Jacqueline from Burundi in East Africa is an example of the kind of person who inspires me on a daily basis. A sunflower farmer, her livelihood is affected by unpredictable rainfall and erratic weather. But with support from our partners on the ground she is facing up to the effects of a changing climate by diversifying her crops, and the enhanced income has enabled her to build her own home, complete with solar panel.
Christian Aid focuses not only on dealing with the symptoms of poverty, but on identifying and addressing its root causes. In our work with people across 40 countries in Africa, Asia and South America, we have observed that one of the obvious underlying factors hindering people’s routes out of poverty is climate change.
Millions of people like Jacqueline are finding that their efforts to secure a thriving future are jeopardised by changes to weather patterns such as increasing drought, less predictable rainy seasons or the growing severity of floods, hurricanes, or landslides. Climate change is a very real and immediate challenge to people like Jacqueline and countries like Burundi, because they are more exposed than most to its effects, and have few resources with which to cope with its impact. Yet its root causes lie almost entirely elsewhere, including here in Scotland where, despite progress, greenhouse gas emissions remain unsustainably high.
Jacqueline’s predicament exemplifies why Christian Aid works with decision-makers in Scotland and beyond to address climate change, and her story is highlighted in our new Scottish campaign. The campaign calls for Scotland to remain at the forefront of the change to a low-carbon future by setting targets in the new Scottish Climate Change Bill that reflect the urgent need to act.
The new bill presents an opportunity to refresh and improve Scotland’s first Climate Act, passed in 2009. Along with our partners in the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition we are calling for stronger targets that build on progress so far and reflect what is required from now on. For example, we believe Scotland can and should cut greenhouse gas emissions by 77 per cent (from the 1990 baseline) by 2030.
Such targets are ambitious, and some people think they can’t be met. But we’ve been here previously.
In 2009 Christian Aid campaigners joined forces with others across the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition and helped persuade MSPs to vote unanimously for a target of a 42 per cent cut in emissions (from 1990 levels) by 2020. At the time it was arguably the most challenging climate change target that any country had ever written into law. Many people said it was impossible. Yet by 2014 Scotland had exceeded the supposedly impossible target, a full six years ahead of schedule.
Climate change is not a binary phenomenon that we either stop or we do not. It is already having a significant impact on people such as Jacqueline, but there is so much to be gained by limiting future climate change to less damaging levels, as set within the UN climate agreement. The targets that Stop Climate Chaos Scotland set out are not arbitrary or radical. They simply represent – as best we can estimate – what is required to keep Scotland’s share of climate change within those more manageable levels.
In addition to the need to protect the interests of people further afield, there’s much to benefit people here in Scotland by embracing ambitious targets and action. The policy certainty that flowed from Scotland’s last legislation allowed the private sector to plan and invest. Jobs in renewables have flourished since Scotland began to embrace the switch to sustainable energy, with 26,000 jobs already supported by the renewables sector. The nation’s health, wellbeing and air quality all benefit from more sustainable lifestyles too.
If I ever meet Jacqueline I’d like to look her in the eye and say that we in Scotland are making every effort to stop contributing to the changes in climate that are having such an impact on countries and communities such as hers. If you share our desire for Scotland to do its fair share, let the Scottish Government know you back our campaign.
Chris Hegarty is Senior Policy & Advocacy Adviser at Christian Aid Scotland. www.caid.org.uk/scotland-climate-act