I intended to use today’s blog post to write about my hopes and wishes for the upcoming climate talks in Paris. And then I switched on the news to find the Brussel’s metro has been shut following concrete terror threats by ISIS, and 19 dead from terror attacks in Mali. This is to follow the five killed in Israel during the week, a Rabbi stabbed in Marseille on Wednesday, and the horrific events in Paris last Saturday.
In the midst of all this I can’t imagine that climate change would be high on anyone’s agenda. How irrelevant it must all seem when faced with imminent threats from ISIS or Hamas. Is it disrespectful to those who have died to be focusing on the weather rather than the pursuit of their murderers? Perhaps it is appropriate to pause climate action until the world is again at peace, or at least more peaceful than it is now.
But this is not possible. Delaying reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will make the problem even more difficult to deal with later. We currently pump out around 30 billion tonnes of CO2 annually, of which nearly half remains in the atmosphere, the remainder being absorbed into the oceans or taken up by plants. The emissions are cumulative, meaning that the CO2 released into the atmosphere each year is added to the existing stock. The longer we delay reducing emissions, the steeper the reductions will have to be in order to have the same effect on atmospheric CO2. It is therefore essential that climate action remains high on governments’ agendas now.
Unfortunately climate change will also increase the likelihood of war and political instability. Increases in temperature are associated with crop failure, and thus famine, especially in hotter regions which also tend to be poorer regions. Sea level rises will lead to devastating floods in coastal plains such as in Bangladesh, or indeed the submersion of entire Islands such as the Maldives or low-lying pacific Islands. Increases in forest fires and severe tropical cyclones will also result in the displacement of millions. Will these climate refugees be given safe homes elsewhere, or will they become every more desperate as they are turned away by those who fear strangers on their lands? If you then consider that all regions of the world will be affected by climate change to some degree and therefore all potential host countries will be dealing with their own adaptation issues, I question the possibility of climate refugees being able to resettle peacefully.
I would not claim that the terror activities in today’s news are in any way climate-related. But it is becoming increasingly clear that climate change will lead to further war, famine, displacement and human misery. It is not an irrelevant issue and we must act now.