Climate Change: When Local Is Global

By Salih, Mohamed | African Business, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Climate Change: When Local Is Global


Salih, Mohamed, African Business


AS WE HAVE MOVED FROM ONE MAJOR CLIMATE-CHANGE conference after the other, from Kyoto to The Hague, from Bali to Doha, the issue is treated as a global phenomenon which requires global solutions. Hence 'global governance' is being seen as the best way to lead these negotiations and deliver on the promise to reduce emissions.

Thus climate-change discussions have been left to a web of actors, known as the Conference of Parties (COP), who tend to deal in global terms--more often than not, only agreeing to disagree.

For example, as this month's Cover Story on COP 18 in Doha illustrates, negotiations seem driven by economic concerns and comparative advantages in trade and employment. The equally, if not more important, concerns about the health of our planet had become subservient to market interests. The present debate has descended to questions of winners and losers. Yet it is clear that there are no winners but only losers if a rational situation is not found.

However, there is good news and plenty of it. Ordinary people, alarmed at the slow pace at finding a solution, or at even the denial that any problem exists, have decided to take matters into their own hands. Rural and urban local communities, local governments and municipalities in the South and the North are actively involved in climate change adaptation and mitigation. Only last month, tens of thousands of Americans marched to demonstrate against what they feel is foot-dragging by the US government on climate change damage.

These local communities have pondered the issues and reached the iconic conclusion that, although climate change has observable and demonstrated global consequences, in reality it is an aggregate of cumulative processes which originate at the local levels--these could be a village, a ward, a city, a farm, a factory--or from the daily production and consumption patterns, and lifestyles of individuals and households.

From this perspective, climate change is as much a physically induced process with the capacity to alter the environmental life-support system (air, water and nutrients), as it is driven by social, economic and political structures and processes.

Likewise, climate change alters the relationships between society and environment, contributing to structural changes in local communities. This has a direct impact on people's access to environmental resources and economic opportunities essential for eking out a living and leading a healthy life.

What the negotiators discuss in abstract terms about emission levels, carbon credits and trade permits has, in fact, far-reaching real consequences.

These involve not only how to abate climate change, but also over choices such as fossil fuel and green energy consumption, current and future industrial development, technology, public or private means of transport, green cities or cities and household appliances that use conventional materials, and on and on.

Involve the people

Global climate change is local because its origins are local and this by necessity requires local solutions and behavioural changes beginning at the individual, household and local levels before moving on to the national, regional as well as the global levels.

Unfortunately, the current deliberations on climate change are dominated by globally networked organisations--governments, transnational corporations, NGOs, social environmental movements and activists of various persuasions. The more the solutions for issues that affect people's lives, such as climate change, are delegated to the global level, the more they are removed from local communities which are at the receiving end of climate change manifestations and impacts.

In any democratic society, people should be able to deliberate on the issues that affect their wellbeing. Negotiating climate change therefore should not be only at the global level, with protocols and conventions that outlast the political life of the governments that negotiated them. …

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