WEDNESDAY saw the announcement by the World Meteorological Organisation that 2014 was the hottest year since records began. When combined with the fact that 14 of the warmest 15 years on record have occurred in the 21st century, a clear picture of a changing climate is emerging.
Last week also marked the start of the latest round of United Nations talks aimed at tackling this very problem. Almost 200 nations are currently meeting in Peru to try to decide how to cut our global carbon emissions – which cause these climatic changes – and help countries adapt to the changes already occurring on a warming planet.
This round of talks is significant. It will lay the groundwork for the next UN climate talks in Paris in 2015 when a new international deal on climate change is expected to be agreed. This treaty needs to apply to all nations, with responsibilities shared on the basis of a country’s historical and current emissions. Along with that, the world’s poorest people – already bearing the brunt of climate impacts such as unpredictable seasons and more frequent storms, floods and drought – must be financially supported to adapt to the changing climate.
An ambitious agreement in Paris next year would be a significant step on a path to a more sustainable world. Supported by co-operation and international, national, local and personal action, the required transformation to a prosperous low-carbon society can happen.
Across the world the momentum for urgent action on climate change is building. People’s Climate Marches in September saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets on every continent to show their concern. Three thousand people marched on Princes Street in Edinburgh. Recent positive political signs include the historic US-China pact on emissions cuts and both the governor of the Bank of England and President Barack Obama’s climate envoy publicly acknowledging that a large proportion of fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground. Recent pledges of finance to the UN’s Green Climate Fund to help countries cope with impacts are also welcome but are not yet in line with the scale of the support needed.
The cost of failing to act cannot be underestimated. Latest reports released by climate scientists use stark language describing the likely “severe, pervasive and irreversible” effects of business as usual. Without action nobody will escape the consequences.
Our changing climate will result in extreme and unreliable weather and, unchecked, will increasingly threaten the survival of some of the world’s poorest people. This year has seen deadly floods across the Balkans, areas of the Philippines which were still recovering from last year’s super-typhoon Haiyan once again being evacuated, and unprecedented droughts and wildfires in California.
We need to act quickly to protect the things that we hold precious. The opportunities presented by cutting our emissions will bring multiple benefits – greener cities, healthier people, warmer homes. Transformation of our transport, energy and food systems will provide new industries and new jobs.
The Scottish Climate Change Act, supported by every political party in the Scottish Parliament, set ambitious targets from a developed nation that has benefited over many decades from exploiting oil and gas. The legislation was secured as a result of concerted pressure from across society, honesty in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, and a realisation of the benefits we could reap by leading with early action.
Scotland’s story of co-operation and commitment should provide inspiration for other countries seeking an ambitious international accord. A global deal to tackle climate change could provide the foundation for creating a cleaner, greener, better future. Just like Scotland’s Climate Act, it will be the starting point rather than the end of the journey. For the sake of all of the things we care about we need to see real, collective movement towards a deal. «
• Tom Ballantine is chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland