Full Transcript of Hon PM Mia Mottley at 20th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture.
Speech by the Honourable Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, at the 20th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in eThekwini on 12 November 2022.
Good afternoon, Mrs Graça Machel, or shall I say Mama Graça? Premier Nomusa, I feel as if I know you already. Leaders of government, all members of the Mandela family, members of the Zuma family, my friend who last hosted me 20 years ago on my last trip to South Africa, Trevor Manuel and his wife. Can I just simply just say Prof. now? And of course the other members of the board of trustees of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and Sello; I can call you that in front of everyone now, too.
Some may say that is because I haven’t quite been able to pronounce the click and if they say so they are correct, but let me say good afternoon to all of you and to say truly what a distinct honour and privilege it is to be here today.
I want to salute our very own young Barbadian student, Woleta, who stood earlier, and her mother. You will forgive me if I feel a little old, because her mother was in school with me; it is a recognition of the passage of years.
But let me start by saying how honoured I am this afternoon. I truly consider this one of the privileges of my life, and I say so with all humility because 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.
Truth is that I am distinctly honoured as well to be here in KwaZulu-Natal. The premier has already laid out why this location today is also special – special for her as the first female premier of this province, special for me as a first woman leader of Barbados, special because in a very real way this marked the red line in the sand given the arrest of Nelson Mandela in this province.
But special also because it is the home of Mahatma Gandhi, who is easily equally in that pantheon of global heroes who have inspired us to a higher and better purpose in all that we do.
I do not believe that anything is therefore by accident, and then to that extent I do not believe therefore that the message is inappropriate, ill placed or ill timed. For to be here in this place, at this time, to speak to this matter of justice and solidarity, is in my view one of those things that can perhaps be viewed as pre-ordained.
The battles have been long and the battles have been strong, and one of the things that I’ve come here today first to have: discussion. It’s a lot of as they would say in Barbados, a lot of long talk, a lot of long words and a title.
But what we’ve really come to talk about this afternoon is justice, fair play and solidarity, People who don’t normally have the power on their own, working together and making that difference, doing so in the context of calling upon us, to summon that will for moral strategic leadership in really what will become not just the battle of our lifetime, but the battle of planet Earth.
My friends, I must tell you that I come here today not as a singular Caribbean person dropping from the sky but as one who comes after the efforts of many across the decades, and it is maybe useful for me to place context to that struggle, to make two points before I get into the meat of what I want to speak with you (about).
And that is to be able to contextualise that in my own country, from the father of democracy, Grantley Herbert Adams, in his early days both as premier of Barbados and then as prime minister of the West Indies Federation, and to those countries who took action in 1959, July, after the All Africa December 1958 Congress in Accra, Ghana, where Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada and Dominica took action to ban South African goods in solidarity with the people of South Africa, recognising that though they were thousands of miles away, there was an injustice being perpetrated. Man’s inhumanity to man, that required people who had little power to take a stand and say, “Wrong is wrong.”
And their efforts were soon followed months later, in April of 1960, in our sister island of Trinidad & Tobago, where the dockworkers of Trinidad refused to take the cargo from South Africa off the ships of April of 1960 and refused to refuel the ship that had brought the cargo, recognising that even they were dockworkers and not capable of great and brave decisions, they could do what they could within the space that they could. And their work could be followed of course by that titan of Carribean revolution and social reform, Fidel Castro, el Commandante, who worked with that great, other titan, Michael Manley of Jamaica, well known perhaps to many of you, and of course our own father of independence, Errol Walton Barrow, who worked with Fidel Castro in the struggle for the liberation of the peoples of Southern Africa by allowing the planes that left Havana, Cuba, to refuel in Bridgetown, Barbados, in order to bring the troops into Southern Africa and in particular South-Western Africa.
