The most important issues can often get lost in politics. That’s why people across Scotland are joining Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) to urge the Scottish Government to make helping the world’s poor and caring for our environment a priority when it’s voted in in May.
Scotland has a proud history of standing up against injustice in solidarity with people in need overseas. Although many low-income countries have seen periods of economic growth in recent years, nearly a billion people still face hunger and extreme poverty every day.
At the same time, our global economic system, which promotes excessive consumerism, is placing great strain on our planet which harms people in poorer countries most. Too often, the way we live our lives and run our national affairs is based on self-centredness. In rich countries like Scotland, our relentless desire to buy and consume means we’re using more than our fair share of the world’s resources, and it’s more than our planet can sustain.
However, poverty and hunger are not inevitable. We have created the global economic system and society we live in, and we have the power to change it.
Pope Francis urges everyone in the world to pull together to end the injustice of global poverty, and care for our common home. To do this we must place greater priority on promoting the common good and human dignity, over the narrow focus on income, profit and economic growth.
Business has an important role to play. Jobs, taxes products and services provide real benefits to people living in poverty. However, where proper safeguards are not in place, businesses often harm communities, workers and the environment.
Companies – particularly those that wield enormous power – must be required to look closely at their activities and prevent any harm they might cause. Given their impact on consumers, workers and producers around the world, businesses must be open about their activities and held to account whenever harm is caused. The Scottish National Action Plan on Human Rights includes the recognition that Scotland’s obligation to protect human rights does not stop at our borders.
That’s why the next Scottish Government must make sure that Scottish companies meet the highest international standards. The government should also raise business and human rights issues in its meetings with other governments and demand that companies that receive government support meet the highest ethical and human rights standards.
We also need an investment culture which takes a longer-term perspective in order to tackle the challenges of climate change.
At the same time, it’s increasingly recognised that richer countries must move “beyond aid”. The next Scottish Government must ensure that all its policies take into account their effects on our global neighbours so that we’re not giving aid with one hand and taking with the other. Government choices on issues as varied as procurement, transport and trade, for instance, can have a significant impact on people living overseas. At the very least, our policies in Scotland, must not harm those living beyond our borders. .
I’ve seen for myself how the Scottish Government’s Climate Justice Fund is helping desperately poor families in Malawi who are being hit by the effects of climate change. That’s why SCIAF welcomed the Scottish Government’s recent increase of Climate Justice Fund by £3 million per year. Unpredictable and extreme weather caused by climate change will affect us all but it’s the world’s poorest people who have contributed least to causing the problem who are suffering the most. That’s why it’s so important that Scotland, and other rich, industrialised nations, take responsibility for their historic contribution to the climate problem and help poorer nations adapt to the devastating impacts of climate change.
Of course, climate justice also means that we must address the causes of the problem and act quickly to reduce carbon emissions drastically and meet our climate change targets. Scotland’s climate legislation and Climate Justice Fund are examples of the kind of ambition needed globally. We must make sure we meet the targets we’ve set ourselves and work internationally to make the case for climate justice with other nations.
If we are to deal with the huge issues of climate change and global poverty it’s also vital that we change our own lives, and not simply leave everything to the government. Whether it’s wasting less food, using less energy, or consuming less, everything we do will have negative or positive effects. It’s for us to chose. It’s only by each of us working together as one human family that we can hope to build a just world, where the needs of the many are served, and rightly placed before the wants of a powerful few.
• Alistair Dutton is director of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF). To find out more, visit www.sciaf.org.uk/campaigns.