Column: Turning up the heat on climate change action

Maybe they can get beyond the endless blame-your-neighbour mentality and actually come up with a deal that works, says Margaret Evans

Last Sunday’s climate march in the world’s major cities was a determined clarion call for governments to get off their collective duff and act. Now. Some 2,000 demonstrations made noise in over 150 countries, all with one voice – action on climate change.

The People’s Climate March took over much of New York’s Manhattan Sunday where more than 120 heads of state gathered for Tuesday’s UN climate summit, a meeting designed to focus negotiations for a new strategy to manage climate change. They’ve got just over a year to squabble their way to a new agreement set for December 2015 when signatory countries to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change meet in Paris. Maybe they can get beyond the endless blame-your-neighbour mentality and actually come up with a deal that works.

The number of countries represented was the largest ever at a climate summit. But it was also notable by the absences. PM Harper was a no-show as were heads of state from China, India and Russia. In 2008, the top carbon dioxide (CO2) emitters were China, the United States, the European Union, India, the Russian Federation, Japan, and Canada.

Marching with the throng of an estimated 300,000 people in Manhattan was UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“While marching with the people, I felt that I had become a Secretary-General of the people,” he said. “I am the Secretary-General of the United Nations; I am now working for the people. Let’s work together to make this planet Earth environmentally sustainable so that our succeeding generations – children after children – will live peacefully.”

It’s daft arguing whether or not the climate is changing and the world is warming. Evidence is everywhere. It can be subtle like longer, hotter days, opportunistic (for some) like melting sea ice opening up shipping lanes, or it can be catastrophic like last year’s supertyphoon Haiyan in the Philippines that packed sustained winds of 315 km/hour with gusts reaching 380 km/hour.

But we don’t have to look far for the record breakers.

“With mean temperatures at 21.45 ̊C, a record breaking 3.55 ̊ above normal, it was the warmest August since Chilliwack records commenced in 1881,” said Roger Pannett, volunteer weather observer for Environment Canada. “It was the 14th consecutive year with mean temperatures for the month above normal, primarily because of the abnormally warm nights.”

Up to August 31st, the 2014 precipitation total is 902.7 mm on 115 days compared to the average of 1,047.8 mm on 106 days, Pannett said.

This year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its Climate Change 2014 Report addressing impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. The breakdown is indeed dire. It listed five integrated reasons for concern that illustrated the implications of warming and the limitations of people, economies, and ecosystems. They include the danger and destruction of extreme weather events, the uneven distribution of impacts for disadvantaged people, the potential for collapse of unique ecosystems, aggregate economic damage as temperatures rise, and the complexities of large-scale singular events.

These massive events include the collapse of Arctic ecosystems through sea-ice melt and the destructive bleaching of warm-water coral reefs in which heat stress damages the algae living symbiotically inside the corals leading to coral death. It all feeds back into the loss of biodiversity, human health, food production, water supply, security risks, and human migration and displacement due to storm surges, coastal flooding and sea level rise.

We are already starting to see these events. Major hurricanes, storms, floods, crippling heat and drought are far more frequent.

“There is no Plan B because we do not have Planet B,” said Ban Ki-moon last Sunday. “We have to work and galvanize our action.”

Yes, we do.