"Ambition on the climate struggle is still very low compared to what we need"

The president of the Liberal International and former moroccan Minister Delegate for the Climate considers cooperation as the key factor in a sustainable transition

The president of the Liberal International Hakima El Haité during a conference organized by Fundació 'La Caixa' at Palau Macaya | EP The president of the Liberal International Hakima El Haité during a conference organized by Fundació 'La Caixa' at Palau Macaya | EP

Cooperation is at the core of any viable ecological transition. An atomized, partial perspective is not enough to accomplish the necessary changes needed to reach the SDGs and the limitations stablished by the Paris Agreements in 2015. Challenges such as carbon neutrality, sustainable mobility or a technology transfer that can build green alternatives within the value chains specially in the Global South demand a hollistic point of view, with strategic goals that take into account that the road ahead in the decades to come is common, if uncertain. "We are all on the same ship", as pointed by Hakima El Haité.

PhD in enviromental sciences and enviromental engineering in the University of Meknes and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Saint-Éttiene, El Haité is amongst the prime authorities in sustainable transition and the fight against climate change in the MENA region. Aside from her service as Minister Delegate for the Climate in her country, Morocco, between 2013 and 2017, she was nominated Vice President of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21) and High Level Champion for the Climate in COP22 in Marrakech. Founder in 1994 of one of the first enviromental engineering firms of the southern Mediterranean, EauGlobe, she currently holds the presidency of the Liberal International. El Haité sits with VIA Empresa to discuss the road ahead in the sustainable transition, and the role of every political and economic actor in the enviromental challenges to come.

As president of the Liberal International, what are your general outlines for a sustainable transition?

When we were negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 – which was historical – no single country made any resistance or opposed adopting them. That means de SDGs are exactly what humanity need to live in dignity. This is an agenda of human rights, peace and security, an agenda for the right to a clean enviroment. The same year we had to adopt the Paris agreement, and that was the most difficult negotiation i have endured during my life as an enviromental expert. The reason is very simple: each nation was negotiating for their own interest. Nations had the same goal, to save the planet, but they didn't have the same challenges within their countries.

We reunited more than 185 countries with different levels of economic develpment, different treatment of nature and natural resources, different history, culture. We cannot reach the SDGs if we don't implement the Paris Agreements. The agenda of the climate and the SDGs are the same agenda, they are two faces of the same coin. We need to change to be able to win this battle.

How can a global agreement be developed and implemented in such a wide range of countries and regions with such different conditions?

I think the Agreements answer this question. Before the Paris Agreements we were talking about common and diferentiated responsability, we were confronting poullters and non polluters, north and south, but after them we created a new dynamic. We don't confront north and south anymore, we are in a dynamic of cooperation. Second, the Agreements brought in the INDCs, and every country, whether it's a big or small emitter, needs to contribute to face the challenge of climate change. This is a ship, and we are there together. The Paris Agreement destroyed the borders between countries and nations. This is why this deal was historical, because we have switched from confrontation to cooperation.

Still we haven't shown the right political will to fight against climate change. The INDCs are not strong enough to allow us to reach neutrality by 2050. We cannot continue to lobby, and struggle, and call for a green economy and a global transformation and at the same time finance and subsidize the fossil fuel and coal industries. We need to think about an international framework that can lead us to neutrality. Each country has its own specificities, sources of energy, technical capabilites, and I think that together, between the most and least developed countries – which are the most vulnerable – we can build the bridges to encourage de transfer of capacities, technologies; in a win-win cooperation.

"Through the Paris Agreements we can build the bridges to encourage de transfer of capacities, technologies, in a win-win cooperation"

In the south, in the most vulnerable countries we have the chance to build, as humans, a neutral alternative. In Europe and the US all the infrastructure is already built, everything is done. The north's advancement is a handicap for it to change anything. But look at Africa. The biggest reservoir of renewable energy, a continent with massive wealth and resources; but a continent with 300 milion people without drinking water. Tomorrow we can build renewable energy in Africa. 75% of the infrastructure needed in the continent is not built yet. We can buid a sustainable continent, and offer the developed countries the opportunity to earn carbon credit from this process.

Is this technological transference being implemented?

I think we already have this kind of technological exchange between the south and the north. Many northern companies are operating everywhere in the south – in Africa but also in Latin America, and even in Asia. The question then is to what extent are those technologies green, to what extent they are game-changing – and also whether this cooperation is actually win-win, whether it's fair. In any conference or meeting, I'm hearing that the comercial exchanges and the cooperation are not fair for the south.

