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20th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture by Prime Minister Mia Mottley
"It always seems impossible until it's done"

In Durban, H.E. Mia Mottley delivered the 20th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture. In her analytical, passionate and nuanced speech, the Prime Minister of Barbados, an island state acutely threatened by climate change, called for courageous leadership in dealing with the climate crisis and other serious global challenges.

Design: Invitation to 20th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture with H.E. Mia Amor Mottley

Invitation to 20th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture with H.E. Mia Amor Mottley


Mia Mottley came to South Africa straight from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) in Sharm el-Sheikh. At the 20th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Durban, the Prime Minister of Barbados, UN Champion of the Earth 2021, and UN Champion for Global Change 2022, spoke about the current poly-crisis, global justice and the upheavals, hardships and considerable risks associated with the climate and debt crisis, especially in the global South.

“What we’ve really come to talk about this afternoon is justice, fair play and solidarity, People who don’t normally have the power on their own, working together and making that difference, doing so in the context of calling upon us, to summon that will for moral strategic leadership in really what will become not just the battle of our lifetime, but the battle of planet Earth.”

Durban is also symbolic for the topics of the 20th Annual Lecture - earlier this year, landslides and floods killed over 400 people here, and the city had been chosen for the historic lecture as a demonstration of solidarity with the communities most affected by these catastrophic events on South Africa’s eastern seaboard in April 2022.

The internationally renowned Prime Minister Mia Mottley is considered a strong voice of the South when it comes to global justice issues and climate change. She called for a reform of the global financial system and underlined the responsibility of the G20 countries to support developing and emerging countries in combating climate change and in adapting to new environmental conditions. At the same time, she called on the countries of the Global South to improve their strategic abilities and agency in dealing with climate change and financial systems reforms.  

Courageous political leadership required

According to Mottley, the G20 countries bear 80 % of the responsibility for the climate crisis, due to their history of industrialization and unchecked growth. However, the Global South is particularly forced to cope with the catastrophic consequences. Here too, however, expectations of all too rapid change which would be unrealistic must be avoided.

Woman speaker:H.E. Mia Mottley, UN Champion for Global Change, gave an analytical, emphatic and encouraging speech, for a very receptive audience

Mia Mottley gave an analytical, emphatic and encouraging speech, for a very receptive audience


Above all, this requires courageous political leadership, Mia Mottley emphasized. She urged diverse representatives of different stakeholders to communicate with each other and to stay in touch, even across political divides - and to establish partnerships that until recently seemed unthinkable.

As in her speech at COP 27 in Egypt already, she held up a mirror to the West and the Global South.

“I don’t talk about climate change. Change happened a long time ago. Crisis is where we are, and crisis is what we have to fight, and today I want us to recognise that what is required of us is going to have to allow us to one, develop partnerships in places where we may have never dreamt of so doing before, and to be able to do things in new ways that we have never thought of doing, and that the actions required are not simply those of others but of us, because it is the collective action that has led the world to be where it is today.”

"People must live, and people must eat"

At the same time, it became clear how important economic growth and new jobs will continue to be in many parts of the world in the future, especially in developing and emerging countries. The industrialization and promotion of manufacturing urgently needed will inevitably also increase emissions in the Global South. The western community of states will clearly have to take this into account in the negotiations on decarbonization when dealing with the countries of Africa. The demand for a green energy mix alone will not be able to cover the pressing energy needs on the continent at this point, by far. Mottley put it this way: “But the reality, equally, is that we cannot turn off the lights on our people tomorrow purely on the basis that we are doing the right thing, because people must live and people must eat.” At the same time, it is at times seen as a sign of double standards by people in many developing and emerging countries that Europe is currently reactivating coal-fired power plants and importing fossil fuels from Africa, even if this is meant as a temporary strategy. It became clear that Mia Mottley – despite all the criticism of the “West” – ascribes a central role to the business sector and entrepreneurial activity in order to boost investment and growth and to fulfil the development potential of a sustainable, inclusive economy.

