Over the past few weeks, I’ve been writing articles about climate change and, more broadly, reducing the risks in disasters (man-made and natural). I’ve also signed myself up to the FutureLearn online course Climate Change – Solutions. This has all been happening in the midst of the latest international climate change talks (COP25) in Madrid. A busy few weeks then. I’m not really a ‘climate activist’ – more someone growing in their climate awareness’. Here are five of some of my learning takeaways.
- I need to get out more. I spend way too much time inside office, buildings, my own head. I’d like to take more opportunities to see and experience more of this amazing, wonderful, God-given natural world.
How scientific and technical the field of climate change is. Which makes the evidence for global warming even more compelling – it isn’t just peoples’ opinions. In fact, scientists tend to err more on the side of caution. So, when they (scientists) say they are highly confident that people play a big part in global warming (IPCC, Met Office) – that translates to being 95 – 100 per cent sure.
Not only that , but we are actually changing the physical natural composition of the earth – for the worse, because of carbon emissions. However, scientists can make general observations, but cannot make specific assertions about the role of climate change in the case of particular extreme weather events. Although they are inching closer towards being able to do so.
From geoengineering to fracking, it’s important to have some grasp of the science behind the headlines.
- …but you don’t have to be a scientist to broadly understand the issues or realise the implications of what’s at stake. Although I’m quite analytical, I’m not a scientist, and didn’t study geography at university. And yet even I can see we are in an ‘all hands on deck’ situation where global warming is concerned. It helps to read widely. I have various go-to points that include websites, online magazines, social media and newspapers. For me, especially the FT for international news (+ they do an interesting ‘Moral Money’ email newsletter). Climate Home News is also becoming a useful resource. It’s done a good summary of COP 25. Also, if you’re wondering how to have conversations about climate change without coming across as a self-righteous know-it all, grab a copy of their free e-book How to Have Conversations About Climate Change.
- However, it’s not just an academic exercise. I’ve got to be honest, I have been travelling quite a bit over the last couple of years for both work (actually, mainly for work) but also for leisure. On the other hand, I don’t drive – I mainly use public transport and feet. And I don’t have kids – so no little darlings eating up resources. I am rethinking the way I travel though – maybe ‘slower leisurely travel’ for example -staying in places for longer rather than jetting from one place to next. Just being more aware of my carbon footprint and how I can change things up on a daily basis too, not just the big things. Needless to say, I’m still trying to figure things out myself.
Niger’s 2010 droughts severely affected its cattle
I’ve been able to see climate change at work first-hand through my jobs with the UN over the last nine years. From drought and food crisis in the Sahel, to pollution in Kabul, I can see how climate change wraps itself around other problems such as conflict and the economy. The Nigerien pastoralists I met back in 2010 were devastated by the loss of their cattle because of drought (picture above) – the irony of their cattle dropping and dying in the middle of a food crisis yet not being able to eat the meat because of a lack of (for example) refrigeration. Now, desertification is leading to conflict between those pastoralists and more settled farmers as they jockey for land and resources.
While working for UNICEF in 2011, I saw how in Bangladesh, floods were causing people to move multiple times, uprooting families and disrupting their children’s education. And most recently in Afghanistan I’ve seen directly how floods have been so disruptive, adding to the problems caused by conflict. Weather patterns seem to be getting more unpredictable and more extreme, negatively impacting those who have contributed the least to climate change.
Home for poverty-stricken Afghans
- There’s hope but it’s going to be a long, tough road. And we are nowhere near to where we need to be. We have less than 11 years to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent and keep the rise in global temperatures below 1.5 per cent this century (IPCC, BBC). However, we’re not close to reducing carbon dioxide emissions to the required levels. CICERO notes that to limit global warming to two degrees centigrade, emissions should be falling by around 3 per cent per year. But in 2018 they rose by about 2 per cent. According to this Financial Times video, it’s the big emitters who really need to make the seriously impactful cuts that are now needed: Climate Change Explained – what can ordinary people do?
Meanwhile, the policymakers, business and civil society will give it another shot at the 2020 @ COP26 in Glasgow.