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Will 2015 be the year we save the world?

27 September 2013 | by Dr Alison Doig

Two events this week have enormous implications for people across our planet. The agendas differ widely, but each, in its own way, will help determine the kind of future the world faces.

2015 - a year for change

Climate justice now Both predicate 2015 as the year by which far-reaching plans to meet some of the most urgent challenges of the day must be agreed.

And both raise the question of whether governments can be persuaded to put competing interests aside to turn 2015 into the year we save the world from climate disaster – with a coherent and aggressive approach to ending global poverty at the same time.

Millennium Development Goals

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s opening address on Wednesday to the UN General Assembly in New York marks the start of a new phase of discussions on the new global plan to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)  at the end of 2015.

After a year of consulting far and wide on issues ranging from gender inequality, education and health, to conflict, governance and economic growth and jobs, the UN will now move closer to establishing a new set of goals aimed at eradicating poverty worldwide.

IPCC Report

On Friday, another arm of the UN launched the much heralded 5th assessment report on the science of climate change from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) .

The report further confirms the certainty of manmade climate change, and underlines the crucial importance of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change  reaching an ambitious global climate agreement in Paris in 2015.

Averting disaster

Although ostensibly separate issues, the post-MDG process and the need to counter climate change, are inexorably entwined. This gives us a huge opportunity to turn 2015 into the year the human race gets global development right, while averting disaster.

The IPCC report predicts that on current global carbon emissions trends, the most optimistic outcome is a 1.5C global temperature rise this century, which would bring an increase in extreme weather events, and risk the complete loss of many small island states.

More likely, however, temperatures will rise well above 2C warming, with potentially devastating global impacts.

Reality of climate change

Climate deniers, more than a few with vested interests in the fossil fuel sector, are already busy trying to undermine the report, presenting confused statistics which they claim exposes global warming as a myth.

Evidence from Christian Aid’s partners across the developing world, however, tells a very different story: their accounts show that climate change is already a reality, and without urgent action now, the outlook for some of the world’s most vulnerable communities is extremely bleak. 

Impact of climate change      

‘We used to have very stable rainfall that was adequate and non-erosive. These days no one knows when to plant crops.'

The account of one Malawian farmer echoes those of farmers in many other countries: ‘We used to have very stable rainfall that was adequate and non-erosive. These days no one knows when to plant crops.

'When rains come, they are either too little for planting or too heavy, such that fields get waterlogged or eroded. A prolonged dry spell follows and scorches the germinated crops. The seed is lost.’

It is not just agriculture that is affected - climate change today is having an impact on every aspect of development, with livelihoods ruined, and education disrupted. During extreme weather events schools are usually closed, with some turned into emergency refuges.

Often it is women who bear the brunt of the resulting hardship as activities they traditionally carry out are most affected – collecting clean water, and wood for fuel, and providing food for the family.

Arising conflict

Another area in which climate and development issues converge is conflict. Dwindling resources create desperate people, and may exacerbate community tensions that already exist. Some even attribute the civil war in Syria to social upheaval caused by a prolonged drought.

The impact of climate change on development must therefore be acknowledged in the new global development plan, with strategies that are resilient to climate change, and ready for climate disaster.

Shifting to a low-carbon future

One key factor it must address is whether the world is serious about aiming at a low-carbon future which can keep warming below 2C warming. This will mean an urgent shift to low-carbon energy, and will also necessitate confronting our consumption patterns.

The production, transport and processing of food, as well as food waste, for example, contribute to almost 40% of global carbon emissions globally.

The private sector has a responsibility too. A recent survey showed that 50 of the 500 largest listed companies in the world are responsible for nearly three quarters of the group’s carbon production, and that their emissions are still rising, not falling.

Issue of equity

A sticking point in both the climate and the post-MDG discussions will be the issue of equity. In simple terms, which countries should act first and deliver most, who pays and how do we transfer technology from rich countries to poor?

It is imperative, therefore, that the two deals to be brokered are not seen in isolation, but reinforce each other. A new vision for development is needed that guides both sets of deliberation and pulls them together. Only then will 2015 become a date to celebrate, rather than regret.



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About the author

Alison Doig

Alison Doig is Christian Aid's senior climate change adviser.

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