Message from the Executive Director

Dr. Araya Asfaw
Dr. Araya Asfaw

Climate Change is a matter of Survival

After years of struggle and tireless negotiation, the world finally adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which could potentially free the world from poverty and hunger and achieve sustainable development through inclusive growth, social protection and environmental sustainability.  The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted unanimously by 193 Member States of the UN. Following this historic event, in September 2015, countries expressed their commitment to address the climate change challenge during COP 21 in Paris. The United States, under the leadership of President Obama, has been at the forefront in adopting the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris Agreement.
In 2016, however, the effort to combat climate change as agreed upon in Paris is facing serious challenges. With the new Administration of President-Elect Donald Trump, many fear that climate change might be side lined and on-going climate negotiations held back. Climate change is not a left-or-right or right-or-wrong issue, but a matter of survival.
Sixty years ago, many regarded the environmental movement to be a leftist one. But the 1969 fire of the extremely polluted Ohio River and the massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California the same year were clear indications that the issue is a matter of survival. The following year President Richard Nixon proposed the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Congress approved it. Before the year’s end, the US EPA was established. Since its establishment, the US EPA has managed to clean the rivers in the US and made them habitable again. The agency has also managed to phase out leaded gasoline, and it spearheaded the global movement to phase out ozone depleting chemicals. Despite resistance from Europe and developing countries, the US EPA singlehandedly managed to convince the US Government of the dangers of CFCs, and in 1983 President Ronald Reagan  ratified the Montreal Protocol and the Senate approved the protocol unanimously. Because of the determination shown by the US, 193 countries, for the first time in the history of the UN, ratified the Montreal Protocol. Today the ozone layer has recovered and the world is much safer from the dangers of UV radiation.

Today as well, without the leading role of the US, the Climate Action envisioned in the Paris Agreement will face serious challenges. Climate change is not a political issue, but an issue of survival. As President Obama expressed, we must act soon before it is too late. As Stephen Hawking wrote in the December 1 Issue of the Guardian, “This is the most dangerous time for our planet”.  Certainly it is. I am confident, however, that it is unlikely, if not impossible, to lessen the commitment to fight climate change, much less to reverse it.

Araya Asfaw, PhD
Executive Director
Horn of Africa–Regional Environment Centre & Network
Addis Ababa University