What's all the fuss about?

climate change, current affairs, international politics

Since I put up my first post a couple of weeks ago a lot of people have been in touch to encourage me to keep up the blog. Thanks and keep spreading the word! One of the questions I’ve been asked is ‘what’s all the fuss about 2015?’ You wouldn’t know how important this year is from the mainstream media. In this post I’ll try and explain why 2015 matters, and why it is important to get involved. Bear with me if you can.
The story starts back in 2000…. A year some of us oldies remember more for ‘tonight we’re gonna party like its 1999’…  hair brain projects like the Dome in London and the ‘Millennium bug’ (not a six legged creature but a fear our world would collapse due to an IT glitch). Anyway, 2000 was also the year that world leaders signed a landmark document called the Millennium Declaration at the UN. It was a time of great promises to end world poverty – the Millennium Development Goals. The deadline for reaching these goals is 2015… THIS YEAR!
Fast forward to today: attention (of some important folk anyway) is now focused on what will come after the MDGs. (There has been remarkably little discussion on how much progress we made on the current goals – but that’s another day’s work.) A global industry has developed around the very imaginatively named ‘post-2015 agenda’ i.e. what comes next. The UN conducted the largest public survey in history to ask people about their priorities. Trócaire too has made its contribution in a five country study about what poor communities would like to see out of the negotiations. All of this will be finalised in September when Heads of State (and Pope Francis!) will head to the UN in New York for a major unveiling…. of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The other very significant process happening this year is the final stage in the UN Climate negotiations (UNFCCC) to agree a new treaty to tackle global warming. All countries need to sign a binding global treaty on curbing emissions by December this year in Paris. The science is quite stark: global emissions need to get to near zero within 35 years if the runaway climate change is to be prevented. The process has been fraught with delays and problems, but it is a golden moment to start to move in a sustainable direction. During the week I had a great chance to share a panel with the French Ambassador for a public debate on this issue, and France’s role in it, in the Alliance Francais. You can read my talk here.
So why does all this matter?
For the first time in history, the set of UN goals to be agreed in September will be universal. In other words, they won’t be applied only to poor countries but to rich countries too. As well as the usual targets on reducing hunger, extreme poverty etc, they will also contain key targets on reducing consumption, making production more sustainable, addressing inequality in our own countries. This is central to achieving the climate goals too. This is great news, potentially ground breaking – but the trouble is nobody knows or seems to care! If there is not greater buy in from people, parliaments, companies etc, these goals will fall from the sky in September and into a great void… and like many goals before them, will remain nice aspirations. Pressure to implement them needs to come from the bottom up.
The climate talks are perhaps even more critical to understand and care about. Given how much we all rely on burning fossil fuels, governments will have to make very tough choices if they are serious about reducing emissions (including here in Ireland with our climate bill). Unless they feel they have the backing of the public, unless this is a real issue, they may be tempted just to kick it down the road or settle for something mediocre. After all, an uninformed, disengaged public won’t give them much stick if they opt for business as usual in the short term over carbon emissions goals. That’s real politics!
Currently in Ireland, far too few people know enough to care. In fact, the Irish citizens who care most don’t even have a vote – school children! I believe if people really knew the facts, they would care. Trócaire has produced great resources to help people understand why this matters and what you can do. All our Lenten 2015 resources focus on climate justice. The Drop in the Ocean documentary my very clever colleagues produced on almost ZERO budget says it all…
At the end of the day, our children will judge us on this, as I said in this interview  for Catholic Ireland during the week. In this important year, we have a golden moment to influence their future, and the future of children all over the world. That’s a big part of the reason I’m out on the road as much as I possibly can, spreading the word on climate justice in 2015.

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