And then of course there was the decision of the Commonwealth heads of government, and I remember as a young law student in London, caught up in the fervour of the anti-apartheid movement, and caught up in the passion of wanting to see your own imagery on television because in those days, you just didn’t. And when we saw the students of South Africa, week after week, rise up to take their future into their own hands, it placed the pressure on leaders like Margaret Thatcher and others such that by the time the Commonwealth heads of government meeting went to Nassau, Bahamas, a determination was made to establish the Eminent Persons Group and in that Eminent Persons Group, co-chaired by Malcolm Fraser of Australia and Chief Obasanjo of Nigeria, it also included a woman who was to become the first governor-general of Barbados, Dame Nita Barrow, who came here as one of the seven persons to determine whether there could be a platform for talks and for release in order to ensure that the ungodly and unconscionable actions of apartheid could be brought to an end.
Regrettably, their work was to be stymied by the then government but they were capable and able at the time to meet Madiba, and it is instructive what they wrote in their unanimous report about Madiba in 1986, and I quote, having visited him on three occasions, what was their assessment? “That he impressed us as an outstandingly able and sincere person whose quality of leadership was self-evident. We found him unmarked by any trace of bitterness, despite his long imprisonment. His overriding concern was for the welfare of all races in South Africa, in a just society. He longed to be allowed to contribute to the process of reconciliation.”
This was not post-release, this was not on the eve of release, this was still deep in the bowels of his imprisonment and you know, I’ve deliberately decided to take a segue this afternoon before addressing the fundamental issues, because it is important that we contextualise the struggle and the values for those who refused to be reminded, or who fail to be reminded or who are not reminded, may well believe that this was as easy as dealing with the twinkle of an eye with the remediation and reparation of an awful thing. It hurt me to hear that there are some who believe that Madiba did not do enough and, perhaps worse for a few, that he might have been a sell-out all because what they believe justifiably so should be theirs today, is not yet theirs. I have deliberately started this conversation this evening by carrying you back to the 1950s, and stopping in the 1980s and stopping again in the 1990s, because if there is any one single truth, it is that each of us runs our leg of the relay and the baton is all that can be required of us to carry. And yesterday I had the distinct honour of going to the Foundation’s headquarters in the Centre of Memory and reading, and I feel so privileged to be given copies of the transcript in Madiba’s own handwriting and I shall treasure them as long as I have breath.
But in reading his own assessment of where he was, and what he believed had happened in what was to become the beginning of chapter 1 of the presidential years, it was ironic that he started with the words, "Men and women all over the world, right down the centuries, come and go." Men and women all over the world, right down the centuries, come and go.
What is more significant for me is that as he ended that first chapter, he also reflected on the fact that he sought at no stage for the fame that was to follow him, and that the notion that he could be regarded as a saint was one that he thoroughly rejected in the last words, "I never was one, even on the basis of an earthly definition of a saint as a sinner who keeps trying."
My friends, we need to pause sometimes and to remember context always, and I do so because in a very real sense that which have I have come to address you today on too, is the subject of a great struggle and will be the subject of a struggle that will require many different people to run their different legs of the race, to hand over the baton.
And the example of Madiba is the example more than any other, that I would want us to hold onto, because in so doing it is the values that he exhibited, the moral example, the moral compass that he provides, that gives us both the strength and the capacity to run this race, which will be the greatest race that humanity will require of any generation. It stands out for me that at the very outset, courage was never lacking. "It is a cause for which I am prepared to fight, but a cause for which I am prepared to die. "How many of us can say that today?
It was the moral fortitude of a man that determined that no type of offer with special conditionalities for early freedom would be acceptable, because what was required was justice.
It is amazing that in the face of the gravest and greatest inhumanity not just to himself, to his family, to his people, that the vengeance that would otherwise eat and force others into action was absent from his mind, body and spirit, and as I just read to you, from the evidence of the Eminent Persons Group not conveniently so as an act of politics, but as an act of character deep in the bosom of his imprisonment.
And then there is the story that was told to me yesterday by Sello as we looked at the photographs of what his cell contained. And I well recall my own visit to Robben Island 20 years ago. And all who like me have practised a little criminal law in my career, know that that is a common sight in colonial-constructed prisons that had no sanitary facilities, and the humility of the man captured best in being able to ensure that when one of his own brothers was unable to take care of themselves in the most basic and human of ways, that Madiba performed the duties of cleaning for him. An example of servant leadership if ever there is one.
