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Clare Sain-ley-Berry, Head of Environet Cymru at WCVA, talks about Climate Change and what it means to WCVA and the third sector
2 March 2016 saw the final meeting, in its current form, of the Climate Change Commission for Wales. The Commission brings together representatives from all sectors to mobilise, and build consensus around evidence-based action for climate change. To this end, it is informed by expert scientific opinion from bodies such as the Met Office and the UK’s leading research institute on climate change, the Tyndall Centre, represented at these meetings by Professor Kevin Anderson.
The day started with the stark reflection that, 25 years on from the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, global annual greenhouse gas emissions are currently 60% higher than 1990. The levels of carbon in the atmosphere – which will influence climate for many decades to come – are now higher than they have been for at least the past 800,000 years. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed; the amounts of snow and ice have diminished and sea levels have risen. If we continue to emit greenhouse gas emissions at the current rate, it is thought that we are headed for a rise in global temperatures of between 4 – 6 degrees, which is associated with an apocalyptic future, the collapse of ecosystems and, with them, humanity.
Against these trends, in the recent Paris Agreement, world leaders committed to a duty to limit the rise in global temperature to ‘well below 2°C’ in order to avoid the worst predicted impacts of the current climate trajectory. Professor Anderson was clear that even if 2 degrees is achieved, we will not escape climate-related impacts that will affect millions. These include drought, flood, severe heat waves, global food shortages and displacement. To give an idea of what this might look like, in the 20 years since 1995, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction reports almost 6,500 weather-related disasters that claimed 606,000 lives, with an additional 4.1 billion people injured, left homeless or in need of emergency assistance. As the climate warms these extreme weather events are predicted to become more frequent and more severe.
So what can be done? Climate experts estimate that to keep to 2 degrees, global emissions need to be reduced by at least 40-70% by 2050 and that carbon neutrality (zero emissions) needs to be reached by the end of the century at the latest.
This might seem beyond us as individuals or organizations until we consider another one of Professor Anderson’s insights that 50% of global emissions come from just 10% of the global population. As that 10% includes us here in Wales, our individual or organizational efforts will have a disproportionate impact but we need to choose to act and we need to face up to the scale of the challenge.
Even if carbon capture and storage technologies are successfully developed, they will not remove the need for deep and dramatic carbon reduction. One of the things Commission members reflected on – from Arts to Agriculture – was the need for new narratives and a clear vision for what this low energy, low carbon society might look like – and how we will adapt to the unavoidable impacts of a changing climate that are already taking hold.
WCVA is represented on the Commission because we believe that civil society has a crucial role to play in helping to steer society through this troubling time. We cannot wait for the difficult decisions to be made for us or simply hope that as yet unproven technologies will save the day. At the Commission’s final meeting, all the political parties in Wales – with the exception of UKIP – signed up to a commitment to support the Paris Agreement. The third sector is already at the forefront of projects that suggest how the emissions reductions targets contained within this can be met. It is up to us all to help ensure that these become a reality.
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