Climate change was caused by the developed world. Now we must face the grief of parents like Joshua and fix what we have broken – Frances Guy

Joshua sits, holding a spade. He has been digging through the rubble, searching for his children, swept away, along with his home, in a landslide.

The devastation caused by Cyclone Idai, seen in the Praia Nova neighbourhood of Beira, Mozambique, was widespread, also affecting Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Malawi. More than 1,300 people were killed (Picture: Guillem Sartorio/AFP via Getty Images)

The landslide happened in the aftermath of 2019’s Cyclone Idai, the second deadliest tropical cyclone on record in the Southern Hemisphere. It killed more than 1,300 people and affected two million more across Mozambique, Malawi and Joshua’s home, Zimbabwe.

Storm-surge floods of up to six metres caused widespread devastation, ravaging the land, wiping out harvests and destroying seed stocks. Mozambique, forced to take out expensive loans to respond to the destruction, had to redirect money from public services, including education and healthcare, to repay them.

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There is a direct link between the climate crisis and the severity of tropical storms, like Cyclone Idai. Dr Friederike Otto, of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute points out: “There are three factors with storms like this: rainfall, storm surge and wind. Rainfall levels are on the increase because of climate change, and storm surges are more severe because of sea level rises.”

Six weeks after Cyclone Idai, Cyclone Kenneth battered the northern coast of Mozambique. For the first time in recorded history, two strong tropical cyclones had hit Mozambique during the same season.

These are not freak weather occurrences that just happen, somewhere else. Storm Bella hit Scotland on Boxing Day and “danger to life” weather warnings were issued in the north of England. Storm Christophe destroyed homes and businesses, flooded roads and caused bridges to collapse across the UK in February. These are direct consequences of our actions and inactions.

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And the actions of some more than others. The average carbon-dioxide emissions of a Zimbabwean – of Joshua, dredging through debris for his lost children – are almost eight times less than yours and mine; a Mozambican, 20 times less, and a citizen of Malawi, 70 times less.

Timber company workers stand stranded on a damaged road in Chimanimani, eastern Zimbabwe, after the area was hit by the Cyclone Idai in 2019 (Picture: Zinyange Auntony/AFP via Getty Images)

This disparity is integral to why we must open the eyes of our leaders, our innovators, our businesses, our best and brightest and ourselves – because at its heart, the climate crisis is a matter of justice. Those who have done the least to cause the climate emergency are now the most affected by it.

So what can be done? As a global problem, the climate crisis appears so overwhelming as to feel unsolvable. And yet, in the midst of Covid-19, many social problems deemed too big, too hard and too expensive, suddenly were not.

The homeless were homed, financial support was made available for those who needed it, workplaces flexed to accommodate working parents. The impossible, possible. Urgency prompted an eruption of finance, innovation and action. The climate crisis requires even more – the emergency is here.

Joshua’s story features in a striking new digital exhibition, Facing the Crisis, alongside the stories of many other mothers and fathers, children and families impacted by the climate crisis.

But it also shows how communities in some of the most affected regions of the world are tackling the causes and minimising the impacts of climate change. The exhibition celebrates new and existing responses to the climate crisis from across the world. Using new technologies and approaches to agriculture, fishing and industry, people and communities are rising to the challenges of a changing world and building more resilient and sustainable communities.

Plastic recycling in Indonesia, sustainable coffee harvesting in Rwanda and improved water stewardship in tea farms in Malawi – these are global solutions.

And just as our inaction on the climate crisis impacts these communities, their innovation and ingenuity touch us also – as you drink your morning cup of tea or coffee over this newspaper, consider its origins and the people in ‘countries, far away’ behind it who are mitigating our failure to do more, quicker.

Graeme Maxton, climate economist and author, who will speak at the Facing the Crisis launch event on 7 October, said: “Covid-19 gives nations a unique opportunity to work together, to create a more sustainable future for all. It is the only way they will eradicate the virus and respond to climate change effectively.”

Cop26, itself delayed by Covid-19, is an opportunity to amplify the voices of people like Joshua and the communities they live in and to take responsibility for our role in the climate crisis.

It is also an opportunity to have the difficult conversations about the role we all have to play and the changes we must make to reduce our continually increasing carbon footprint.

Political leaders must think beyond their own borders, individuals must consider their lifestyle choices and the business community must apply the skills, ingenuity, innovation and funds that they have to this global challenge.

We must ensure different parts of society work together better, and in a systematic way, while also ensuring one area of work does not undermine that of another. Many businesses will have accessed and been grateful for the support that kept them afloat during the pandemic; they, more than most, should understand the necessity of stepping up in a crisis.

Globally we have had a brutal reminder of how connected we all are and must be – and how important it is to strengthen those connections should something cause them to weaken. We have seen how self-defeating splendid isolation is, and the deadly impact of turning a blind eye to events elsewhere that will ultimately, inevitably, end up on our own doorstep.

After two days, Joshua and his wife found the bodies of two of their children – they are still looking for the third. The world is small and every parent’s pain counts.

The climate emergency is here, our neighbours are suffering and we are responsible. We have an opportunity to fix what we broke – and in doing so, save ourselves too.

Frances Guy is chief executive of Scotland’s International Development Alliance

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