So forgive me if I have strayed a bit because I believe that in this world where everything is instantaneous and quick and where people expect results like that, we sometimes need to remind ourselves of the context of the struggles that we fight and to remind ourselves of what truly, truly was at stake. There’s some young people who would simply now, three decades after his release, will 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.
But we cannot talk about economic justice and economic opportunity if the basic aspects of freedom have not been guaranteed. No one expects us to be stuck in a moment of time, but it is the understanding that he did what was his to do. It is now up to us to do what is ours to do.
And it is for that reason I have come to KwaZulu-Natal. You know, we live in a world that is at a very strange moment in time. It has been described recently as a “polycrisis”, and it has been so described because as soon as you get accustomed to managing one crisis you’re being hit by another one and another one and another one, and that is what it has felt like in the last few years. This country already knows what it is to lose people to the ravages of a public health crisis, as you did with HIV and AIDS for so long, and then to have to face like the rest of us the awful pandemic of Covid-19, taking away so many; all of us know people who have died in the last few years.
None of us dreamt of a moment when our movement was restricted so, such that we couldn’t do the things that we wanted to do, and this was not being imposed on us by authoritarian governments. This was being imposed by public health specialists for the safety and survival of all of us. And if that was not enough, because we were already fighting the climate crisis, we were still recovering from the financial crisis of 2008/2009, as if all of that was not enough, then comes the awful scourge of the cancer of inflation, the cancer of the cost of living and believe you me, it is a cancer because you keep trying to run after it and run after it, but you can’t catch up with it in that way.
And we have now come to understand that as much as we needed to mobilise to fight against vaccine inequity, that we were not a one-issue country or one-issue people, that we literally had to fight these multiple crises because as all of this is happening, people were still dying from the climate crisis.
I don’t talk about climate change. Change happened a long time ago. Crisis is where we are, and crisis is what we have to fight, and today I want us to recognise that what is required of us is going to have to allow us to one, develop partnerships in places where we may have never dreamt of so doing before, and to be able to do things in new ways that we have never thought of doing, and that the actions required are not simply those of others but of us, because it is the collective action that has led the world to be where it is today.
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. Theirs is the stock of gases but then there are those who continue today for which there are many of us, no name, no blame, because it is all of us and it is the combined effect of the stop primarily, but yes, the flow today that continues to cause the problems.
I want us to reflect 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 much of what we do. We have come to a stage where the evidence of the science is palpable. I didn’t know when I accepted to do this speech that you the people of KwaZulu-Natal would have in this week of our Lord, this year, suffered additional damage, the second river breaking its banks in less than six months. The first one causing loss of life and damage, this one continuing the loss of damage.
We speak in the shadow of Sharm el-Sheikh, a Conference of the Parties intended to see progress and action. Progress I fear not fast enough, but still yet there. But it is up to ordinary people to begin to place the pressure and to begin to participate in the advocacy that is going to make the difference, and why? Consequences of the climate are now multidimensional, of this crisis. I spoke just now of the loss of life; I could easily speak about the loss of livelihood. I could speak equally of the loss of dignity, the loss of shelter, the loss of family, the loss of culture, the increased number of climate migrants that we will see moving across this Earth. You know, it really hit me when a former governor of the Nigerian Central Bank said to me that 80% of south-west Nigeria is above the poverty line and 80% of north-west Nigeria is below the poverty line, and then you start to look at the realities of what people face on this continent, and what people face in the islands of the Caribbean Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Sea.
And we begin to understand that what is at stake now is real poor people. Nobody believed that the people of Montserrat would ever have to leave their island because of a volcanic eruption and the notion that climate refugees is something for others somewhere else, is now proven to be a fiction. It is real and it is with us. And you here in this province have seen evidence of it this week.
And in my own region last weekend in St Lucia, the people of St Lucia felt the ravages of the floods there – not the hurricane, the floods. In Belize City a few days before, it was the hurricane. 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?
The difficulty is, and this is where the complexity of the conversation enters, is that it is not simply the commitments made on stage now that matter, but it is the capacity to deliver on those commitments.
