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Tuesday, 26 September 2023
The world needs to do much more to tackle climate change, and do it faster

Dear Fellow South African, 

The recent catastrophic floods in Libya are a stark reminder of the extreme vulnerability of developing economy countries to the effects of an ever-changing climate. 

Many other countries on the African continent are just as vulnerable. Despite carrying the least responsibility for global warming, Africa is warming faster than the rest of the world.

I have just returned from the United Nations General Assembly in New York where climate change was a major focus of discussion. There is growing concern that the international community is falling significantly short on meeting the goals contained in the Paris Agreement to combat climate change. 

While the nations of the world agreed in Paris in 2015 on urgent actions to limit global temperature rises and mitigate the impact of climate change, the effects of climate change are being increasingly felt with greater ferocity.

Although developed economy countries promised to support developing economies as they transition to low-carbon, climate resilient societies, this support has not been forthcoming at the scale and with the urgency that is needed.

Among other things, wealthy countries have not provided the promised finance that vulnerable countries need to adapt to climate change and to cover the cost of the loss and damage caused by climate disasters.

To galvanise governments, business, financial institutions and civil society towards greater climate action, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres convened a Climate Ambition Summit on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly last week.

By emphasising ‘ambition’, the UN Secretary-General was saying that not nearly enough is being done to tackle climate change and that there is insufficient urgency.

South Africa used the summit to reiterate our long-stated position that developed economy countries must fulfil their obligations and honour their past promises to developing economy countries.

This is not about charity. It is about economic and social justice. Africa’s people are literally paying the price for the industrialisation and development of the countries of the north.

It is also about shared interests because the economic and social havoc caused by climate change will make the world more unstable, less secure and will increase competition for scarce resources like water and food.

As African countries, we cannot be bystanders to our own development. We are putting the necessary measures in place to decarbonise our respective economies while pursuing sustainable development. 

The transformation of the energy landscape in Africa is a priority. As African countries we have called on the international community to support efforts to increase the continent’s renewable energy capacity while ensuring energy security for Africa’s people. This needs to take place alongside increased investment in smart, digital and efficient green technologies in carbon-intensive sectors such as transportation, industry and electricity.

As South Africa, we want to use our abundant solar and wind resources to position our country at the forefront of the clean energy transition. Regulatory reforms undertaken by this administration have resulted in a confirmed pipeline of renewable energy projects that are expected to produce in excess of 10 gigawatts of electricity.

We have reaffirmed that the transition to low-carbon economies and societies must be just and inclusive. It must also be appropriate to our national circumstances and development plans.

As the world works to address climate change, we need to avoid measures that, while intended to reduce global warming, simply further increase the vulnerability of developing economies. One of these measures is the European Union’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, which will increase tariffs on all imports into the EU that are produced through carbon-intensive processes. 

This is likely to have a significant impact on South African producers, increase the costs of South African exports into European markets and reduce our economy’s competitiveness. 

In my address to the Climate Ambition Summit, I said that trade mechanisms must enable products from Africa to compete on fair and equitable terms. Trade tariffs and non-trade barriers that have an environmental purpose should be the product of multilateral agreements.

As South Africa, we are committed to contributing our fair share to the global climate change effort. The message we took to this year’s UN General Assembly is that the unique circumstances of countries with low levels of development must be taken into account and that developed economy countries must honour their commitments to support climate mitigation and adaptation. 

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, unity of purpose and action between countries is vital, as is a common commitment to multilateralism in the global climate change effort.

Ultimately, no country should be forced to choose between climate action and meeting their developmental aspirations. 

With best regards,