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Climate Change is an Enemy of Equality
So the great and the good of world politics have gathered in rainy Glasgow to tackle the ongoing threat of global warming, with a couple of notable exceptions.
China, the world’s biggest polluter, and Russia, one of a chasing pack in fourth place, have decided not to attend, which is small wonder since both nations declined to follow the UK and others in its pledge to get to net zero by 2050, suggesting 2060 may be more realistic. A spokesperson for the Kremlin insisted climate change was an ‘important’ priority to Russia.
Whatever individual nations think, climate change is a global issue which affects us all, though some far more than others. The impact of droughts, storms and floods hits the poorest and most marginalised communities the worst. People in low income countries are five times more likely than those in more economically developed countries to be displaced by extreme weather conditions. In fact, climate based disasters were the biggest driver of internal displacement over the last decade, forcing an estimated 20m people to leave their homes, while hunger is on a horrifying rise in these communities.
And we are about to enter a period of climate refugees. War, political instability and economic strife have been the biggest drivers of movement until now, but as coastal regions become threatened by rising sea levels and droughts lead to the loss of farming lands, environmental groups have suggested that up to 250m people could be displaced by climate change before 2050.
Children are hit harder in low income countries according to research completed at the University of Brussels. While children in high income nations will experience twice as many extreme weather events as their grandparents, the ratio for poorer countries is three times. And language can be a barrier too. In 2019 members of Australia’s indigenous communities were unprepared for the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Trevor, because the information about the path of the cyclone was only produced in English.
But in the UK and western world we have a dilemma; tackling climate change is seen, by many, as a middle class crusade. After almost two years of coping with a global pandemic, economies around the globe have been battered and the priority for those emerging out of furlough is to balance the family budget rather than buy an electric car.
At COP26 the Prime Minister said humanity had run down the clock on climate change and, with the time now at one minute to 12, there can be no further delay in action. And Prince Charles warned the world leaders that tackling the problem will cost trillions, which is not an easy message to swallow.
There is no easy answer to this question. It isn’t as simple as saying we must all become vegan and cycle everywhere or we’re doomed. While the economy enters another difficult cycle and public services demand and need more funding, to spend eye-watering amounts of cash on projects which not everyone is totally committed to has caused division in Western society. Here in the UK, while the nation hosts COP26, a recent YouGov survey has revealed that 42 per cent of adults are in favour of a referendum on the government’s net zero plans, while 30 per cent opposed it. When you strip out the ‘don’t knows’ or ‘don’t really cares’ then the percentage in favour of a national debate is 58 per cent and, quite frankly, we need another referendum like we need a hole in the head!
The US is the only one of the world’s Big Four Polluters to commit to net zero by 2050, with India aiming for 2070. Many believe that date will be too late. But one thing is for certain, just as COVID proved to be anything other than a leveller, climate change too will hit the poorest the hardest.
And we have a duty to help those who need it, in any way we can.
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