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Angélique Kidjo: Climate Action, One Bite at a Time

by Oxfam | December 2, 2011


by Angélique Kidjo

The following blog originally appeared at

There is an old African riddle I am very fond of: “How do you eat an elephant?” To which the answer is “A bite at a time.” It should be on every ones lips at the climate change talks in Durban.

It can seem that climate change is so big, so complex, so all encompassing that, like our culinary elephant, it is too big to handle and there is nothing we can do to make a difference. Not true. It just needs to be taken a bite at a time.

So for all those politicians and officials who are telling us a fully comprehensive deal on climate change is unrealistic – at least in the next few years – here is my advice that will hopefully not have them leaving South Africa with chronic indigestion.

First of all let us agree on starters. Climate change is real and dithering over a deal is not an option. It is already devastating the lives and livelihoods of many of the world’s poorest people as increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather hits harvests and contributes to rising food prices.  As temperatures rise, crop yields will fall, possibly to half of their current levels in some African countries within our lifetimes or that of our children.

This is not only an issue of our common humanity it is also an issue of justice. People on the frontline of climate change – from villagers living on the flood plains of Bangladesh to farmers eking out a living from the dry and dusty soil in Zimbabwe – are the ones who are least able to cope and are also the least responsible.

For the main course in Durban what the politicians need to agree is action on the emissions gap. For the sake of us all we must keep global temperature rise at 1.5oC and that means urgently dramatically reducing the amount of carbon and other emissions we pump up into the atmosphere. Rich, developed countries must show leadership on being ambitious with their emission cuts so that others also agree to strengthen and commit to their pledges before it is too late.

Once the plates are cleared away the just deserts would be agreement on the legal form of a new deal which preserves and builds on the Kyoto Protocol. At stake are people’s lives – we must enshrine our commitments to tackle this crisis in the strongest possible legal form, not roll back on our existing international commitments. We must strive for a comprehensive, fair, ambitious, legally binding deal as soon as possible.

Finally there is always the bill to pay and there will be the inevitable arguments over how to split it. For this there are a range of new innovative options such as a small tax on financial transactions and a fair carbon charge on shipping and aviation emissions, which would help to deliver the new money needed to fill the Green Climate Fund, and ensure it is not left as an empty shell. This was established at the last climate talks in Cancun to channel funds to poor countries to help them adapt to the changing climate and develop in a low carbon way. Governments have said that they are committed to mobilising $100bn a year by 2020. At Durban they need to agree who is paying what and when.

So delegates to the conference I wish you well. And for the sake of us all I hope you leave this fine land of ours satiated but not with an upset stomach.


Born in Benin in West Africa, Angélique Kidjo is a Grammy award-winning music recording artist and an Oxfam Global Ambassador.