Climate Action Not Climate Doom

Stevie Maginn is the Green Party NI rep for West Belfast

Earlier this month, the 6th assessment report of the UN International Panel on Climate Change was published. This is the 6th report by the IPCC since 1988, reminding us that the alarm bells on climate breakdown have been going for some time, and is more stark reading for people and policymakers. It suggests that under all projection models, the Earth is now likely to reach 1.5C of warming above pre-industrial levels by the early 2030s, unless huge cuts to emissions take place immediately.

Beyond 1.5C of warming, we will see irreversible changes to the environment which we rely on to survive, and this will plummet hundreds of millions of people into climate-related poverty, disproportionately affecting those in the global south.

We can already see these changes play out locally, for example when heat followed by intense rainfall caused flooding to businesses in Berry Street in Belfast a month ago.

None of us will be able to escape the effects of extreme heat, floods, and droughts, but it is the most socially and economically deprived who will bear the brunt of climate breakdown, much like they already do. For example, inner city wards of Belfast such as Falls, where only 30% of people have access to a car suffer higher rates of air pollution-related illnesses caused by transport pollution – which makes up 23% of carbon emissions in the North.

So given all this, it’s understandable that there was an international outcry for some kind of action on what the IPCC called a “Code Red for Humanity.” Locally, this seemed to culminate in elected politicians from across the Executive Parties sharing some ‘Climate Doom’ posts on social media before the news cycle changed a couple of days later.

It’s important to be honest with people about the challenges that face us in the coming decades. But given the crisis of Mental Health in NI, where rates of mental illness are 25% higher than in England, we should be wary of overemphasising the challenges that come with climate breakdown without also spelling out and committing to working toward some of the solutions and recognising the opportunities.

I can’t stress enough that we need to try and avoid the despair that many will be feeling. The ‘Climate debate’ is often framed around how much we will all need to sacrifice, and sure, we can all reduce our personal impact by consuming less and changing our eating and travel habits. But ending our dependency on fossil fuels is actually an opportunity to build a fairer and more equal society. With employment opportunities in green jobs, more liveable cities, less expensive energy and warmer homes, clean air and water, and healthier, happier children and communities.

This will only happen if politicians and decision-makers wake up to opportunities that exist within Climate mitigation and adaptation. One example would be government support for homes & businesses to cover the costs of retrofitting and installing solar panels and other renewable energies, which would help tackle household emissions while lifting people out of fuel poverty and helping alleviate housing stress. Likewise, meaningful investment into active travel infrastructure would allow many more people to opt for cleaner transport options such as rail or cycle while connecting communities, towns, and regions; improving regional tourism spend and benefitting public health.

Green Party leader Clare Bailey has laid a plan for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 in the Climate Bill currently going through the legislative processes at the NI Assembly. The Bill, if it passes, can open up opportunities to build a just transition to net-zero carbon by 20-45 where no one is left behind.

So yes, the window to act on Climate Breakdown is closing. Failing to act will have devastating consequences. But by acting we can bring about a Climate Resilient Society which improves the quality of life for everybody. So let’s act, and let’s do it now.

 

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