Joanne O’Neill: Leaders have time – just – to act on climate change

Leaders will gather in Doha for climate change summit. Picture: Getty
Leaders will gather in Doha for climate change summit. Picture: Getty
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Politicians from around the world are gathering in Doha this week and next to agree an action plan for tackling climate change. Some 18 years after the first United Nations Conference of Parties set itself the task of dealing with this global problem, progress remains painfully slow – when urgent action is needed.

The UN environment programme has reported that global emissions are already considerably higher than the level needed to meet the 2C climate increase target previously set at UN talks, and those emissions are still rising. With the World Health Organisation estimating that climatic changes are causing 140,000 deaths annually, the need for urgent action to reverse the trend in growing emissions is clear. Just last week, the European Environment Agency highlighted that climate change is hitting Europe and the huge costs of more extreme weather will increase.

At this year’s UN negotiations, the UK must relentlessly drive other countries to make bigger cuts to their emissions and sign up to a strong second-commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol – the only international agreement there is. Developed countries must also deliver a reliable and predictable system for the $100 billion (£62bn) they have agreed to provide to developing countries per year by 2020 to enable them to adapt to climate change. They also need to identify where this money will come from.

While changes to global weather systems will affect everyone, it is people in developing countries – who have done the least to cause climate change – who are being hit first and hardest.

Of particular importance to developing countries’ ability to cope with increasingly erratic and severe weather, is adaptation funding for small-scale farmers. The Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund believes the basic right of adequate access to food is being put at risk by drought, flooding and extreme weather. Leaders must recognise the links between climate change and food security and ensure that adaptation and finance are at the heart of discussions on agriculture at Doha.

World leaders can still make a difference – they just have to do it quickly.

• Joanne O’Neill is policy officer for SCIAF