Do not wait for initiatives from others

She showed that it is no longer largely a question of preventing climate change, but mainly of how to react to the global climate crises and how to protect our populations in the best possible way. She spoke out in favour of innovative, modern partnerships on an equal footing and referred here, among other things, to the “Bridgetown Initiative” which she co-conceived: it is focussed on reforming the international financial system. The prime minister argues that more than 50 countries around the world are so heavily indebted that they are on the verge of default. The effects of the COVID pandemic and the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine have exacerbated the financial hardship and potential for conflict in many countries. These would only be able to raise sufficient funds, for example for infrastructure projects, to adapt to climate change if they were given easier and cheaper access to the international capital markets. In addition to state resources, a fund of this kind could also be financed from taxes from global companies, especially those that are currently making very good profits with fossil fuels. In addition, there is a need for emergency liquidity in the form of special drawing rights (SDRs): “Our countries cannot do it alone and I don’t say so with any rancid tone in my voice, I say so more as a plea now at this stage. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development of the 20th century, with the crises of the 20th century, cannot be the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development of the third decade of the 21st century when the crises are different.” Mia Mottley had been a strong proponent of the loss and damage compensation funding initiative aimed at supporting developing countries at risk and particularly affected by the climate crisis which was agreed at the UNO conference in principle since - a positive sign of rapprochement between the countries of the global North and South.

HSF Logo on stage: We have been working closely with the Nelson Mandela Foundation for many years, supporting the Nelson Mandela Annual Lectures as well. Previous speakers included former US President Barack Obama, UN General Secretary António Guterres and Bill Gates.

We have been working closely with the Nelson Mandela Foundation for many years, supporting the Nelson Mandela Annual Lectures as well. Previous speakers included former US President Barack Obama, UN General Secretary António Guterres and Bill Gates.


At the same time, she made clear that the provision of funds is just as important as building implementation capacities in developing and emerging countries. Mia Mottley's strong warnings were accompanied by concrete, practical calls for constructive action to all sectors and political camps. “Today, it is up to us to recognise simply that if we don’t move now, that what will be left of our planet will be inhabitable not for us; the majority of us will make it. Regrettably, some will go, but it is your children and your children’s children who will now have to find, in many places, new places to live.”

She appealed to citizens and civil society internationally, also in the Global South, to take initiative: “I ask us to ponder on these things, because too often in today’s world there is the determination that let us look to someone else and look at someone else for the solution, when in truth and in fact our capacity and capability of working together can make the difference between whether someone sleeps easy at night, whether someone eats during the day, whether someone has access to shelter.”

"It always seems impossible until it's done"

The charismatic Mia Mottley, whose speech was analytical and stirring, reflective and passionate at the same time, and encouraged honest self-reflection, also sees - despite all the dangers - reason for hope. She recalls other global challenges that humanity has mastered and gives historical reasons for her optimism as well - including the life's work of Nelson Mandela.

Mia Mottley's informative and inspiring Lecture was shown live to hundreds of thousands on several national TV stations. The speaker found a large, very receptive audience at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban - her speech was interrupted by applause repeatedly, and she received several standing ovations.

At the end of the event, Madiba's widow, internationally recognized expert Graca Machel, in her formal repsonse, praised Mia Mottley for her global leadership and her thought provoking, important Lecture, which must get the attention it deserves. Referring to the enormous challenges we need to face jointly, she quoted Nelson Mandela:

"It always seems impossible until it's done".



Watch a recording of the event on the Nelson Mandela Foundation bespoke online platform:

Video - 20th NelsonMandela Annual Lecture


Find the full text of Mia Mottley's speech here:

Transcript - 20th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture


Watch our Hanns Seidel Foundation video shown at the Annual Lecture here:

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The 20th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture was held on the 12th of November 2022 in Durban, South Africa, by H.E. Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados. As the Hanns Seidel Foundation, we were honoured to support this important event again this year. Watch our short introductory video we have created for the occasion of this historic lecture.



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