In my own country we have recognised that we needed to do our part, and I have repeated over and over that in making those determinations we said use electric cars, we will give you a tax holiday. Two years – we can’t get the electric cars to buy. We have said, let every owner of their own house be entitled to have, as a right, photovoltaic panels, 2.5kW, 5kW, 10kW depending on the size of their house. We can’t get the batteries to deal with the storage necessary to allow these persons to do it.
And that is why this week, 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. You see, 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 necessary to move from primary materials to finished product. And if you are like us in the Caribbean, where you are small, you are not only price takers, you have to hope you can get access to the product. The pandemic taught us that, with vaccines, with ventilators, with other therapeutics, because you’re just too small for anyone to notice you. And once there is global pressure on there will be winners and losers, and small states count among the losers in those circumstances.
Regrettably, we have come to a point where the necessary capacity to make the just transition, a phrase that you know well in South Africa, the just energy transition, is no longer within our power alone. And it therefore means that we are likely to see more innocent victims because the reality between our capacity to manage that transition, and to see it happen, is just simply not there.
I hope that with the granular discussions taking place that we can see more activity but the reality equally is this: that it costs money to bring about industrialisation and even when the Global North seems to help us in the south, the cost of so doing has been made so prohibitive by an unfair financial system, that it is almost impossible to achieve with the level of returns that are acceptable. And you know this better than I do in South Africa. In the Global North. people will borrow at anywhere between one and four percent.
In the South, you are struggling (at) 12% and 14% in today’s environment. When those costs are put into the business plan, the rates of return from the project all of a sudden just don’t look attractive enough. And you ask yourself, why is there that disparity in the cost of borrowing, why is there that disparity in the treatment of our peoples? Why is it that during the emerging market crisis, the international financial institutions promoted a constant prescription of currency devaluation, higher interest rates, and fiscal austerity, and an end to public bailouts, and there were sharp contractions and increases in poverty we saw in the nations who were so affected, but when their countries became the subject of the crisis, all of a sudden the prescription was different. No devaluation, zero interest rates, fiscal expansion, massive bailouts. You only need to recall what happened in 2008. You don’t have to go much further; in fact, the fact that we are seeing interest rates rise from zero, tells you and reminds you of where it went because of the last crisis. The disparity in treatment, regrettably, is one of the remaining consequences of the colonial order.
We in the South have to determine whether we will continue to be victims of a process that was supposed to be dismantled in a post-World War II era, with your own country coming almost 50 years after because of the apartheid system. It is simply not good enough. And we have therefore to change the discourse not just to climate alone, but to the financial system that is underpinning and preventing us from being architects and craftsmen of our own destiny, rather than simply awaiting the handouts of others in the Global North.
You know, I would much rather that I could be here talking (about) other things today, because then we would have a fuller conversation, but the truth is that it is that injustice and that discriminatory treatment at the core of the financial system, in my view, that continues to limit the promise of political independence and decolonisation that was promised to us.
Those who expect more of Madiba expect more because their own personal, financial and economic circumstances have not moved with the pace that they might otherwise have accepted or expected, and it is for that reason that I believe that if ever there was a moment in time for the Global South to rally around a cause, it is now.
There are at least 50 countries who stand on the verge of a debt crisis as we speak today. It does not give me any comfort to say that the worst may yet still be before us and I say so because one of the things that is necessary for those same younger people who wonder about Madiba’s role, is that the first thing we need to do is to moderate expectations and to bring context and reality to all that we do in today’s world in this moment of a polycrisis. I spoke already about the inflation. I have not yet spoken but perhaps should about the sustainable development goals which is just simply our desire to have a better life, and those are being frozen as the numbers who are going back into poverty increase, as the numbers who face food insecurity increase. And at the core of it, I submit to you, are a few things that we need to do differently. One, yes, the reform of the financial system and I’ll come back to that and what we call the Bridgetown Initiative, but two, I want to speak to us, because we need to treat government and governance differently and we need to appreciate that if we treated the pandemic purely as a government solution, most of us probably would never have succeeded.
But it was a national effort to fight those battles, that have allowed us to come out today in far better shape than we were, and that we were expected to be in when we went in. And the partnerships now between citizen, community and country, the ability for those of us who are above the poverty line to give back and to give of ourselves in the spirit of Madiba. To recognise that it is not to government alone that this charge must fall.
