Time to stop hitting the snooze button and wake up to climate change reality

Opinion: Action now will mean fewer natural disasters, less conflict over resources and less hunger and poverty

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon and Polish prime minister Donald Tusk at the Convention on Climate Change COP19 conference in Warsaw yesterday. Photograph: Reuters

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon and Polish prime minister Donald Tusk at the Convention on Climate Change COP19 conference in Warsaw yesterday. Photograph: Reuters


Last month UN scientists unveiled the first volume of a comprehensive report detailing the global impact of climate change. Volumes two and three will follow next year.

The Associated Press, analysing the recent report, said: “Many of the ills of the modern world – starvation, poverty, flooding, heat waves, droughts, war and disease – are likely to worsen as the world warms from man-made climate change.”

This is not some nightmare scenario created by Hollywood – it’s the real impact of the changes to our climate over recent decades. Our planet is creaking under the impact of pollution, while governments and companies continue to profit from it.

But despite repeated alarms being rung by scientists, industry and international institutions, many politicians, business leaders and individuals don’t seem to grasp the urgency of the climate crisis.

In fact we are all hitting the snooze button. But it’s past time that we woke up to the destruction we are causing to our shared planet and consider the future we are in danger of passing on to our children and grandchildren.

Irish people recognise that the abstract idea of climate change is now a reality in our own country. We’ve all seen families watching helplessly as burst river banks destroy their homes and farmers’ fields lie sodden, their crops destroyed.

Research shows that 46 per cent of the population is concerned about the impact of climate on food production and that governments are not doing enough to combat that. We know a hotter world means a hungrier one. The quantity and quality of the food we take for granted will diminish and demand for food will push up prices, in turn exacerbating poverty.

Many people in Ireland are already doing what they can to contribute towards a more positive future by mitigating their impact on the planet.

Turning down the thermostat and insulating homes, driving more energy-efficient cars and eating more local produce are just some of the positive steps already being taken.

Now it’s time for businesses and governments to step up to the mark.

Greater impact
People are willing to make changes to their lifestyle but they want that action matched by their political leaders and big business for greater impact. They want those in charge and those who pollute on industrial levels to do their fair share.

Irish and EU politicians have a chance this week to make real progress in changing direction towards the future we all want for ourselves and our children, one where the planet’s resources are protected. But they are showing little sense of urgency about what needs to be delivered at the UN climate talks in Warsaw, a major stepping stone along the path to a global climate deal in 2015.

Of great concern is the fact that the talks in Poland are being co-sponsored by the coal industry. Legislators cannot allow the fossil fuel industry’s stronghold over decision-makers to scupper this crucial international process.

Ireland and other countries have pledged to collectively raise $100 billion a year to help countries worst affected by changing weather through the UN Green Climate Fund and other means by 2020.

Our Government has pledged to introduce a Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill that will ensure the required reduction in domestic emissions and funding for countries already scarred by climate change. This could be done through the establishment of a climate justice fund as part of that Bill.

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan will be in Warsaw on our behalf this week to discuss how Ireland will work to reduce our high level of emissions and raise the money for the climate fund.

The talks present European governments with the opportunity to place concrete figures and targets on the table for the next two years, including initial pledges to the fund.

Ireland could easily fund its climate finance (€36 million in 2013) by ending subsidies to peat-burning, the form of electricity generation that’s most damaging to the climate. Those subsidies amount to over €80 million, while the EU’s fossil fuel subsidies amount to €66 billion a year. Apathy on climate change is not an option. But instead of focusing on an Armageddon-like vision of a future we are helpless to prevent, we need a new narrative on climate changes that focuses on opportunities offered by the green economy.

Natural disasters
Action on climate change will mean fewer natural disasters, less economic migration, fewer conflicts over resources and less hunger and poverty.

From an economic point of view, action on climate change also makes sense. There are innovations and breakthroughs there for the taking through developing independent energy sources and a marketplace for renewable power, which could place Ireland and our economy on a more secure footing. Developing the sustainable energy sources of the future and running our economy on greener, cleaner energy will grow jobs.

Let’s focus on what we can do, not on what we can’t do. Let’s have a conversation about a low carbon future, giving hope to people that it is possible. Let’s talk about how action now will benefit our children and create a future that people will want to live in; and vote for. The alarm is ringing. It is not too late to switch it off and take action. Minister Hogan, over to you.

Jim Clarken is chief executive officer of Oxfam Ireland

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