DURBAN:  Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley addressed delegates at the 20th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on Friday.

Introduced by the first female premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, the first female leader of Barbados, Prime Minister Mia Mottley, considered it a special privilege to address delegates at the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the Durban ICC on 12 November.  “There are few people who I believe have stood out as a moral colossus on a global landscape, and Nelson Mandela stood as one of those men.”

Her introductory statements set the tone for her lecture:  “Many would only know of Nelson Mandela in the context of a history book or in the stories told by others, but would not appreciate what it is to be prevented from being able to love who you want, to work where you want, to live where you want, to do what you want, in ways that are simply not capable of contemplation today.”   She stated that we are living in a “polycrisis” as world rapidly experiences on crisis upon another, especially the ravages of a public health crisis due to HIV and AIDS and the subsequent Covid-19.

In a captivating hour-long speech that connected apartheid and the struggle for freedom to the fight for climate justice, Mottley gracefully and forcefully called for the end of climate injustice.   She laid out the challenges and effects of decolonisation and how these factors resulted in delayed climate action, particularly for the Global South.  “There is no doubt that those primarily responsible for the increase in greenhouse gas emissions are the G20 countries for whom 80% of the responsibility is there.  Within that context the traditional colonial powers who benefited from the Industrial Revolution through our blood, our sweat and our tears, have been the ones who have effectively put the world in this position of warming.”

Mottley reflected on the principles of justice and solidarity, and on the moral compass that Madiba provided for us, to understand that what is required of us is to be able to deconstruct and to reconstruct our actions.  She calls the consequences of the climate multidimensional – it involves the loss of life, the loss of livelihood, dignity, shelter, family, culture and the increased number of climate migrants that we will see moving across this Earth.  “How many more hurricanes, how many more floods, how many more people suffering from drought as is happening in Kenya, will the world endure and have to endure before action is taken?”

Last year and this year’s COP gatherings saw the International Partners Group  (France, Germany, the European Union, the UK, and the US) pledge $8.5-billion towards South Africa’s just energy transition.

“The reality also is, justice demands someone to pay, particularly when countries who don’t have capacity to pay, no fiscal space, no balance sheet, cannot do so. And that is the big debate that stands before us today,” the prime minister said.

First World Countries providing climate financing are hoping South Africa will act as a blueprint for emerging market economies on how those countries can move away from fossil fuel dependence.  This year at COP27, the country once again secured €600-million towards its just energy transition.

While the announcements have been met with great jubilation, concern about the funding being in the form of loans and not mainly grants has caused some unease, as interest rates range from about three to four times higher than those of countries in the global north.

“This weekend in Sharm el-Sheikh, I called not just simply for capacity to match commitment, but also for us to ensure that we have a just industrialisation.  The Global South has for too long been the place from which wealth has been extracted and for which there has been no determination to put back into the South the resources to move from primary materials to finished products,” Mottley said.

She said the capacity to ensure a just transition was not in the power of countries in need of climate finance, and there would be more innocent victims as a result of the lack of capacity to manage the transition.

Natural gas has been touted as a transitional fuel, though some environmentalists and academics alike have cautioned against this due to methane emissions and the possibility of stranded assets.  Mottley said, however, that the luxury to choose not to use gas by governments that had failed to take action in the past two decades was no longer an option:

“Regrettably, what we are getting is the standoff, because mankind is so consumed with the geopolitics of today’s world that we are forgetting the reality of the planet on which we live… time waits on no one and the climate equally is not waiting on anyone to minimise its impact on our living and way of life.”

Report and photography by Zoé Pillay