UCT Chancellor Graça Machel’s speech on climate change at the closing ceremony of the UN Climate Summit last week (23 September 2014). Available on video here, starting at about minute 14.
Your excellency the General Secretary of the United Nations, the President of the General Assembly, Presidents, Prime Ministers and leaders from all corners of our globe and distinguished guests.
So what I want to talk about today is courage, leadership and obligation. The Secretary General should be highly commended for his leadership in addressing development and climate change issues and the convergence between them. And the many leaders here today should also be commended for the range of pledges made that prioritize action to preserve our planet and future.
But let me be frank. We have reached a tipping point. So our commitments must be ambitious enough to stop us falling over the precipice. And personally I have mixed feelings. I acknowledge that there is the beginning of understanding of the gravity of the challenge that we face. But at the same time I have the impression that there is a huge mismatch between the magnitude and of the challenge and the response that we heard here today. The scale is much more than what we have achieved.
I am standing here as a citizen of the world, as you know.
On Sunday millions of people throughout the world took to the streets to demand action on climate justice (applause). This, our voices of women, of youth, of people living with disabilities, of islanders and more. These are the people who are directly affected and have vested interests in reversing climate change. The millions marching represent billions across the world, and we need to keep their faces and voices at the centre of our response. My personal feeling is: if it is theirs, then give them a response. Can we genuinely say that we are to preserve their lives, we are to secure their children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, can inherit a planet which is safe and sustainable?
I want to make an appeal.
I think each one of us as Head of State, or Prime Minister or Minister, Captain of Industry, or whoever, has made pledges here. Maybe we should go back to the drawing board and ask hard question: How far we have gone in terms of precipice? and how much would be needed if we seriously want them to reverse? Count it and cost it! And then to look at the pledges we have made today to say ‘Am I marching with my ambition that challenge’,
Because I have heard here from this impodium some years back pledges made. In 2000 when we were pledging the Millenium development goals we made promises and everyone was full of enthusiasm as we are today. And 15 years later we are coming to say ‘we didn’t meet this. We failed here and here’ These were millenium development goals but what we are talking about is the question of ‘Are we going to survive?’ or are we going all to surcomb? And with this I do not think we have a choice. It is not a question of a choice. It is a question of making the decision which is required to meet the challenge. That is why.
As political leaders and captains of industry, as individuals, we have no longer a choice. We simply have an obligation. And you, our leaders, must have the courage. You must have the courage to make decisions that will make you unpopular for some thousands of your citizens, but will protect us, the billions of people, and will protect the future of our planet and the future of our grandchildren.
You must have the courage to tell business that it is not only about the profits but about our collective survival and wellbeing. That means you must have the courage whenever it is necessary to regulate so that change technologies have to be mandatory. You have to have the courage to work with civil society organisations, engage their voices, listen to them, take their ideas and actions into account in all the decisions you make. Because at the end of the day these are the people interested, with invested interests.
You must have the courage to listen to young people, the new generations. At the end of the day the future belongs to them not to us. Is the world which we are going to give them as inheritance and the business as usual approach. This is exactly what young people are challenging.
More than this, this is a key human rights issue which requires immediate and inevitable response. As the elders, a group I am pleased to belong to, we say, ‘Now not tomorrow’.
So the obligation in my view is to step up the ambition, is to maximise fairness, to increase the momentum, and to make sure that from now to Paris, each one of us has made their homework of matching the magnitude of the problem with the response we are prepared to do. We, citizens of the world, will be watching. More than watching: we are prepared to work with our governments. We are prepared to give our contribution fromn our communities as small farmers, rural, urban areas, we are prepared to step up to the challenge.
But all of us, we have an obligation to tell our children, our grandchildren, that here in 2014 we only began the journey, but the journey will only be completed, will be able to look into the eyes with pride and honesty when we have matched the magnitude of the problem with the response we are giving. And then we can, as any one of us, we want our children to inherit the best we can, the best of the planet we can have now, renewed and in a sustainable way, is what we began to make the pledges but the pledges are still to be stepped up.
I thank you.