The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation has announced that Greta Thunberg has withdrawn from speaking at the 10th Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture to be held on Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 89th birthday on October 7.
Thunberg will be replaced by an internationally recognised leader on climate change, Christiana Figueres.
Figueres was Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2010 to 2016.
During this time she brought together national and sub-national governments, corporations and activists, financial institutions and NGOs to jointly deliver the historic Paris Agreement on climate change.
In the accord 195 sovereign nations agreed on a collaborative path forward to limit future global warming to well below 2°C, and strive for 1.5°C, in order to protect the most vulnerable. For this achievement, Figueres has been credited with forging a new brand of collaborative diplomacy and received multiple awards.
Since then Figueres has continued to accelerate the global response to climate change. Today she is the co-founder of Global Optimism, co-host of the podcast Outrage & Optimism and is the co-author of the recently published book, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis.
Figueres sits on multiple executive and advisory boards and is a frequent public speaker and media commentator. She is a graduate of Swarthmore College and the London School of Economics. She lives in Costa Rica and has two daughters.
Figueres will join two young African climate activists, Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate (23) and South Africa’s Ayakha Melithafa (17). They will address the subject: Climate Justice Globally, Now and for the Future, with an emphasis on intergenerational dialogue and cooperation.
“Our world faces a double crisis,” said Piyushi Kotecha, CEO of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.
“Humankind and the global economy have been ravaged by the effects of Covid-19, as we simultaneously witness wild blazes destroying vast areas of California and other climate ravages in all corners of the globe, threatening to destroy millions of livelihoods.
“There is a terrifying imbalance: While the human population has approximately doubled since 1970, global populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles plunged by 68% between 1970 and 2016, according to the WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020.
“Writing for The Guardian six years ago in support of fossil fuel divestment, Archbishop Tutu lamented: ‘Our desire to consume any and everything of perceivable value – to extract every precious stone, every ounce of metal, every drop of oil, every tuna in the ocean, every rhinoceros in the bush – knows no bounds. We live in a world dominated by greed. We have allowed the interests of capital to outweigh the interests of human beings and our Earth.’
“We are running out of time to pull things back.
“The Foundation could think of no one better than these three outstanding women to address us this year.”
In delivering the address Figueres, Nakate and Melithafa follow global leaders such as former South African public protector Thuli Madonsela, human and children’s rights activist Graça Machel, former Irish president and United Nations (UN) human rights commissioner Mary Robinson and the late Kofi Annan, a former United Nations secretary-general who won the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the UN.
The lecture always coincides with Desmond Tutu’s birthday (7 October), and this year international leaders such as former US Vice President and climate activist Al Gore, African human and environmental rights activist Kumi Naidoo, who was until 2019 secretary-general of Amnesty International, Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Mary Robinson, Zimbabwean businessman-philanthropist Strive Masiyiwa, environmental and human rights activist Mor Gilboa and Moulana Abdul Khaliq-Allie of the Muslim Judicial Council will be sending birthday wishes.
The 2020 lecture will be delivered via a specially-designed online platform that allows for simultaneous commentary, and the Foundation has put together an impressive lineup of commentators:
● Alia Kajee is technical adviser to the Climate Support Programme at Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. This young woman is on the Mail & Guardian’s 2020 list of 200 Young South Africans. The list, in its 12th year, recognises young excellence
● Also on the Mail & Guardian’s list for 2020 is Akhona Xotyeni, a student at Stellenbosch University and an activist from Bhisho in the Eastern Cape. Xotyeni is also a member of the Global Peace Chain, an organisation reinforcing youth leadership and development through encouraging diversity, co-existence and compassion
● Another commentator, Rajiv Joshi, was this year awarded the New York Intellectual Property Law Association’s Inventor of the Year award in recognition of his pioneering work in advancing the electronic industry and improving artificial intelligence capabilities. Joshi founded venture capital group Bridging Ventures in 2019
● Reverend Rachel Mash, the Anglican Church of South Africa’s environmental coordinator who founded the Green Anglicans Movement, will also be offering her views on what the three young women say. Mash’s organisation has spread from South Africa to eSwatini, Lesotho, Angola, Mozambique and Namibia. Tutu is Archbishop Emeritus of the Anglican Church in South Africa
● Mash and her peers will be joined by Miss Earth South Africa Margot Adonis, a scientific technician at the Western Cape’s department of water and sanitation. Adonis is a volunteer lead advocate for UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation) at the youth-based NGO World Merit South Africa
● The final commentator is American Greg Swift, who recently retired from decades of energy work at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, US. The main focus of Swift’s scientific research has been the invention and development of novel energy-conversion technologies.