75% of the wealth of Africa is not transformed in Africa, it's done abroad. What are africans winning from that value chain? It's not easy, because we're speaking mostly about the private sector, and its aim is the business. But if nations and governments design the right policies and the right regulations, they will give a strong signal to the private sector for them to invest in green technology.

The local experties in the south is also very important. There's a lot of inelligentsia in the south, and involving them in building the future of the south is very importatn, to allow them to appropiate the technology and the know-how. It is a process, and every process takes time, but we need only to be in the right pathway.

But do we have that time?

Unfortunately no. We were not fast enough, after the Paris Agreements, to implement them. We waited for 2020, the year of the implementation, and then the pandemic came, which made things more difficult. Many nations now don't prioritise the adaptation and fight against climate change, their priority is their recovery plan, the economy and the health crisis.

"The right policy gives the right signal and impulses the right dynamic to go towards the common goal"

I think that's a mistake. I was against postponing the meeting in Glasgow last year (COP26), because I thought Covid-19 should not be an excuse for deprioritizing climate change. We had the opportunity to put climate change in the center of every recovery plan. To establish an international framework to build a new world. We still have this occasion (in 2021) and I hope Glasgow delivers, because the recovery from the pandemic is an opportunity to be better.

Who needs to develop these frameworks? Is it the public sector, or does it have to be a collective work with the corporate world?

We are together in this fight. COP is a dual conference, where non-state actors play a major role. Climate Change is not a government agenda anymore, it's a citizenship agenda. Having said that, as in any other field, in the struggle against climate change we need leadership. We need leaders. Any revolution has a leader. We need champions in all sectors – for instance, in my country, Morocco, our king is a champion of renewable energy.

But at the end of the day, what's needed are policies. If Europe decides, as it has, that by 2030 there will be no fossile cars at all, you are going to implement a dynamic within bankers, innovators, investors. Bankers will not finance the sector anymore, innovators will focus on sustainable mobility... The right policy gives the right signal and impulses the right dynamic to go towards the objective. And the biggest economies – Europe, the USA, China – should be the ones telling us what to do.

How do you manage the apparent contradicion between the immediate profit of some sectors of the corporate world and the pathway towards sustainability?

The Paris agreements are about change. Everything has to change. The way we produce, manufacture, consume... Our daily choices need to change. And any change will create a kind of resistance, but also an effect. I can understand that it's not easy for every sector to agree with the global transformation we are asking them to do; and that's why we've been speaking about a long term strategy.

Any kind of plan should be accompanied by social measures, incentives... Things change, and we adapt ourselves to them. The jobs we knew 20 years ago are not the jobs of today, and the jobs of today are not the ones of tomorrow. Governments need to be prospective, they need to anticipate the production of tomorrow. They have at their hands the possibility to incentivize, to build new capacities and adapt them to the market. Regulators have many tools at their disposal, and they have to use them.

"If the south cannot fight climate change, the people in the north will suffer the consequences of that failure"

These changes are possible – they have a cost, but the governments have the tools to deal with that cost. Let me give you an example: in Morocco we lived with subsidies for fossile fuel for decades. But then we understood those were not in the interest of the state's budget nor were they sustainable. So we decided to cut the subsidies. It had a social cost, and our government thought about how to bay back these social costs to citizens.

The public sector seems to have a very big role in this transition.

The state has a very important role to play: to design the right policies, to send the right signals to allow the global transformation. But the private sector is the reservoir of investment and innovation. And it has shown it's more advanced than the state. The private sector has shown that it's ready, by invention, by capacities and investments. And what we need is an alliance between the private sector, th state, finances... IF we come together, I think we can do it.

But as of now, we are not investing in innovation, not incentivizing the private sector, we are not compensating their losses, and we don't have enough money internationally investied in the fight against climate change. The Paris Agreements promised 100bn dollars each year from 2020, and as of now we've not reached that amount. That money could be obtained by taxing carbon – not taxing you and I for driving our cars, but taxing the producer of the fossile fuels. With that , we should have enough money to cover for the transition. And also to invest in the south – because if the south cannot fight climate change, the people in the north will suffer the consequences of that failure.

What policies are at the core of institutional climate action?

Fiscal policies are the core, I would say. Any country can translate its vision through its INDCs, but those shouls not be designed from the top. They should be designed from the bottom up. We should review the way we are designing those INDCs, because then we will realize that political ambition is still very low compare to what is needed. If we think about local contribution, territories are responsible for 80% of the decisions around climate action. Territories are the reservoir of good practices, expertise, and financial capabilities. If we build the general INDCs as an aggregation of all the local INDCs in the country, we can increase the ambition within the national contributions.

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