With the deluge of negative political stories which fill our newspapers and television news bulletins daily, it is easy to forget that our politicians, at both Scottish and UK levels, can sometimes get things right.
As we approach the fifth anniversary of Scotland’s Climate Change Act on 24 June, it is worth reflecting on how positive change really is in our hands and those of our political representatives.
Back in 2009 many thousands of people came together to ask the Scottish Parliament to take action on what is widely recognised as one of the major global problems of our time. People from all walks of life demanded action because they cared about an issue which affects us all. The result was a piece of legislation that recognised Scotland’s share of historic responsibility for bringing about climate change, and committed the country to taking the action needed to deal with it.
As a Scottish international aid and development charity Sciaf cares deeply about climate change because we are working with people in Africa, Asia and Latin America who are already feeling its effects. People such as Vernia Saint Peaux who lives with her family in Mombin Crochu in the mountains of north east Haiti. In a country where most people are already struggling to survive on less than a dollar a day, climate change is making life even more difficult.
Sciaf is working with Vernia’s community to help small-scale farmers adapt to the changing climate. By planting new trees on the steep hillsides and using bushy plants with deep roots – such as pineapple and sugarcane – to create living barriers, Vernia and her neighbours can protect their farms from landslides and soil erosion.
By selling crops at market, Vernia now earns enough to send her children to school and pay for their medical care.
For Vernia and Sciaf there are clear reasons why we feel the need to act for climate justice. As a Catholic charity we are inspired by the words of Pope Francis when he says: “Never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity! No-one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world!”
For many the issue is personal. We all love something that is threatened by climate change; our children and grandchildren, the food we like or the people and places we enjoy visiting. We are united by the things we love, and our desire to cherish and protect what we love means that we cannot stand by without action to address climate change.
We need to look at our own lifestyles and how we can reduce our impact on people living in poor countries by thinking carefully about how we travel to work and reduce the amount of energy we use. But more changes are needed at the political level too. That is why Sciaf is a member of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland – the country’s largest civil society coalition – and other campaigning networks including the European Catholic CIDSE group and global Caritas Internationalis.
Scotland may have the world’s most progressive climate legislation but more needs to be done if we are to deal with climate change, reduce global poverty and create a more just world for all. Currently, Scotland’s greenhouse gas emission reduction targets are not being met, despite decreases in emissions overall. Further action is needed to put in place the policies that will reduce our country’s emissions in the coming years.
Following the passage of the Scottish Procurement Reform Act which will direct how £9 billion of public spending is used, Scottish Government guidance is needed to help local authorities make ethical and environmentally responsible purchasing decisions.
Big business also has a key role in dealing with climate change and reducing poverty at home and in many developing nations. While business activities are often positive in generating jobs and tax for poor countries, more needs to be done to ensure that firms which behave badly are accountable and forced to operate in an ethical, social and environmentally responsible way. As consumers we can use our purchasing power to put pressure on businesses to make the right choices and call for governments to demand greater transparency from corporate giants who wield huge levels of political and financial power.
We all have a stake in the future. Many of our actions can help determine what that future will look like.
• Philippa Bonella is the head of communications and education for the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) www.sciaf.org.uk