And that our ability to help people through the cost-of-living crisis is within our capacity in a way that the climate crisis is not immediately within our capacity.
But we need to be strong and fight the climate crisis, and if we don’t fight the cost of living crisis as we fought the pandemic, we will be that much weaker in being able to emerge successful and resilient from the climate crisis.
I ask us to ponder on these things, because too often in today’s world there is the determination that let us look to someone else and look at someone else for the solution, when in truth and in fact our capacity and capability of working together can make the difference between whether someone sleeps easy at night, whether someone eats during the day, whether someone has access to shelter.
And I do hope that when combined, yes, with the monetary measures that must be put in place, quantitative tightening, increasing interest rates, suppressing demand, bringing about hardship in order to be able to make the patient better. Where I come from, I don’t know whether you have a cough medicine here called Buckley’s, but we have one in Barbados called Buckley’s – it tastes bad, but it works. And that was what your parents would tell you every day: it tastes bad but it works, and regrettably, to control the cancer of cost of living, it is going to require some suppression of what we do in order to tame the prices back down so that your salaries don’t evaporate into the air.
But these conversations cannot be captured in 60-second soundbites or four-inch columns, and therefore we inhibit ourselves from being able to be successful in solving these problems because we don’t have the difficult conversations with each other globally any more because we are into a world of narrowcasting, we are into a world of social media, we are into a world where we do our own thing, in our own way, when we want without reference, to whether that will allow us to sustain the journey. Could you imagine if that was the approach of Madiba, where you would be standing in South Africa today? Could you imagine if those were the approach of those others who fought like Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, and all of the others, where would you be today? But even when we get rid of that cost-of-living issue, the other reason why we need to reform the financial system is because we actually do need money to invest in human development.
We are not a one-crisis or one-issue person. Even if we think we’re only doing it for climate the reality is, as I said in Sharm el-Sheikh this week, we cannot depend on the financing of education and healthcare with seven-year money and 10-year money any more because it simply will not allow us to offer the best education to our children, who quite frankly deserve it. And if there was anything that I could wish for globally, it would be for a global minimum floor for the provision of education and healthcare to all citizens under the age of 18 years old. That’s why we are human beings. We don’t come on this Earth just to individually prosper and see others suffer, and you here know it more than most because of your struggles. And if we can therefore ensure that if we can borrow at reasonable rates of interest, the savings in the interest will finance many of the social programmes that now go lacking in our societies because of an unfair financial system.
I’m not talking about yesterday, when the debt crisis has gotten worse, but two years ago, Greece and Ghana: same credit rating but Greece borrowing at a fraction of what the government of Ghana could borrow on the international markets. For what reason? Because one is in Africa and one is in Europe? Geography?
I do know about the safe assets, yes, but the safe assets are a construct of the international financial architecture that does not see us, does not hear us and does not feel us. And that is why we have asked more, and over and over, that if you can, one, meet the immediate needs of the crisis by providing liquidity to those countries that most need it, to allow them to stop the bleeding. That is effectively what they’re doing: stopping the bleeding. You can’t operate on the patient while the patient is bleeding out.
And thank God the International Monetary Fund has the leadership that it does today because without Christine Lagarde's leadership, God knows what would have happened to so many countries if the rapid credit facility had not been there in 2020, when the pandemic first started. But the problem is, that was for the pandemic starting and I described a polycrisis, which means that the need for additional liquidity is still there. And it begs the question whether there ought not to be a different approach to these issues, allowing for example a standard liquidity drawdown that would immediately stop the bleeding without questions, without conditionalities, because if the bleeding continues the financial crisis will eat into our pockets, our bank accounts, our savings, our stability. That is what is at risk and that is what happened 100 years ago with the Great Depression, and God forbid that it should be our future and not just simply an example of our history.
Similarly, we believe that it is important that the multilateral development banks and the World Bank, otherwise known by its proper name, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, needs to exercise greater risk appetite, and step up to the plate where it has not been sufficiently found during this polycrisis moment. Our countries cannot do it alone and I don’t say so with any rancid tone in my voice, I say so more as a plea now at this stage. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development of the 20th century, with the crises of the 20th century, cannot be the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development of the third decade of the 21st century when the crises are different.
