Brundtland: Climate change fight must continue, despite ‘US going in another direction’

Former multi-term Norwegian Prime Minister and ex-Director of the World Health Organisation Gro Harlem Brundtland hopes that Donald Trump's presidency will not be as disastrous for climate change efforts as feared. [Arbeiderpartiet/ Flickr]

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland told EURACTIV’s partner El País – Planeta Futuro that public awareness and civil society action is equally important as political commitment in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and Agenda 2030.

Gro Harlem Brundtland is considered to be the ‘mother of sustainable development’, after introducing the concept into the global agenda. She maintains that economic growth is impossible without prioritising the environment.

Brundtland was the United Nations’ climate change envoy between 2007 and 2010, as well as Norway’s first female prime minister and youngest person to occupy the post. She was awarded the Charlemagne Prize in 1994 for her efforts in trying to get her country to join the EU.

Brundtland spoke to El País – Planeta Futuro’s Tiziana Trotta at the Foro de la Economía del Agua, which was held in Madrid last week.

The Paris Agreement is now officially in force but what’s the next step?

Now countries need to develop their plans, be ambitious and work on policies that will implement them and provide progress updates. Good governance is essential. However, some less developed countries will need help in order to push on. For example, there are many places in Africa where women give birth in the dark. I myself have worked on providing electricity to health centres in Tanzania. Sometimes, the only source of light available to midwives is the glow provided by their mobile phone screen. That is unacceptable. Electrification through solar panels and other sustainable sources is essential to women and children rights, as well as health and development.

The United Nations is a big player in the negotiations. Its relevance is at stake today and is more important than ever. Paris’ successor, the Marrakesh summit, has just been held and further progress and follow up on the relevant issues has been made.

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Are the more developed countries willing to absorb the costs of adapting Africa to climate change?

The commitments made so far are not enough. Sometimes, they are not even respected. The rich countries will have to provide more economic aid than they have promised so far. It’s a huge challenge, which has to be accompanied by greater transparency, negotiations and debates based on knowledge provided by each country on how best to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The less developed countries played an important role in COP22, in a more effective way than what has been seen in past years, since they have done more training, better understand the problem and have greater international support.

Does Donald Trump’s recent election to the White House pose a threat to the Paris Agreement?

It isn’t good that a president-elect said during his campaign said that climate change is a Chinese story cooked up as part of a strategy to better compete with the US. It was very alarming that he claimed climate change is not linked to human activity and threatened to withdraw the US from the deal. I think something is changing in this regard though, judging by his recent statements. We have to hope that as time progresses and there is more awareness, that the consequences will not be as dramatic as feared. The rest of the world cannot stand still just because the US is going in other direction and it has enough sense to realise that.

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The Brundtland report, submitted 30 years ago, introduced the concept of sustainable development into the global agenda. How have things changed since then?

Many things have happened since then: climate negotiations, the signing of the Kyoto Protocol and the gradual realisation that developing countries also had to be involved in the solution to the problem. The approval of the SDGs in 2015 and the Paris Agreement show that there is a commitment now to acknowledging the problem and working together to solve it.

What are your thoughts on the implementation of the Agenda 2030 so far?

It’s still early days and we are still far from achieving the 17 SDGs. Political commitments to respecting the goals is crucial, but public awareness is equally important.

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Do you have to find new narratives so that civil society understands that fighting climate change is not the sole domain of governments and ministers?

It’s a broader issue than that and it applies to other areas. Awareness and commitment is essential in the long run. If democracies do not find a consensus on the critical issues, then we have a problem. Even though Hillary Clinton won more than 2 million more votes than her opponent in the election, about half the voters still went for Trump, even though he denies climate change. It is legitimate to ask whether voters that heard him say that understand it is a real problem. What actually happened? Were they worried about their jobs and didn’t think about the climate? Until recently, a high percentage of Americans denied the existence of climate change, but things are changing. Education, advocacy, public awareness and means of communication play a central role in this debate.

How is climate change affecting migration?

It is another factor, together with poverty, lack of security and conflict, which is causing people to leave their homes. Climate migration is a problem on the rise but there are still no long-term strategies. The solution lies in curbing climate change. The problem is already an immense one and in order to prevent it getting any bigger, we have to start taking it seriously.

El País - Planeta Futuro

El País - Planeta Futuro

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