ZAHRAA BOODHOO BEEHARRY
London School of Economics
Climate change is being characterised as the defining issue of our time, and as a small island developing state, Mauritius is particularly vulnerable. On the 23rd of September world leaders are meeting for the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit. The U.N Secretary-General, António Guterres, has asked them to demonstrate greater willingness to tackle the climate crisis, demanding them to “bring plans and not speeches.”
In Mauritius, our policymakers have also displayed complacency and dismissed climate change as being merely a global issue; finding it more convenient to shift the blame and responsibility to act upon the biggest global polluters. While it is unfair that we have to bear the burden of their irresponsibility, it does not change the fact that we are at risk.
For many of us, the effects of climate change aren’t at the forefront of our minds because we have had the privilege so far to not care about it. We have all heard about and seen the havoc left behind by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. We have expressed our sympathy, but merely weeks later, most of us have already forgotten about it and moved on with our lives. Is it then hubris or just sheer denial that fools us into believing that we are safe? Only because we haven’t experienced any such calamities yet, doesn’t mean that we are immune to it.
We have already begun experiencing the cruel and unpredictable force of climate change; loss of lives, livelihoods, or property as a result of flash floods and harsher storms. Rodrigues, itself, was left in a dismal state after the passing of cyclones Gelena and Joaninha earlier this year with the destruction of houses, loss of livestock and food crops. In the years to come, rising sea levels put several coastal communities and industries at risk. We can also expect more intense cyclones, flash floods, landslides, losses in agricultural productivity, and shortages in fresh water and food. Rising temperatures equally create a breeding ground for diseases such as malaria and dengue amongst others.
If the situation described sounds alarming, that is because it actually is. We are not prepared for the dangers that we might have to face, and unless we act now, these threats are only going to intensify. At this point, climate change should be regarded as a national security issue and also a personal issue by every one of us. Our way of life is under threat, and so is our survival and that of the generations to come. It is imperative that we start strengthening our islands and make ourselves more resilient. The current government hinted at the introduction of a climate change bill but what we need to ask is whether the stakeholders have been made involved in the processes of decision making.
Ahead of the summit, youths, aged between 18 to 29, from across the world were selected to be part of a first ever U.N Youth Climate Summit. The head of states, businesses, and representatives from civil society and international organisations who are meeting, are expected to listen to the ideas and concerns expressed by these youths. The U.N Secretary-General insisted that the youth be integrated and represented across all the different action plans to be discussed at the summit. We have been the most vocal about the issue at hand and attribute different levels of importance to the need for urgent and concrete actions. We are amongst the most concerned; our futures are not guaranteed.
Still, in Mauritius, we remain on the sidelines of policy decisions being taken on the matter. Some political parties have begun hosting forums and interactive sessions for us on the topic, and while this is commendable, we also need the legislators to follow suit. We are already taking climate change seriously and what we need is for our elected representatives and everyone else to listen to us and our concerns seriously.