RECORD weather has been happening a lot recently. This winter was the wettest in the UK since national records began; the first decade of the 21st century was the warmest recorded; Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines was the strongest storm ever to make landfall. It is no coincidence that last year we breathed the highest levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for 800,000 years.
As wealthy countries wake up to the idea that our climate really is changing, it is worth remembering developing countries have been experiencing climate chaos for at least a decade. And while recent UK floods received massive media coverage, along with broad acceptance that climate change makes such events more likely – the voices of those suffering much more have largely gone unheard.
In 2006 Christian Aid started to notice that our partners from across Asia, Africa and Latin America were alerting us to the irregular weather that was hindering conventional development methods. Eight years on and the changing climate is dictating the future planning in many of our programmes.
Just as the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases its devastating report on the current and predicted impacts of climate change, Christian Aid has now launched its new report Taken By Storm. It highlights the human cost of climate change in seven countries across the globe, and how our partners are working with communities to adapt and prepare for the irregular and often life-changing weather.
Taken By Storm puts a human face to the latest findings of the IPCC – telling stories from some of the world’s poorest people who suffer most acutely from the menacing effects of climate change, but who have done the least to contribute to it.
It tells of the indigenous communities of the Andes, in Bolivia, who depend on glaciers for drinking water, sanitation, and to grow food – glaciers which are melting rapidly. Farmer Alivio Aruquipa tells us: “There are conflicts over water between the different communities, because we all need water, and there isn’t enough for everyone.”
But we are working towards ever more ingenious solutions in response to climate instability. Our partners are increasingly working with scientists for better weather prediction. In Malawi, some farmers are now being sent text messages giving them detailed weather forecasts so they know when the rains are on their way. And in the Philippines and Central America, meteorologists are working with communities to give early warning ahead of extreme weather events.
Back in 2006, Christian Aid as a lobbying force decided that it was time to get angry – and to ask our supporters to get angry – about the causes of climate change, demanding action from the people who pollute. Our first major report drew attention to the impacts of investments from the city of London, with estimates suggesting that emissions associated with the worldwide consumption of FTSE 100 company products amount to 12 to 15 per cent of the global total. We now partner with ShareAction’s Green Light campaign for pension funds to move from dirty, fossil-fuel investments to sustainable energy.
In 2014 we are still angry, because individuals and communities across the world are still paying the price for the actions of wealthier nations.
Scotland has much to offer this global debate. Its targets to tackle emissions are among the most ambitious anywhere in the world, and in recent days the UK Committee on Climate Change has recognised Scotland’s substantial progress on several fronts, most notably on renewable energy. But it also highlights several areas in which urgent changes must be made if we are to meet those long-term targets.
We see many benefits to people in Scotland of creating a low-carbon society, but it does require determination from both politicians and individuals to see it through. For Christian Aid, with our presence on the ground in 40 of the world’s most vulnerable countries, the inspiration to take those next steps is obvious. «
Dr Alison Doig is Christian Aid’s Senior Climate Change Adviser