Global action is needed

October 5, 2017

Ethiopian farmer
Without global coordination and regulation, common resources risk degradation. It is true that with climate change, we do not all lose at the same time. Some of us lose first. Photo: © C BY ND Ryan Kilpatrick

There is no doubt that science is increasingly expanding our knowledge of the problem of environmental degradation (including our role in it) and the extent to which it affects our ability to continually improve our living conditions.

Responses have varied in intensity and scope. They started as largely local and national responses dealing with specific environmental problems. Now our knowledge of how much of our environment (and hence its problems, causes, effects and solutions) functions as one complex system has increased. The international system has responded to deal with the global dimensions of environmental degradation. The recent coming together of the family of nations, in record number and pace, to adopt, sign and ratify the Paris Agreement is indeed encouraging. It helps to remind us why addressing environmental degradation requires global actions.

Global environmental actions are needed for a number of reasons. First, humanity uses certain vital resources in common. The ozone layer and the atmosphere are cases in point. In particular, the atmosphere – with its limited capacity to safely absorb greenhouse gases – is a resource that we use in common. Without global coordination and regulation, common resources risk degradation. Our climate is changing. Temperature is rising. Rainfall patterns are becoming erratic and unpredictable. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe.

We in Ethiopia are feeling the brunt of a changing climate. It is true that with climate change, we do not all lose at the same time. Some of us lose first. But this should not fool us into losing our grip of the problem. In the end, we all will lose. Ignorance may be bliss but it is not an excuse. It is prudent to err on the side of caution. There is no fundamental ignorance about climate change and other forms of environmental degradation. However, acquisition of knowledge is not certain to result in appropriate responses. There ought to be effective and fair global coordination and regulation mechanisms.

Second, with respect to environmental degradation that can be locally situated and felt, there are causes that lie beyond administrative and political borders. Globalization both exacerbates and alleviates environmental degradation. Global actions will be required for fair and effective tackling of such problems even if they have nothing to do with common resources. A related aspect is that many environmental actions, though taken locally, have transnational or global co-benefits, requiring global mechanisms for incentivizing them.

Third, certain types of solutions for environmental degradation require or benefit from global mechanisms of coordination, collaboration and regulation. Rapid development and dissemination of green technologies and channeling the flow of investment into low emission economic sectors and activities require such mechanisms. International mechanisms that facilitate exchange of knowledge and skills with respect to best techniques and policies are much needed.

Fourth, the earth – taken as a single complex system – requires that in many cases we should all move together. It is not a race. It is an endeavor to collectively avoid pitfalls and aim for a better future. We are not yet there until we are all there. In this regard, therefore, global actions that embody this spirit of solidarity, mutual aid, universal contribution and responsibility are highly needed.

In my view, the last two points emphasize the two most important types of global environmental actions: channeling investment and providing support. Our success in tackling, for example, climate change, requires fundamentally altering flow of investment into green and climate resilient areas, technologies and activities. The extent to which investment flows globally means that responses affecting this flow should be globally coordinated. In this, coalitions of the willing – in terms of, for example, promoting carbon pricing and the removal of fossil fuel subsidies, and the coordinated announcement of contributions and long-term objectives – are indeed very vital. Taking globally coordinated measures to curb illicit erosion of the capacity of states to deliver on their promises to their citizens is another much-needed global action.

The fourth point, in particular, requires the renewal of commitments and delivery. Otherwise the global system that we have been incrementally building could potentially unravel. Some of us may not have adequate capacity (including finance) to take on, or meet, globally agreed contributions and targets. In such cases, it is of utmost importance that those who are able to do so support whose who are less able. When those who are able are also historically responsible for the problem, the imperative to provide support becomes stronger. It is much stronger still when those who are less able and not historically responsible nevertheless decide to do what they can with their limited resources to deal with environmental degradation.

This is an imperative rooted both in fairness and effectiveness. We should all take effective and fair remedial and corrective actions. Those who have the capacity should effectively and fairly support others. Those who have less capacity now should, as responsible members of the community of nations, work to build it, including through effective and fair use of the international support provided. The Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, which I have the great honor of leading, is guided by these considerations in dealing not only with environmental degradation but also other global challenges. In this regard, I pledge the support of my government to international institutions such as the Global Environment Facility and Green Climate Fund which play important roles in channeling and managing environmental financing.

I am most grateful for the opportunity to share my views on issues of global environmental actions and financing. Thanks indeed.

by Hailemariam Dessalegn, Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

This article originally appeared in "The Global Environment Facility: Delivering solutions for a sustainable future," the September 2017 issue of UN Environment's "Our Planet" magazine. The magazine was launched at the GEF-7 2nd replenishment meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.