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Speech by Prince Hussain Aga Khan at AKU President’s Challenge for Climate Solutions 2022-12-02

Friday, 2022, December 2
Prince Hussain at the London Exhibion
Prince Hussain Aga Khan

Speech by Prince Hussain Aga Khan
At the Aga Khan University, Pakistan

December 2022

First and foremost, I want to applaud everyone who participated in the President’s challenge for climate solutions.

Climate change is a subject that we hear about constantly. It is on the front page of newspapers. It is the subject of films, television shows and books. It is discussed by world leaders at high-profile events and by millions of people on social media. Yet the volume of attention still exceeds the appetite for action.

You, however, responded with enthusiasm to President Shahabuddin’s call to action against global warming and environmental degradation. I know that your studies are not easy. I know how busy they keep you here at the Aga Khan University – but you decided that this was an issue you could not ignore.

That is laudable.

A sense of responsibility to others and a desire to contribute to the quest for solutions to grand challenges are key attributes of AKU, its students, graduates, faculty and staff. I am glad to see the spirit of service lives in a new generation
Across AKU’s geographies, this year has demonstrated the destructive impact of the climate crisis. Temperatures in the U.K. exceeded 40 degrees for the first time ever. East Africa is suffering its longest drought in 40 years. In Pakistan we have seen as much as 35 centimeters of rain fall in a single day unleashing floods without parallel.

The result has been immense human suffering – suffering that AKU has addressed with extraordinary courage and compassion.
Scientists tell us that all these phenomena were made vastly more likely by climate change. For me, climate change is a very personal issue, as I know it is for many of you and as it will ultimately be for every living being on the planet.

One of my great passions is the natural world. For as long as I can remember, I have loved animals in their habitats, especially the inhabitants of our oceans. I have swum with endangered turtles, played with amazing sea-lion pups, looked at a humpback whale in the eye and shared the water with large sharks.
I have tried to the best of my ability to share this sense of wonder that these creatures instill in me through the medium of photography. When I first started capturing images of the natural world, I had no idea I was documenting its destruction. But climate change has done unimaginable harm to our fauna and flora, as have habitat destruction, pollution, poaching, overfishing and other destructive human practices.
Sea turtles, whales and sharks along with polar bears, tigers, elephants and orangutans are endangered. The coral reefs that sustain vast numbers of marine species are dying.

Witnessing this devastation first-hand over the course of several decades has brought home to me the consequences of a warming world and of human thoughtlessness. My experience with the natural world has taught me many things, but if I had to single out the most important, it might be this; nature – its abundance, diversity and health – is fragile. If we do not protect it from our depredations, we will destroy it. And that would constitute both an immense injustice to the species at hand and an incalculable loss to humanity.
In the face of the damage that climate change has already done to nature, the suffering that it is inflicting on human beings, and the warnings of scientists that the worst is yet to come, it would be easy to despair. Easy because despair makes no demands on us. It assures us there is nothing to be done.

However the reality is that there is much that we can do to limit climate change and there is no time to waste. We have to commit, as you have done, to wasting nothing. We can eat less meat. Studies have shown that raising animals for food produces far more carbon emissions than does growing plants. Lentils, beans and peas are rich sources of plant-based protein. We can reduce our consumption of fossil fuels by avoiding unnecessary travel. When we have the option, we can prefer more fuel-efficient vehicles to less efficient ones. We can shift to sustainable sources of energy, as the Aga Khan University has done by installing more than a thousand solar panels. They will reduce AKU’s emissions by 365 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, the same amount as driving from Karachi to Islamabad a 1000 times, or Nairobi to Dar es Salaam 1800 times – and this is just a pilot to be scaled up at least five-fold in the coming year.

We can keep a fundamental fact in mind as we go about our lives and make our choices. Namely, global warming is real and less warming is better. Recognition of that bedrock reality underlies the commitment of the Aga Khan Development Network, including AKU, to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

The actions we take as individuals can seem small relative to the scale of the problem, but large scale change typically becomes possible only when many individuals share common values that stem from common experiences.

By taking daily action, we help to build the social basis for more ambitious efforts to keep global temperatures in check.

Addressing global warming is a complex endeavor. It must involve consideration of technical issues, trade-offs and competing considerations. In other words, we need to take a systemic view. Above all, we must ensure that our efforts do not come at the expense of those who have contributed the least to the problem and those who can least afford to pay the bill: the poorest and most vulnerable.

Yet the first step is simple; to feel in your hearts that you must contribute to the effort to limit climate change. Each of you has experienced that feeling and you have begun to act upon it.

I thank you and I would urge you - please don't stop.

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