A Proactive Civil Society and Climate Change

global-warming.jpgWhat does our world wake up to? To the news of children being killed in Iraq, of the homeless in Sudan, rising inflation, new consumer products, cinema, scientific discoveries and what not. However, of late, we are waking up to another unfortunate reality – that of climate change. Climate change is a global concern that is going to affect us all negatively. And I realise that government leadership might seem to be the most important factor. Yet, given the fact that governmental goals are short-term, only a proactive civil society can help spread awareness and mobilize people towards public opinion, political participation and exerting pressure on representatives. We need to realise that a civil society includes not just Non Governmental Organisations and groups, but individuals as well – you and me; people from various sectors: business, media, finance, academics; the young and the old. Basically, anyone who believes in creating a society that can sustain itself and move towards a better future. Climate change is predominantly an urban phenomenon and a modern challenge. Though people living in rural areas bear the brunt of it, the challenge against it has to emanate from us. In response to this, cities are also making strides in mitigating GHG emissions from sectors that they have direct control or influence over. Hence, that is why some of the most influential sections amidst us can help build this proactive civil society, namely: the media, the business sector, NGOs and the youth. The media is undoubtedly an element that can single-handedly create a global platform to tackle climate change and related issues. Both the print media and the electronic media as well as the Internet, have had a significant impact on the way we think and act. So imagine what change can be brought about if the media was to provide information to the people, if TV channels and newspapers tell us of the ups and downs of the products that we consume. We all know that global mass media lives off certain buzz words and that they will be only too glad to create an atmosphere of fear, with an issue as dangerous such as this. However, let us also not deny the power possessed by the media. What we need is a responsible mass media that will handle the truth in an efficient manner.The media can help in educating people across regions if media consumers demand the truth, which can take place only in a proactive civil society. We are also witnessing a trend wherein the business sector is taking up this responsibility of addressing climate change. They are doing it , both in the face of risk and increased opportunities.The business sector is facing challenges to make greater advances in energy efficiency and the introduction of cleaner technologies. Recently introduced examples of cleaner products and services – e.g ‘Ecoimagination’ by General Motors, ‘Ecovison’ by Philips and eco products by Sony are proving that a responsible business can pay and this sector forms an important component of a pro active civil society. Their strategies can immensely affect our consumption patterns and cut down on non-renewable energy, provided it comes at a low cost and reaches out to more people. In this regard, over the past few years, many corporate citizenship initiatives have taken birth. Voluntary action can never be a substitute for government action. However they can accelerate the process of solution finding and inspire consumers, peers and policy makers to have the courage to face climate challenge as early as possible. Local politicians and citizens acknowledge that supplementary polices from the state is necessary to substantially expand the policy momentum. This is where civil society alliances can fill in the smaller gaps. International organisations such as Oxfam, Greenpeace, Christian Aid and others across the globe, are sensitising the public and providing alternative perspectives. NGOs are also playing an important part in forming public opinion and using techniques to reach out to more people. The benefits in public private partnerships are many. It combines a huge resource pool of financial capital, political influence, knowledge and expertise. It has been a relatively recent phenomenon but it has been applied to fight climate change and promote environmental sustainability. In India itself, from May 2005 onwards, the Renewable Energy and Energy efficiency partnership joined efforts with Econoler International of Canada (Econoler) to provide energy efficient street lighting systems to many cities. Similarly, free city bike programmes in Copenhagen are encouraging more and more civilians to use bicycles for their daily use. Last but not the least; the youth is a power in itself. They help in transforming public attitudes. The youth led coalitions in Britain and elsewhere, such as the Stop Climate Chaos are mobilising young people in large numbers, spreading awareness and using innovative ideas to take the message further. Efforts such as launching the Live Earth Concert, public rallies and demonstrations alongwith school, college and universities also coming together to do their bit. But most importantly, young people are educating themselves in school, colleges and universities, regarding this modern threat. This will definitely go a long way and gain strength with people from developing and developed countries in order to realise the importance of acting globally. The youth of today are aware of the need for sustainable development and we need to encourage them. Young people are also exerting considerable pressure on local governments and calling for a dialogue with members from other related fields. The fight against climate change is not just a concern for the developing world, but for the developed world, as well. We all know that a major portion of the carbon emissions are caused by the industrial developing world. This challenge is certainly global and unless we act together, we are going face dire consequences. This is not a blame game. Every country and its people need to be responsible and actively do their bit to tackle the problem. Because nature spares no one. Be it Indian or American, nature makes no such distinctions. Perhaps we can start by critically looking at our own urban lifestyles. (This is an edited version of the author’s speech that she presented at the TERI Youth Dialogue held in Delhi as part of a special event at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, February 2008. She won the first place in the elocution competition) Divya Kanan

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