How will the world respond to the latest climate tragedy?
Climate change and its impacts can feel remote and improbable, but the raging forest fires in Russia and devastating floods in Pakistan are both a wake-up call and a taste of things to come.
It is impossible to say with 100% certainty that the floods in Asia and the drought in Russia are direct result of man-made climate change.
But can anyone paying attention to the vast majority of scientists claim to be shocked by the increasingly extreme weather our planet is experiencing?
These events are earth-shattering, tragic and entirely consistent with the warnings many of us choose to ignore.
Hitting where it hurts
The disasters in Russia and Pakistan have hit the poorest hardest.
As with hurricane Katrina and – closer to home – the floods in Cockermouth and Hull, we’ve seen that the poorest have the lowest capacity to rebound from extreme weather events because they have less money, are less mobile and often have no insurance.
While these latest events are happening thousands of miles away, we’re far from immune to their effects.
We live in an age where drought in Russia directly affects the price of the food we put on our plates in the UK.
And it’s not just the crop yields themselves that are sending prices soaring – for financial speculators food shortages are an opportunity, and their speculation has compounded price rises.
How is the world responding to this latest wake-up call?
Global negotiators have just returned home from Bonn where the latest sessions on a global climate agreement have just ended.
Rich countries again refused to commit to sufficient emissions cuts and finance.
In fact, research published during the talks showed that, under their current emissions cuts pledges for 2020, developed countries can actually increase emissions by exploiting an array of loop-holes.
While people were drowning in Pakistan and burning in Russia, Governments in Bonn were dithering, evading and looking for opportunities to kill the Kyoto Protocol because of the action it would legally require them to take.
Leading the way
Leadership will need to come from the ordinary people who refuse to see these devastating events – and the likelihood of more to come – as somebody else’s problem.
And the good news is that grassroots leadership works.
Grassroots activism led to the world’s first Climate Change Act.
The 10:10 campaign has inspired more Government commitment to reducing their own emissions than no-end of internal Government committee reports.
Friends of the Earth’s network of local groups has inspired a number of local authorities across the country to commit to reducing emissions in their communities by at least 40 per cent by 2020 – twice as ambitious as the targets being bandied about many EU leaders.
I sometimes hear people reassure themselves that, if climate change were that serious, someone would be doing something about it. The events of the past week remind us that we can’t rely on Governments to act to save us from the worst impacts of climate change. The stakes are too high – it has to come from us.