You may ask why I am spending so much time on these issues. Because these are the issues that will determine whether we can provide more financing for education to ensure that we can reduce the level of crime in our societies. Whether we can provide more finances so that we can provide healthcare to those who truly deserve it. And who therefore can boost their immune systems, such that they are not vulnerable to the next pandemic when it comes unnecessarily so. As we learned with the last pandemic, that it was the co-morbidities that took out the weakest from among us. These are the unsexy things that some may have wanted Madiba to solve in five years, but require us to solve in a few decades.
And then there is the other unsexy issue of special drawing rates because when we ask the multilateral development banks to expand their lending to us at concessional rates, we realise that yes, they can, as the capital adequacy framework recommends for the G20 countries, they can sweat their balance sheets a little more. But in addition to that, they probably will need the benefit of the special drawing rates to be able to expand their lending significantly as well, and as they do that we ask them to remember that 70% of the world’s poor do not live actually in low-income countries. They don’t live in poor countries. Seventy percent of the world’s poor live in middle-income countries and when you exclude middle-income countries from being able to borrow, you are effectively condemning the poor in middle-income countries to remain in poverty for the rest of their lives, and cementing inter-generational poverty.
That is what we fight for: the notion that Barbados, the Bahamas and the Maldives cannot borrow as of right now from the World Bank in the climate of a crisis is so preposterous, that it tells us that we need to reset and recalibrate urgently if we are to prepare for fighting these battles.
My friends, you know, those last two things or three things that I spoke about are part of the Bridgetown Initiative. I've tried to break them down into simple terms because it is important that the energy comes from you as well, to be able to say that this is a battle that must be won.
Apartheid remained when it was a province of those in (the) diplomatic arena and politically charged rooms cloistered, even the UN, but when the children of this country determined that they were not going to be those guinea pigs to be forced into the language of Afrikaans, and took their future into their own hands and had a level of militancy that said, “Not another generation,” the battle changed and the conversation changed.
The climate crisis is no different, and if we are to ensure that these same children and their children and their children are to live appropriately in today's world, then it is critical that this battle now be embraced at different levels. I cannot imagine it would be easy for Madiba to learn Afrikaans, either emotionally or technically, but he did it because in mastering the language and mastering the culture, he was able to navigate his way out of 28 years of imprisonment.
I can’t imagine it is sexy for me to talk about financial reform on a Saturday afternoon in Durban when I should perhaps be out there next to the beach like the rest of the people I saw out there enjoying themselves. But if we are going to win this battle, then you need to learn what special drawing rates are and you need to understand why it is that people in the south are borrowing at rates of interest that are much much higher than the people in the north, and you need to understand why the policy prescriptions for the countries in the north when they face financial crises are different from the countries in the south. And you need to ask yourselves, what is the common thread? Especially at a time when many, many refuse even in the north to acknowledge the reality of the climate crisis. It is frightening, to say the least, and that is why even in the Bridgestone Initiative, when we talk about mitigation we understand that as a small country, we don't have a lot of space in the Caribbean or in Barbados or in the wider Caribbean to mitigate; you have considerably more here in South Africa, in the continent of Africa.
But our belief is that mitigation, wherever it takes place on this Earth, is necessary and that mitigation, yes, can be driven by the private sector and, yes, mitigation will more attract the language of the capitalists who see returns and there is nothing wrong with that, and we must encourage mitigation. But what we say is that the mitigation ought to be something where we create a special climate mitigation trust, invest it with $5-trillion, coming out once again of the SDRS, but allowing projects to bid wherever they are on this Earth, from here in KwaZulu-Natal to wherever else, to be able to help bring down the changes and the impact of the greenhouse gases. Because mitigation is valid and relevant wherever it takes place on the Earth, and therefore there should be no geographical limitations to where mitigation can take place.
Now we can’t be fairer than that, because we are not asking purely that the money come to us for mitigation; we are saying do it, do it wherever, but what must happen is that you must do it. And regrettably, what we are still getting is the stand-off, and the stand-off comes 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.
