certainty. Not far from the shores of India, in one of the world’s largest collections of river delta islands, the Sundarban islands, some 31 square miles or 80 square kilometres of land have vanished over the last 30 years due to rising water. Act NOW should there- fore be the mantra. The Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 deg C above preindustrial levels and to limit the increase to 1.5 deg C since this would substantially reduce the risks and effects of climate change should be maintained and the process of translating the Agreement into national agendas should be accelerated. The biggest polluters are shirking their responsibility while the lesser polluters are facing extinction.
This is the reason why, I believe, we should find ways of binding States permanently to commitment taken by their leaders at the International level, so that in the event of a change in government the commitment taken is respected and the decisions continue to be enforced.
On the other hand, many people are still being left behind in their struggle to earn their living and in the race for wealth and material goods, and we are making only slow progress in ensuring sustainable development and well-being for all.
Africa has many good stories to tell: Economic growth is projected to expand at the fastest pace in 5 years. The Brookings Institute in its “Fore- sight Africa –Top Priorities for the continent in 2019” forecasts that nearly ½ of the world’s fastest growing economies this year will be African.
Democracy is consolidating, although the prevalence of tensions during elections is a problem that remains to be addressed.
However, while Agenda 2030 aims at the elimination of poverty through sustainable development, it is estimated that 70% of the world’s poor will live in Africa and by 2030, 13 African countries will see an increase in the number of those living in extreme poverty. Based on such forecasts, poverty will continue to strain government institutions and threaten stability. Climate change will exacerbate the challenge with disproportionate effects on the Sahel and other unstable areas, including some in South East Asia as well.
Therefore, meetings such as the present summit are vital opportunities to explore effective solutions, raise awareness and build cooperation and solidarity among those working for a better future for the planet and all living beings and species that inhabit it. We need to be constantly reminded that planet earth is ONE and whatever happens in the North affects the South and vice versa.
At a personal level, it is easy to be swayed by our own convenience without thinking about the consequences for us, for others and for the planet as a whole:
Single use plastic bottles are so convenient and useful.
Why should we take the trouble of carrying a refillable bottle?
And why should we bother to pick them up after we have used them?
Why should we bother to switch off a light when leaving a room?
Why should we not take the car to drive our children to the nearby school?
Why should we take the bus to work?
Our daily life is full of such choices and questions and too often those choices are made on the basis of convenience.
Similarly, in the public sphere it is easy to find ourselves dealing with immediate challenges in pragmatic ways without thinking where short-term solutions may lead us.
Why should we worry about the destruction of a patch of rain forest if we can use the land to grow profitable oil palm-trees?
Why should we worry too much about the tailings from a mine if nature might eventually redress the damage?
When faced with these kinds of decisions we need to keep in mind what is important. And for that, we need to have a vision which reminds us of our priorities and why they are important.
The right kind of vision
Of course not any or every vision will do. If everyone has a vision which is centred on his or her personal desires and convenience without paying attention to the needs of others, only a few will be able to realise their vision and achieve their goals and it will be at the expense of everyone else and the planet.
Therefore our vision must be Realistic & Realisable. Our vision can be ambitious and it should be ambitious. But it should not be a fantasy.
In the context of sustainable development it has to take account of the limits that the planet places on us. We do not have limitless resources at our disposal.
This means that we have to test our vision to see if it can be achieved.
It also means that our vision for our society must be a Shared one.
While we can have personal visions we need to be sure that they are compatible with those of others. Even more our vision for the community as a whole needs to be Shared so that we might all work to agreed ends. I go even further to say that our vision for the whole world needs to be Shared so that our goals are compatible.
But, unfortunately, that is seldom the case at the moment. So we need to work together to ensure that we have a common vision that will, as far as possible, work for all.
And thirdly our vision needs to be Articulated. We need to know what our vision is and we need to be able to express it, firstly to ourselves and secondly to others.
Some people and organisations avoid the idea of a vision. That does not mean they do not have a vision. It just means that it is implicit. We can see what that vision is from their actions, and often it is a selfish vision that is only possible at the expense of others.
And of course some people and some organisations do articulate a vision which is incompatible with our actions and we need to challenge ourselves and others to avoid this inconsistency.
This means we need to constantly check what our vision actually is and ensure that we can defend it honestly and coherently.
Having made these preliminary remarks about the nature of a vision and how it needs to be tested, let me say something about a vision that I am satisfied meets the criteria I have set. I am referring to the vision we have in the World Leadership Alliance, Club de Madrid, that we call “A Shared Society’’.
It is a vision of: a society which belongs to all those living there regardless of race colour or creed; a society which is not owned by any one group in that society but belongs to everyone; a society which is shared because everyone shares in the benefits of living there but also shares in decision-making and shares responsibility for the well-being of everyone; a society which respects the dignity of everyone and ensures equal opportunity and protection from discrimination (...)
Socially cohesive or “Shared Societies” are stable, safe and just. They are at ease with themselves, and with the diversity of their members’ cultural, religious and ethnic identities. They recognise and value these identities and their interdependence as strengths, working creatively with each other and with the wider global community to solve common problems and to promote respect for human dignity and release human potential.
We have looked at the impact of a Shared Society in relation to many current challenges including environmental sustainability, and we are satisfied that a Shared Society Approach provides an effective way to meet those challenges.
WHY? Because 1. It ensures meaningful consultation with all relevant sections of the society.
2. it allows diversity of ideas and perceptions to be taken into account and
3. it builds a sense of shared responsibility and generates commitment to contribute to and be part of the solution.