Picture: SUPPLIED
Picture: SUPPLIED

I read a statistic the other day that I have not been able to get out of my mind.

I learnt, with a combination of shame and fury, that the average Brit emits more carbon in two weeks than the citizens of seven African nations emit in an entire year, and that someone in the UK will take just five days to emit the same carbon as someone in Rwanda does in an entire year.

Oxfam revealed these outrageous facts in January, as it called on the UK government to “lead the way in addressing the staggering injustice at the heart of the climate emergency” as it takes up the presidency of the 2020 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), to be held in Glasgow from November 9 to 19.

The truly infuriating aspect of all this is that though African countries emit the least carbon, they are the most affected by the consequences of climate change. As I write this, a plague of locusts of biblical proportions is wiping out crops in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Billions of the critters have spawned as a result of climate change, and the prospect of a devastating famine in East Africa is very real.

In 2018 Cape Town nearly ran out of water, while climate change has increased displacement and migration in Sub-Saharan Africa for several million people.

It is injudicious that those who emit the most carbon remain, for the most part, immune to climate change’s consequences, and this while the majority of those in the rich world claim to be worried about climate change.

Offsetting emissions and carbon taxation is clearly not enough — it favours rich countries and allows them to displace and outsource the problem

Fittingly, Oxfam’s findings have coincided with that time of year in which the top 1% of the world lecture the bottom 99% from the elite bubble of Davos to consume less, fly less, recycle more.

Never mind that climate change and the extreme weather events that have been becoming more frequent as a result, a  contingent of attendees, including Prince Charles, still felt no shame to make the journey to Davos by high-emission private aircraft and lecture everyone else about climate risks. This is despite the example set by Swedish youth climate activist Greta Thunberg that there are more eco-friendly ways to travel across the world.

Notwithstanding the patent hypocrisy of it all, and that we have known about greenhouse gases and their effects on our environment for more than four decades now, there is at least some hope in the fact that our political and business leaders are finally beginning to move climate change mitigation up the global policy agenda as the threats to real estate and the bottom line become evident.

It sticks in the craw that commercial imperatives are spurring action, when almost 1-billion wild animals perished in Australia’s bushfires last year, and this after temperatures Down Under had already hit 50°C in 2018.

How is it that rich countries are not penalised more stringently for their inaction and emissions, say through credit ratings? It seems the metrics of justice in the global economy are completely skewed. Offsetting emissions and carbon taxation is not enough — it favours rich countries and allows them to displace and outsource the problem.

Ratings agencies could better incorporate both the risk of exposure to extreme weather events for sovereigns as well as their levels of emissions. Countries must immediately change their mindset from an adaptation to mitigation mindset in relation to climate change.

Perhaps the UK, in reconfiguring its role in the international political economy post-Brexit can begin by showing global leadership in climate change, by appointing a chair with teeth to COP26 and stopping signing deals with African countries promoting fossil fuels, as it did at the recent UK-Africa summit. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s boycott of Davos this year is a step in the right direction.

• Dr Masie, a former senior editor at the Financial Mail, is chief strategist at IC Publications in London, and a fellow of the Wits School of Governance