President Obama has drawn a line in the sand. By 2030 he wants US power companies to cut CO2 emissions by almost a third. Disaster relief charity ShelterBox, so often called to droughts, storms, famines and floods worldwide, applauds new climate change aims.
The tide may be turning at last on climate change. Major new regulations were announced by the US President last week, alongside the 193 member states of the United Nations agreeing a global agenda for sustainable development.
President Obama’s executive order, which will bypass Congress, aims to combat global warming by cutting carbon emissions from U.S. power plants,slashing America’s energy bills and improving the health of the vulnerable. Declaring climate change ‘the greatest threat facing the world’, he will legislate for the American power sector to cut its emissions by 32 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.
In the very same week, following a fortnight of negotiations and all-night sessions, the United Nations unveiled its sustainable development agenda of 17 clear goals. There was a standing ovation and cheering by diplomats when agreement was reached on the targets, which include improved water and energy management, and urgent action to combat climate change. World leaders will meet in New York from 25 September to formally adopt the new agenda, and His Holiness Pope Francis will address the United Nations before the summit.
International disaster relief agency ShelterBox responds every year to natural disasters linked to climate change. Chief Executive Alison Wallace says, ‘It is very heartening to see world leaders finally signing up to combat global warming. Climate is the root cause of so many of the world’s disasters, bringing untold misery to families forced from their homes by extreme weather, by floodwaters, or by drought.’
But delivering the UN’s agenda will come at a huge cost to the member states. The overall price tag for meeting these sustainability goals is the equivalent of the United States’ annual federal budget of $3.8 trillion. But the argument is that failing to meet them will cost lives, lost crops and farmland, and an enforced nomadic lifestyle for millions.
A 2015 report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) predicts that within a decade up to 20% of the global population will experience periods of intense drought, and 50 million people will live in areas that are on the verge of becoming uninhabitable deserts.
Alison adds, ‘On our planet one person in every seven has been forced to migrate in search of food or a livelihood, or to flee natural disasters caused by increasingly violent climates. This constant shifting of huge populations makes headlines, but the greenhouse effect that drives them is often overlooked. Climate change sparks both conflict and economic migration, causing families to abandon their homes and head for safety and the prospect of better living conditions.’
‘So often these are journeys of abject misery and poverty, and agencies such as ShelterBox can ease the suffering of only a limited number of families. Many more are beyond our reach.’ Right now ShelterBox is providing aid in parched Iraq, in severe flooding in Myanmar, North Korea, Niger and Chile, and in the seemingly endless conflict in Syria.
Last week in the White House President Obama said, ‘We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change. We’re the last generation that can do something about it. We only get one home. We only get one planet. There’s no plan B.’ When he met Sir David Attenborough in May he addressed the need for urgency. ‘I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat earth society.’
Alison Wallace says, ‘Hopefully urgency will drive international commitment. This is a going to be a long process, and no-one pretends we will see any easing of the need for disaster relief in the short term. But at least with these two announcements there is growing recognition that climate change is closely linked to the tragedy of populations on the move. In the meantime, whatever the cause, ShelterBox remains fully committed to meeting the needs of refugees, migrants and the displaced.’