Climate change is happening, it’s worse than expected and we need to act quickly and rigorously if we want to avert disaster. That was the clear message of this week’s panel discussion on the links of climate change and development, organised by CAFOD (Catholic Aid for Overseas Development) and involving contributions by Prof Sir David King (British Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change), Chris Bain (Director of CAFOD) and Ruth Davies (Political Director of Greenpeace UK).
The panel seemed determined to set the scene from the very beginning, leaving no room for further doubt. Sir David made clear that the recent scientific report published by the International Panel on Climate Change estimates with 95% certainty that human-made climate change is indeed happening. According to the report, he pointed out, we have experienced an exponential growth in carbon burning and, if continued like this, the ‘carbon budget’ – the amount of carbon that can still be burnt before the increase in temperature is reaching a beyond critical point – will be used up by 2023. That is in fewer than 10 years. An agreement is hoped to be reached in Paris at the end of next year, but given this short amount of time left to initiate drastic changes internationally, what good will an agreement do that is only coming into effect years later?
The British government certainly seems to think that “an appropriate agreement”, in itself dynamic, renewable and adjustable to changes in emissions, can provide the solution. But this depends to a great extent on the commitment of a few key players, such as the United States, China, Brazil and the group of least developed countries. Against this background, the preparations for the meeting in 2015 become much more important. It is now crucial for the EU to show a united stance over the next two years to bring more weight to the negotiation table in Paris and be able to push for more drastic changes.
But what are the main practical challenges we face today? David Bain stressed that we primarily need to focus our efforts on the mitigation of the effects of climate change. This involves helping affected communities adapt to changes in the environment and, through increase advocacy, highlight the deeper socio-economic dynamics at play. But, as Ruth Davies warned, the greatest immediate challenge might lie in the lack of understanding of what climate change can mean for the domestic economy.
So the message was clear: climate change has become a global problem whose disrupting impacts can no longer only be felt in distant communities. The recent weather extremes Britain experienced give a good indication of what might still to come. Teresa Lappe-Osthege, MA student, Department of War Studies.