And it is sad because at the end of the day, time waits on no one, and the climate equally is not waiting on anyone to minimise its impact on our living and our way of life. The reality also is that justice demands that someone pay, particularly when countries who have no capacity to pay, no fiscal space, no balance sheet, cannot do so. And that is the big debate that now stands before us. Earlier this week you may have heard me say that it is a major achievement that loss and damage has gotten finally on the agenda for conversation, not that we have resolved it, not that we have settled the mechanism for it, but it is at least on the agenda. And I say so because it took Denmark in September and subsequently Scotland, New Zealand and Belgium in the last two weeks, however modest, establishing loss and damage funds to begin to say to the rest of the North Atlantic world that this is an issue, this is a conversation whose time has come. And I want to put it very simply to you, Trevor: if I lived next door to you, and every day I am dumping on your property, dumping on your property, and the money you had to send your children to school or to pay medical care for your wife all of a sudden, now has to be taken up to clean up the property because you can’t sleep at night, you can’t eat food in peace, then you would say that I should be sued and that I must stand responsibility for the fact that then causing you to spend the majority of your earnings on being able just to live.
Well, private law acknowledges it, and technically international public policy acknowledges polluter pays, but there is a fear of the developed world, the former industrial economies – I shouldn’t say in that the former – the industrial economies, the former colonising powers, who knew how they got there, to accept liability because they believe that in accepting liability it would be open-ended. Well, as a former attorney-general I say we don’t ask you for open-ended liability, but what we do ask you for is justice and what we do ask you for is to recognise that we, too, accept as reasonable people that this is not a matter purely for the government or the state, but that there are non-state actors, multinational corporations whose balance sheets far exceed that of many countries of the world, and whose balance sheets get there by reason of the same pollution. Who have a responsibility to pay. And I’m not into the bashing or bashing, that’s not what I’m about, but the Bible talks about tithing and the Koran speaks to us about giving back to those, and we say simply say that if you are going to make 100c in profit, $200-billion in the last quarter alone, some estimates explain that they may even reach $2-trillion in one year in profits – profits – then you have a responsibility to put something on the table in a loss and damage fund for those who are now having to pay out, pay out, pay out, pay out.
And the oil and gas companies are not there by themselves because those who stand behind them will be the banking and financial industry and financial sector, and the insurance companies who equally profit in the same way. Now, I’m using this as an example, as I’ve said over and over, because the world is reaching a point where global public good is going to become the most important conversation even as we fight this climate crisis. That is what the polycrisis has taught us. The pandemic, if we thought Covid-19 was bad, well I’m here to say as co-chair of the Global Health Initiative that the antimicrobial resistance, the reality of your going to a doctor or dentist for a filling of a cavity or going to have a baby, that you are at risk at infection that could kill you now if your body no longer responds to the antibiotics because there is a resistance that has naturally been built up and the pharmaceutical industry has not brought a new antibiotic to the market in 22 years. Fact, fact, fact. Why? Because the economics of antibiotics don’t compare to the economics of pharmaceuticals that treat heart conditions or diabetes because you need those for life, and you only need the antibiotics for a course. The economics just don’t work.
These are the realities and the global commons that we need to sustain life and livelihood, and quality of life for our people will require a different approach and therefore the notion of non-state actors, predominantly companies, whether oil and gas, whether banking and finance, whether pharmaceutical, whether tech companies bridging the digital divide for education for young children, all have now to step up to the plate to provide a global fund that allows those countries who can no longer access it through lack of fairness and lack of equity at the international level, in the same way that you knew during apartheid in your own years. It is, it is, regrettably, a deeply colonial, segmented system. Some may even argue it is global apartheid. And who best to provide the example of moral, strategic leadership for us to win this battle than Madiba?
I said to you today that we have a solemn duty, not just to look at governments, not just to look at multinational corporations, but also to bring to the table those who have large philanthropic foundations and for whom there ought now to be some form of global compact that allows them also. Many of them are doing it on their own, but perhaps we need more structure to ensure that there is a blended approach to the provision of a safe global commons for all of our people on this Earth to function and to live in harmony. We are not going to get there by the twiddle of a nose. We are not going to get there in a “beam me up, Scotty” moment, as I love to say, but it is going to require the mobilisation of people like yourselves, and it is to happen at a time when much else that we have come to value as standards are also being questioned.
