(Former global strategist Greenpeace International)
2020 tipping point – or BAU?
We are at the dawn of 2020.
Will 2020 kick-start an emblematic new decade of hope or will it be another year as usual? This is a question that a lot of people are interested in. In 2020, after the Paris Agreement, it is the first time that the countries will come together to assess how much they’ve been able to do and how much more they can do. The ask is that countries will have to improve their respective NDCs (Nationally determined contributions) as what they offer now will never keep global warming to the required target. In Mauritius, we will have a nascent government facing a lot of challenges, which will also have the daunting task of putting this country back on track ecologically. Time is for a real change, break away from an obsolete system and allow a new mind-set to take over. “Conventional thinking has to give way to systemic thinking”. As the challenge is gigantic, and there is a need to address the deeper structural causes of the three-fold economic, social and environmental crisis, our policy makers have to innovate, beat a traditional and out-dated public system, overcome silos and start treating issues more holistically. There is no other path to success.
Our economy is cancerously fragile and simply putting a bandage on cancer never cures. All the measures heard during the electoral campaign create a temporary sense of confidence; but for sure they are solely cosmetic. We have passed the limits of stress, of tolerance that our economy, society and environment can bear. The carrying capacity of our island is exceeded and we have one of the highest ecological footprints. Do we ever recognise the seriousness of the social and environmental dimensions of the economic crisis that we are actually facing. Sophisticated bailouts and stimulus packages have helped in the past but will not do so anymore. We need to find the systemic causes of the crisis and fix the problems at the root. We need to be bold enough. A lot of us still believe that GDP growth is the only solution for beating the economic crisis. This is a fallacy that must change. If GDP growth is the solution to people’s misery and poverty, then why is that despite continuous two-figure GDP growth for decades that rural China has turned to poverty again. (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/chinas-countryside-returning-to-poverty-report/articleshow/71878765.cms)
In fact, the actual economic system that builds on GDP growth is mostly a measure of growth in the consumption of goods. It benefits just a few, while tearing the lives of so many apart. The harsh reality today, is that a lot of people have to choose between paying the rent, the electricity bill or putting food on the table. We have a shrinking, decimated middle class that is struggling between loans; an unnoticed growing gap between the rich and the poor. The social fabric like a dormant volcano is already crippled with “synthetic drugs” coupled with unemployment. A lot of people still feel insecure in the face of a volatile economy; there is not a single household not plunged in debt. [Mauritius’s household debt accounted for 20.6 % of the country’s Nominal GDP in June 2018].
A report published in 2015 by OXFAM stated that the world has become extremely unequal as the world’s richest 1% now owns more wealth than the other 99%, all put together. We can very well mirror this statement in Mauritius. In a nutshell, our system has failed in every dimension – Financial, Environmental and Social – and it has failed on its own terms. Injecting stimulus packages, more subsidies as mentioned above and spending millions or billions to restore a failed system is a reckless waste of time and resources.
The other troubling challenge often ignored…
The troubling relationship between GDP growth and environmental damage is often ignored. A growth in GDP always increases environmental degradation. The wanton destruction of nature in Mauritius is a fact that is hard to challenge which obviously is a source of concern. On top of it, extreme weather events will intensify, while globally the strategies for industry change to mitigate the climate crisis are too slow. We are heading for at least 3-degree warming and catastrophic natural collapse that will no longer support much of human life. Since the climate negotiations began some decades ago, they have offered very little hope for the global south and small islands like Mauritius in particular, as issues of climate financing for adaptation remain largely unsolved. Even if we manage to hold the global warming to 2 degrees by 2100, we will be left with more than 500 ppm of carbon, which might still be damning. [The last time we had 500 ppm of carbon in the atmosphere was sixteen million years ago and the rise in temperature was somewhere between 5 to 8 degrees rise – the sea level rose to 130 feet – many countries had to draw a new coastline]
Turning the crisis into opportunity – the “Green New Deal”
To rescue America from the great depression, former President Roosevelt launched a domestic agenda which was known as the “New Deal” and much later Friedman, inspired from this concept, coined the term “Green New Deal” back in 2007 (after America witnessed its hottest month recognising that addressing climate change will not be palatable). Picking on this momentum, the UN announced the “Global Green New Deal in 2008” as an agenda for countries to pursue. Allow me to quote one paragraph from this interesting report to lay my case for a Green New Deal : “The multiple crises threatening the world economy today demand the same kind of initiative as shown by Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, but at the global scale and embracing a wider vision. The right mix of policy actions can stimulate recovery and at the same time improve the sustainability of the world economy. If these actions are adopted, over the next few years they will create millions of jobs, improve the livelihoods of the world’s poor and channel investments into dynamic economic sectors. A “Global Green New Deal” (GGND) refers to such a timely mix of policies. An expanded vision is critical to the lasting success of a world economic recovery. Reviving growth, ensuring financial stability and creating jobs should be essential objectives. But unless new policy initiatives also address other global challenges, such as reducing carbon dependency, protecting ecosystems and water resources and alleviating poverty, their impact on averting future crises will be short-lived. Without this expanded vision, restarting the world economy today will do little to address the imminent threats posed by climate change, energy insecurity, growing freshwater scarcity, deteriorating ecosystems, and above all, worsening global poverty. To the contrary, it is necessary to reduce carbon dependency and ecological scarcity not just because of environmental concerns but because this is the correct and the only way to revitalize the economy on a more sustained basis”.
What does a Green New Deal mean for us?
A Green New Deal will convert our old, grey economy into a new sustainable one that is environmentally sound, economically viable and socially responsible. It will revive the economy, turn the tide on climate change through a rooted ecosystem based adaptation plan and wage wars against our obsolete institutions. It is the only major step towards ending unemployment for good, but also a tool to fight the corporate collusion and takeover of our democracy.
A Green New Deal for Mauritius is perhaps the only hope to simply reverse climate change effects in a more just society before it outruns us. It is the only possible human response from our policymakers between the doomsday scenario of three or more degree rise in temperature and the small island we live in. Implementing a GND necessitates a holistic, extensive and integrated approach while addressing numerous policies, legal, institutional and financial hurdles. It needs to include elements of funding for renewables and financial flows for the vulnerable or for those particularly at risk from extreme weather. However, it needs to further include structures to reduce inequality, extractive and broken finance models based on unending growth, quitting fossil fuel reliance and patterns of massive consumption through the use of plastics and chemicals in agribusiness. We need to rewrite the rules, most notably of the finance system, rather than struggle within them. Green New Deals not only aligns with climate science but also with the human right to a clean environment, fair work, safety, equality of access and most of all the right to a future, which we are denying the youth and future generations right now. The GND, its policies and actions will first and foremost benefit marginalized and poor communities creating the “Momentum for Change” in a sustainable renewed way. On a regional level, it is about addressing climate apartheid that the global south countries are facing. We in Mauritius, on the frontlines of the climate crisis – being one of the most vulnerable countries largely not having caused it –, we need to make sure our voice in the climate movement is heard. Green New Deals are the ultimate hope for the inhabitants of small islands who have unique challenges, obstacles and circumstances.
The good thing is…
We don’t have to reinvent the wheel to develop a GND for Mauritius – there are many current examples that we can build on and in our drawers somewhere there are some very resourceful documents and reports lying, which need to be dusted off. A large amount of research has already been carried out. The existing reports are not perfect but re-aligning and updating them can work. Will the new government take up the challenge?
A new campaign for a GND is taking off and this is more than a political campaign, it is social, environmental and human based.