South and East Belfast Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

Climate change - we all have a part to play (December 2009)

So, the Copenhagen climate change talks are over and the world leaders have failed to produce an agreement that will tackle climate change.

What we were presented with was a vague and badly written document which the summit merely agreed to 'take note' of. And what have the world leaders agreed to take note of? Well, Friends of the Earth described it as a 'toothless declaration' which 'condemns millions of the world's poorest people to hunger, suffering and loss of life as climate change accelerates.'

Indeed, the aim of keeping average global temperature rises to no more than 2C translates into 3-3.5C in Africa, which Naomi Klein recently pointed out could mean an 'additional 55 million people could be at risk from hunger' as well as water stress affecting between '350 and 600 million people'.

All of this is a far cry from what Sinn Féin and other progressive political parties, campaign groups and environmental groups had been arguing for.

Last month Sinn Féin held a seminar with Bairbre deBrún MEP in the Wellington Park Hotel in South Belfast. The seminar, titled 'The Road to Copenhagen', was also addressed by Declan Allison from Friends of the Earth.

Bairbre outlined what needed to be done at Copenhagen when she explained that, 'The global agreement reached at the climate change summit must set legally binding emissions reduction targets that are based on up-to-date climate science and that are fair to developing countries if the world is to prevent catastrophic climate change.'

Both Declan and Bairbre outlined to those present some of the facts and figured relating to climate change.

• The planet has warmed by 0.8C since industrialisation - and, while this may seem like a miniscule change, it is already destroying the balance of many of the Earth's ecosystems and causing major and deadly changes in weather patterns.
• Environmental scientists agree that we must limit warming to no more than 2C on pre-industrial levels in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.
• If carbon emissions continue at their current rates, climate scientists estimate the Earth may warm by 4C by 2060 and by up to 7 or 8C by 2100. If this happens most ecosystems on Earth would collapse. Most of the world's coastal cities would be underwater and fresh water sources for billions of people would disappear.

Those present also heard that "In order to limit warming to no more than 2C, there must be a reduction of at least 40 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020 by industrialised countries," and this must be followed up by an 80 to 95 per cent cut in emissions by industrialised countries by 2050.

Unfortunately Copenhagen did not produce what was required for the good of our planet. Not only have they failed to produce adequate, legally binding targets; most developed countries have failed to provide adequate financial and technical to the developing world; a developing world which has done the least to cause climate change and yet is now set to pay the most.

The reality of climate change was laid before us last May when Kofi Annan's Global Humanitarian Forum warned that climate change is already causing 300,000 deaths a year in the global South and is "seriously affecting" 325 million people. Almost two-thirds of the world's population is now vulnerable to climate change, while 500 million are at "extreme risk".

While our world leaders have let us down there is still much that we can do. As Declan Allison of Friends of the Earth stated 'the most important and valuable contribution individuals can make is to get politically active on this issue.'

Indeed, this is even more important than ever because, with the failure of the Copenhagen summit to produce a legally binding agreement, it is left to Mexico at the end of 2010 to try and find the type of deal that should have been negotiated at Copenhagen. We all can have a role, through campaigning, protesting, and lobbying, in putting pressure on the world's leaders and our local political representatives to ensure that a substantial agreement is struck during 2010 to avert catastrophic climate change. Everyone can play a part in this, no part is too large or too small.