Climate emergency: an opportunity for the youth to re-conceptualise local and global economies

By Alexander Stefes, Executive Director of The Club of Rome and Luvuyo Madasa, Executive Director at ReimagineSA

Under the stewardship of the co-presidents Dr. Mamphela Ramphele and Sandrine Dixson-Declève, the Club of Rome has found it important to have its first ever general assembly meeting on the continent of Africa as an expression of their commitment to learning from indigenous knowledge systems. This comes as we as a global community meet to learn how to solve the issues of climate emergency, economics, finance and the dawn of a new civilisation; expressing the importance of these gatherings becoming the Club of Home. It is important for all those engaging in the summits to express who they are, where they are and how they can come and join hands with the club, it’s members and its communities to solve the one unifying problem that is facing humanity.

The science cannot be disputed: our natural environment and the sustainability of human society are under grave threat from the impact of climate change. According to a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, global carbon emissions must be cut by half by 2030 and then to zero by 2050 to avoid the worst of the predicted outcomes.

The challenge is immense: we need to reduce global emissions by 7 percent a year to achieve this goal – yet no country has yet done better than 1.5 percent in a year. This climate emergency demands that we reorganise the ways in which human societies and economies operate. A paradigm of endless economic growth, fuelled by non-renewable natural resources, cannot be sustained.

Instead, we need to refocus on sustainability and human wellbeing as our measurements of economic success. The changes we need to make are radical and getting it right cannot be left only in the hands of the people who created and exacerbated the problem. It’s time for the younger generation and the geographical south to step up and talk about how they would like the world to work in the future.

This is why ReimagineSA is supporting The Club of Rome Youth Summit, which ran alongside the Club’s AGM in Cape Town from 5 – 7 November 2019. Some 50 young leaders from around the world gathered to discuss the most important challenges facing humanity – not just the climate emergency, but the related issues of the emerging new civilisation, reframing and reclaiming economics, and rethinking finance.

Stimulating intergenerational discussion

As the global student strikes for the climate demonstrate, young people around the world are eager to reshape economic, political and social systems to make them fairer and more sustainable. The goal of the Youth Summit was to stimulate intergenerational discussion about these critical issues and to give younger voices the opportunity to make themselves heard as they will be the implementers of the sustainable change required.

The Summit is a direct response to the direct calls for action from citizens around the world, and aims to formulate a plan that will meet suitably ambitious reduction targets and ensure climate stability. An important big idea for the Summit is that it’s time to look past the notion of too big to fail. We simply cannot coordinate our response only through governments and large, slow-moving multilateral bodies.

We also need to innovate at a community level – sharing international best practices and globalised thinking, but also working in small pockets of excellence to achieve local impact. Hence, many of the young leaders who gathered at the Summit bring to the table exciting ideas about creating more prosperous, yet more sustainable local communities.

Some of the things we are workshopped at the Summit are: How can we help communities to uplift themselves through social entrepreneurship that spreads wealth among the community and gives back to its people? How we create prosperity in communities without resorting to extractive practices that harm the environment over the longer term?

Leveraging technology

And how do we leverage technology to scale up these community-based solutions to achieve higher levels of national and global impact?

We’ve encouraged the youth delegates to come up with creative answers to these questions and to discuss them with funders and mentors at the Club of Rome. These are true partnerships, mutually empowering engagements – not relationships where social entrepreneurs or NGOs approach funders cap-in-hand.

We have the technological, political and economic solutions to address climate change, but the political will to use them has been lacking. What I hope to see from the Summit this week is plenty of insight from the people in Africa and other poor regions who are the most affected by socially and environmentally unsustainable business practices and by climate change.

We were particularly excited to see the discussions that emerged from some of the South African participants. One such was Khula, an app that helps small farmers deliver their products through a shared supply chain. Another is Makers Valley Collective, a group of makers and civic innovators working for urban renewal in neglected parts of Johannesburg.

We need to understand one thing for sure: climate change is real and will require urgent action. It will be up to all the generations to take this action.

In the words of Dr. Mamphela Ramphele: “Our futures, and those of our children’s children are too important for us to miss the current opportunity of turning our multiple crises into springboards for an ecologically sound and prosperous future.”

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