By Vanessa Crowe, Sustainable Communities Coordinator.
In late November world leaders will meet in Paris for the United Nations Climate Change conference (UN COP 21) in the hope of signing off an international climate change agreement. To raise public awareness, the Royal Society of New Zealand held a series of panel discussions throughout New Zealand titled ‘The Age of Resilience’, bringing together New Zealand and French experts to discuss “humanity’s capacity to adapt, become resilient and address the greatest challenge posed to human existence”.
I went to ‘Climate In-justice’, a discussion held in Wellington, with a panel including Pierre Ducret, Sarah Meads, Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Lucile Schmid chaired by Kim Hill. Together they discussed the connection between climate change and social justice.
While the discussion was informal the message was weighty: there is huge inequality, those who are (and will be) most affected by climate change are least responsible for the emissions that have created it. With less than 20% of the world’s population, the Global North (perhaps better known as the Western World) is responsible for over 70% of our global emissions. Unless there is a global commitment to drastically reduce carbon emissions, we will face a catastrophe in ‘slow time’, with intense and more frequent climate disasters leading to a mass migration of climate change refugees and the destruction of cultures as parts of the world become uninhabitable. This could lead to the collapse of global economic structures. The speakers were clear, governments need to take responsibility for climate justice by redistributing wealth, and reduce emissions so to cap global temperature rises at two degrees of global warming compared to pre-industrial times. Schmid insisted our global financial systems need a complete overhaul to achieve this.
The upcoming UN COP 21 Conference in Paris, is of crucial importance, as Sir Geoffrey Palmer said “We are facing catastrophe if we don’t get it right in Paris”.
Though there seemed to be no certainty about what will come out of UN COP 21. Issues of climate change and economics are delicately entwined. Individual governments fear that emission reduction will affect their countries productivity throwing them into economic recession. But Sir Geoffrey insisted there is no other option. If global temperatures rise beyond two degrees there won’t be an economy.
While Kim Hill managed to keep the discussion lively and upbeat, it is a sobering weighty topic that’s difficult to sum up or even comprehend.
Afterwards I took a look at Naomi Klein book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate”, which had been referred to by the panellists. Thankfully Klein had eloquently distilled the message for me:
“It is a civilizational wake-up call. A powerful message—spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions—telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet”.