RECENT World Bank report, entitled ‘Turn Down The Heat,’ warned that, in the absence of drastic measures, we are on track for a 4°C hotter world, ‘marked by extreme heatwaves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.’ It identified global warming as the most serious and urgent threat facing individual countries and humanity as a whole in the early 21st century.
Some sceptics dismiss this as the stuff of fantasy, but there is hard evidence of global warming and, unless binding agreements to reduce carbon emissions are put in place, and acted upon urgently, the world may face a frightening scenario that could ultimately put war and terrorism in the halfpenny place. The crucial 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, known as COP21, starting at the end of this month, is expected to finalise a long-awaited global agreement on reducing greenhouse gases, but it will be no good unless it has specific targets that are both binding and global.
It will not be enough for some countries to sign up to it and others not, while it is crucial that the developed countries play a bigger part in order to help the poorer regions of the world who are already suffering some of the worst effects of climate change so far brought about by global warming. Ethical and justice issues must outweigh solely economic reasoning in reaching the agreement.
This year, Pope Francis entered the environmental debate with his ‘Laudato Si’ (Praised Be) encyclical in June in which he called for an ethical and economic revolution to prevent catastrophic climate change and growing inequality. Inspired by a St Francis of Assisi prayer, the Pope said he would like to see some courageous political leadership to see off short-term powerful interest groups in putting in place a legislative regime that is not simply a minimalist effort.
According to analysts of the encyclical, described as one of the most significant Church documents in a generation, Pope Francis believes that ‘climate change mitigation should not simply involve an economist-centred approach, but one that reflects the global as well as local interests of climate justice.’
In the past, some of the bigger industrial powers in the developed world have been reticent about tackling climate change in any meaningful way, so it was refreshing to learn that US President Barack Obama now wants his country to embrace the cause. This is far better late than never.
President Obama wants to bring the Chinese and other major players on board for the forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference and it is hoped that other superpowers will play their part too. The European Union certainly has a big commitment to the cause that it has championed for some time and is seeking to achieve an ‘ambitious’ global agreement in Paris.
Ireland has been doing its part with the Climate Action and Low Carbon Bill 2015 finally passing through Dáil Éireann last month after many years of campaigning by Irish environmental groups. However, it does not enshrine any specific carbon emissions reduction targets and, given that Ireland is not on course to achieve previously-agreed EU targets by 2020, the groups are now calling on the government to put in place a solid plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions across Ireland’s economy.
Representing 28 Irish environmental NGOs, advocacy coalition, the Environmental Pillar, maintains that the disappointing lack of targets in the Climate Action Bill ‘can be counter-balanced by a strong mitigation plan which delivers the strong actions required to transition to a low emissions world.’
An Taisce has, justifiably, taken the Taoiseach to task for the actions of some sections of the Irish government in the wake of the passing of the Bill through the Dáil for dispatching officials to Brussels to try to secure a special exemption for Ireland from meeting the EU emissions reductions targets, at the behest of our agriculture sector, which accounts for a sizeable amount of our carbon emissions. And, with the ambitious Food Harvest 2020 food production expansion targets, emissions in the agriculture and food sectors are set to increase further, so we need to find some sustainable way to counter-balance that, which of course is much easier said than done.
Regardless of sectoral interests, as the Environmental Pillar has stated, we must move towards a lifestyle that protects, supports and nurtures the environment that sustains us. It’s both as simple and as complicated as that.