No one would ever have thought that the United States of America would take days to count votes in an election. No one would ever have thought that the United Kingdom would have three prime ministers in less than three months. And, regrettably, none of us would have ever dreamt to see war in Europe after World War II again, so soon and so tragically. Mind you, it is almost as if they've forgotten that war existed in Africa and in the Middle East for decades. The world that we have come to know has changed upon us and we will either decide as people of the south to be firm craftsmen of our fate and shapers of our destiny, or we will continue to be the victims as we have been for centuries.
I would have much rather have come here this afternoon to speak in the tone and with the response that a Trevor Noah would be able to do on a Saturday afternoon in Durban, but regrettably that is not my lot today. But suffice it to say that we have now to do the heavy lifting of educating our people at all levels of society and across all countries for a global movement whose time has come. It is up to us to make the bold demands just as Madiba did. Not unreasonable demands, in the same way that he restrained himself from unreasonable demands. It is up to us to also walk the higher road because those who have been the victims of discrimination must not allow themselves to be imprisoned by the actions of those who sought to discriminate before. Because that is a lonely and awful place to be. But what it does require of us is a fair and level playing field.
And whether it is the reform of the financial system, whether it is the call for just industrialisation of the south to position us to benefit as we transition how we live and what we want to hold onto in this climate crisis, whether it is the practicality of the moment, and forgive me if I address this for a minute, because for many there is not a recognition that a just energy transition and a 2050 net zero still accommodates elements of fossil fuel: 20% of the energy mix globally. Natural gas, the clean bridge fuel, the hydrogen, but it does mean walking away from coal and it does mean walking away from oil. But there are opportunities for natural gas and there are opportunities for hydrogen, and perhaps the opportunities for natural gas may even be a little too much for a little too long, only because of the intransigence and reluctance of others to move with the rapidity of speed that is needed. But the reality, equally, is that we cannot turn off the lights on our people tomorrow purely on the basis that we are doing the right thing, because people must live and people must eat.
It therefore means that that contextualisation also needs to be there before people say, “Ah! No, no gas at all either.” We don’t have that luxury in today’s world any more and we lost the right to claim that luxury by governments that failed to move in the last two decades.
So my friends, how do we redefine the spirit of Madiba? How do we redefine in my own country what we have come to call sharing the burden by sharing the bounty. That we must all come together to fight the cause and share the burden, but remember that when the bounty is to be shared, that it is all who must share in it. That the patrimony that is ours through the sea, through the wind, through the sun, has been left to us not for the few but for all.
How do we create the inter-generational responsibilities that allow us to know that it is not one generation, or one man, or one group of people, to run the race and to leave it as if that is the end of the race? I’m reminded by the words of the Talmud, which says we are not expected to complete the task, but neither are we at liberty to resign from it.
Ours is now the moment for the construction of a new global deal, and a new social compact as António Guterres said to you when he addressed you in the 18th lecture in 2020. But for it to be real, it requires the energy and the activism that Barack Obama spoke of in his lecture in the 16th. And for it to be real, it requires the example not just of Madiba but of the people of South Africa who rose after decades of oppression and who understood that they were fighting for their culture, for their land, for their people, and who understood that if they allowed themselves to be dominated by a new and foreign culture, that what would be left of them would be so little and that it might take centuries to recreate. Today, it is up to us to recognise simply that if we don’t move now, that what will be left of our planet will be inhabitable not for us; the majority of us will make it. Regrettably, some will go, but it is your children and your children's children who will now have to find, in many places, new places to live.
I hope and pray that we will take the example of Madiba and the people of South Africa in understanding what is required to win mighty battles that are necessary for good harmony with the planet and with people. And in spite of all of the odds showed to them and all of the odds showed now to us, we can do it simply if we try. The words of Black Stalin, a Trinidadian Calypsonian. But ironically, I want to leave you with another phrase, because something tells me that the spirit of the world has been awakened and that everything will be alright.