This week Trócaire, Maynooth University and St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, co-hosted a major two-day conference titled: ‘Meeting the Challenge of Climate Justice: From Evidence to Action’.
2015 is a critical year in addressing the impending climate emergency and charting a path towards a more sustainable future, culminating in the UN Summit (COP21) in Paris in December.
Climate change, and the injustice it represents, is one of the most serious challenges facing humanity. But while the evidence on human-made climate change is overwhelming, action to stem the rise in global temperatures lags far behind. It is hoped that a strong, binding, international agreement for action will be agreed at the UN Summit in December. But there is no room for complacency that this will be achieved. And strong campaigning is required in advance to ensure that politicians act for the global good.
On that theme, this conference addressed a diverse audience including campaigners, political representatives, business leaders and grass-roots activists, and was livestreamed to an international audience. Speakers included climate justice luminaries and activists such as Mary Robinson and Bill McKibben of 350.org, as well as Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the vice-president of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Other leading voices at the conference were John Sweeney Emeritus Professor of Geography at Maynooth University, Fr Sean McDonagh, a Columban missionary and ecological activist, and Bishop Theotonius Gomes, Auxiliary Bishop of Dhaka, Bangladesh – a regular attendee and contributor at international climate negotiations.
Mary Robinson stated clearly that two-thirds of known fossil-fuel reserves must be left in the ground if global warming is to be kept at less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. She spoke of “the moral imperative to act” and the need for “global co-operation on an unprecedented scale – a whole new era of solidarity based on an understanding of our interconnectedness,” adding that climate change “confronts us with the reality of our interdependence”.
Photos: Mary Robinson delivering keynote speech, young climate campaigner Amy Colgan, Dr David Mkwambisi, Lilongwe University of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Advocating strongly for divestment strategies at an individual and institutional level, leading climate change campaigner Bill McKibben told the conference that the fossil fuel industry is threatening the safety and security of the planet. He described them as “the most irresponsible industry we have ever seen on the planet”.
McKibben warned of the “planetary dislocation” that is taking place and said that the only way to halt a global temperature rise of more than two degrees Celsius is to “break the power of the fossil fuel industry”.
“They are no longer normal companies,” he said. “We must turn them into the pariahs they must become. If we follow the business plan of the fossil fuel industry, we will go far beyond a two degree temperature rise. If they do what they have said they will do, the planet will break.”
Professor Jean Pascal van Ypersele, Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned that levels of carbon in the atmosphere today are unprecedented. The Professor outlined how for 800,000 years the levels of carbon in the atmosphere varied between 180-280 parts per million (ppm) but now stands at 400ppm.
Professor van Ypersele described the “hidden message” of the IPCC reports as being the complete lack of political will to tackle an issue that presents a threat to all forms of life on earth. Limiting global temperature rises to two degrees Celsius would be an enormous challenge given that two-thirds of the level of carbon compatible with restricting temperature rises to two degrees has already been emitted, he said.
Professor John Sweeney presented the Irish climate change context. He pointed out that last year was the warmest in Ireland since 1880 and that average temperatures had increased by 0.5 degrees since 1981.
At these current rates, temperatures will continue to rise by between one degree and 1.5 degrees over the next 30 years, he said. This would result in much more rainfall in the west of Ireland and a lot less in the east between 2021 and 2050 - with more frequent flooding and water shortages during summer.
Referring to the 2013 fodder crisis – he said this may be indicative of what is to come. Similarly, we are likely to have more extreme storm events as in the winter of 2013/14.
“The cost of doing nothing is huge for Ireland,” he said.
The Pope’s Encyclical on ecology, which was released just last week (18 June) was hailed by all as a landmark call to action on climate change.
"Laudato Si’ is an astonishing document - there is no longer any excuse for people not knowing about this issue” Bill McKibben said.
Many contributors also spoke of the lack of political will in Ireland – and a refrain from politicians that they are not hearing climate change concerns from constituents ‘on the doorsteps’. It is up to us, individually and collectively, to ensure that the climate message is now heard loud and clear.
QUOTES FROM CONFERENCE CONTRIBUTORS
FIND OUT MORE: Learn more about the Climate Justice conference at www.climatejustice2015.org
JOIN: Trócaire’s Climate Justice campaign, take action for a strong climate law for Ireland and help raise awareness of climate change with the Irish public and our political representatives
WATCH: Drop in the Ocean?: Ireland and Climate Change