With the world’s leaders meeting in Paris at the beginning of December to set targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the timing seemed right to host an evening, led by two expert speakers, to discuss the realities of climate change. Does the global process work? What is happening below government level? How are landscapes and wildlife changing in response to climate change, and how can we take meaningful action?
Our experts, Dr Kersty Hobson, a social scientist researching individual, community and government attitudes and responses to climate change, and Dr Shonil Bhagwat, a geographer studying the interconnections between development and the environment, helped us ‘unpack’ a daunting topic.
As Kersty took us through a timeline of developments in the intergovernmental process, convened by the UN, it became clear how far the process has travelled since the first meeting at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. There has clearly been a rollercoaster ride in the interim, with some big dips along the way, but the hope is that the upcoming conference, COP21, in Paris, represents an inflection point. However, the commitments that have been made still fall short of what is needed to limit a likely temperature rise to 2oC.
Alternative leadership is coming form many of the largest cities around the world, where groups such as the C40 Cities (now comprising 81 cities, representing 25% of global GDP and 1 in 12 people worldwide) are working together to reduce emissions and build resilience. There are also an increasing number of community initiatives springing up around the UK encouraging local sustainability.
Shonil talked about the challenges of saving biodiversity on a crowded planet. Climate Change is already affecting plants, wildlife and whole landscapes and the response of different species is often unpredictable. As wilderness areas are reduced and more wildlife inhabits degraded landscapes around agricultural and industrial activities, how do we know where to focus conservation efforts and how do we work with the natural adaptation that biodiversity offers to build a more resilient future?
Shonil talked about different ways we can think about our interaction with the natural world, on a personal level, as a member of a community and in how we engage with the bigger picture. By looking at our consumption choices we can pick products that have a smaller environmental footprint. With 4 billion people in the world identifying with a religious faith, the opportunity to build on valuing and protecting the environment from the perspective of faith communities is considerable. We heard about sacred forests in India protected by Hindu communities and coastal conservation areas in Tanzania supported by Islamic faith groups.
Finally, when considering our changing environment, we need to develop ways to introduce more species into all of our landscapes. Whilst protecting intact wilderness, can we introduce more ‘wilderness’ into our everyday lives? Can we create messy permaculture around our towns and cities and create more wildlife corridors amongst the agricultural landscape? By creating these habitats and increasing the variety of habitats can we create space for other species alongside our own?
The talks generated many questions and some lively discussion, ranging from the tension between the drive for economic growth and the need for emissions reductions, to the validity of the current geological age being named the ‘Anthropocene’. The language of environmental conservation was debated as well as what realistic aims should be for species conservation.
Having ‘unpacked’ a very big topic, one of the clear messages from the evening was that a range of different solutions is needed and many of them are about how we live. The important thing is to get involved in some way.