Much of the progress made in the last 50 years in alleviating global poverty is now at risk of being undone by the drastically changing climate, writes Dr Geraldine Hill
When the world’s most influential school climate striker sailed into New York recently to attend a UN summit on climate change, she didn’t just come on a wave of hope. Greta Thunberg also made literal waves by making the journey from the UK on a 60ft racing yacht to avoid the harmful emissions that would have been produced had she arrived by plane.
Unlike many of the adults around her, the Swedish teenager certainly practises what she preaches. She has been instrumental in establishing the school strike movement, and making the issue of climate change consistently front page news.
Thunberg began her protest outside the Swedish parliament in August 2018, choosing to miss lessons in the lead-up to her country’s general election in a bid to get politicians to take the issue of climate change seriously. Where she led, thousands of other young people from around the world have followed, including here in Scotland, where school strikes have taken place across the country.
Our young people have found their voices when it comes to climate change. They are telling us they cannot wait until they are our leaders to address the climate emergency – that action must happen now and we at SCIAF stand in solidarity with them.
Their actions clearly demonstrate young people’s grasp of the urgency of the climate issues we are facing and their message is loud and clear – our political leaders must take urgent action to implement the Paris Agreement, and reduce harmful emissions to prevent global warming exceeding irreparable levels. That agreement commits countries to hold global average temperatures to well below 2C, and to pursue efforts towards limiting warming to 1.5C.
This week the Scottish Parliament will vote on its historic climate change legislation. Politicians have the chance to once again make Scotland a world leader in emissions reductions targets. We at SCIAF, as part of the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition, have long campaigned for a strong Climate Change Bill. The landmark report published by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was clear that rapid, transformational action in the next decade is crucial.
We, and the rest of the UK, were home to the industrial revolution and we have been responsible for producing harmful greenhouse gas emissions. We are part of the problem – and it’s now our responsibility to help fix it. Nothing really hammers home that point more than seeing with your own eyes how climate change is already affecting people in the developing world.
I travelled to Zambia recently, and despite having worked and campaigned on the issue in Scotland for many years, I was still shocked by the reality of the problem.
When I arrived in the country I was immediately struck by how dry the landscape was. The rains haven’t come this year, leaving the land parched, and the resulting drought has been very severe. People are already down to three meals a week and there are eight months to go before the next harvest.
This global climate crisis is most devastating in countries in the global south, like Zambia, that have done the least to cause the problem. Much of the progress which has been made in the last 50 years in alleviating global poverty is now at risk of being undone by the drastically changing climate.
As our new climate change legislation is passed here in Scotland, we must seize the opportunity to implement it quickly and effectively. Next year the eyes of the world will be on us when Glasgow hosts COP26, the annual UN climate change conference. Leaders and influential figures from around the globe will be in Scotland and this is our opportunity to show the impact a strong climate bill can have.
As Greta Thunberg continues her transatlantic journey towards Chile, where the event is being held this year, it’s important to recognise what our young people are achieving and the sacrifices they are making. By forgoing their education for the day to highlight the climate crisis, and accepting any repercussions for this decision from their schools or local authorities, our young people should inspire us all to act. We at SCIAF stand shoulder to shoulder with them.
Dr Geraldine Hill is the Advocacy Manager at the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF). To support SCIAF’s work please visit www.sciaf.org.uk.