Climate change is a global responsibility

IT’S IN everybody’s interest to rise to challenge, says Chris Hegarty

Rising temperatures due to climate change are a global concern. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Rising temperatures due to climate change are a global concern. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Rising temperatures due to climate change are a global concern. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

‘Climate change? I think you need to appeal to people’s self-interest”. So advised my partner, a PR professional and someone who exists outside the bubble of awareness that I – working for Christian Aid and on the board of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland – inhabit.

I found it a depressing message, but she has a point. Major changes to policy or behaviour are often only embraced when there’s widespread acceptance of their necessity or appeal.

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In working for a charity that tackles global poverty, I’m inspired on a daily basis by the compassion shown by people in Scotland for those beyond our shores. Self-interest is not something I encounter much. But if pushed to come up with arguments that might appeal to the self-interested, plenty of possibilities come to mind.

Perhaps the most obvious example is the EU’s so-called “migrant crisis”. I suspect in 20 or 30 years’ time we will see this as having been just the beginning. If we view our planet as one big, shared sphere of land and water, rather than something divided into political units, it makes perfect sense for people to move from areas becoming less hospitable into those that remain relatively well-suited to sustaining life.

From my organisation’s experience on the ground, spanning some 40 countries across Africa, Latin America and Asia, it is clear to me that changes to our climate are already making large parts of the planet substantially less hospitable. The precise changes cited by the communities with which we work vary, but include an increase in droughts, the growing unpredictability of rainy seasons, and the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather. The overall outcome, however, tends to be the same: increasing vulnerability of poor communities.

The experience of Maggie Mweka, 48, a villager supported by one of Christian Aid’s partner organisations in Malawi, is all too typical: “In the village we say that the earth is broken and crying. The heavy rains, which can come at any time, can wash the soil and seeds away much more easily than before. We never know when we need to plant our fields.”

Whatever the rationale for taking action, the remainder of 2015 presents a crucial opportunity to do so. In Paris this December the UN will again seek to approve a global agreement to limit the greenhouse gases that cause climate change and agree an equitable way of sharing the costs of dealing with its impacts.

Of course UN summits don’t always deliver. In particular the inadequacies of the 2009 UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen make it harder to persuade people to give this one more heave. But substantial gains have been made since then – such as sharp falls in the cost of renewables. When coupled with stronger political will from some of the major players and increasing business support for policy certainty, Paris has the potential to be a crucial staging post towards a low-carbon future.

In this global context, it may seem ambitious to highlight Scotland’s potential contribution to these high-stakes talks. Clearly, decisions taken in Edinburgh, Elgin or East Kilbride will not make or break a global deal, but nor should we undersell the role Scotland can play.

Scotland’s Climate Change Act, agreed unanimously by MSPs in 2009, remains arguably the world’s most ambitious climate legislation. Despite disappointment in the form of missed interim targets, there’s a real chance Scotland could achieve the first landmark target of 42 per cent reductions (from 1990 levels) in greenhouse gases by 2020.

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The Scottish Government’s commitment to the concept of climate justice is unusual and important. Scottish employers’ ability to testify to the economic benefits of early, decisive action on climate change is central to persuading other countries to follow suit.

According to the science, Scotland’s level of ambition is the bare minimum that other countries will have to match, and the importance of those who take a lead, and are seen to succeed, is clear.

The Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition looks forward to working with the Scottish Government in sharing Scotland’s ambition in France, and hope that the First Minister will attend in person.

It is in Scotland’s interests, and everyone else’s, to seek progress in Paris.

• Chris Hegarty of Christian Aid is chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland’s International Group,