Many things have changed over the last ten years. In 2008, the news was just breaking of a global financial crisis, Britain was a key member of the European Union and Donald Trump presented the American version of ‘The Apprentice’.
In November of that year, the UK Government passed a Climate Change Act, the first of its kind in the world. For Christian Aid, and others, the UK Act was a successful outcome to a long campaign for climate change targets to be enshrined in law. Christian Aid Ireland’s campaign for a UK climate change act included a 1,000-mile climate march, beginning in Bangor, County Down in July 2007. A group of 20 volunteer marchers including Rev Neil Cutcliffe, a Church of Ireland Minister in Newtownabbey, set sail from Bangor, Northern Ireland to Troon in Scotland in a flotilla of yachts. The group then walked through Scotland, Wales and England, speaking at events, lobbying politicians and raising awareness of the impact of climate change. The 20 marchers were joined by hundreds of other campaigners as the march reached at it’s final destination at the heart of the UK Government in Westminster, London.
The 2008 Climate Change Act was ambitious for its time, requiring the government to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. By November 2018 the act will be ten years old and out-of-date. The scientific understanding of climate change has deepened and it is now accepted that an 80% reduction in carbon emissions is insufficient and that 2050 is too late.
A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that if global average temperatures continue to increase at their current rate global warming of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels could be reached as early as 2030. The report acknowledges that even 1.5 degrees is not without negative impacts, but to allow the temperature rise to exceed that will lead to much higher risks of sea level rise, droughts and increased rainfall associated with tropical cyclones.
At the 2015 UN climate conference in Paris, nations agreed to limit temperate rise to well-below 2 degrees, but to aim to limit it to 1.5 degrees. The IPCC report emphasises how important that commitment is. To meet that target the world must aim for ‘net zero’ carbon emissions. That means any greenhouse gas emissions produced must be counter-balanced by the amount being absorbed. This is the only way global average temperature rise can be kept below 1.5 degrees.
Otherwise, those on the frontline of climate change in places like Ethiopia, Bolivia and the Philippines will experience worsening impacts of climate change such as erratic rainfall, extreme weather, intense storms and flooding - which exacerbates poverty and hinders development progress.
Ten years on, we need to urge our politicians to bring the UK Climate Act up-to-date for the sake of those living with the impacts of climate change. Please write to your MP or TD calling for a net zero target for carbon emissions by 2050. You can find more information at caid.ie/climatechangeact10
Author: David Thomas, Church & Community Manager