2010 Walk Against Warming Rachel Coghlan

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Speakers notes from Rachel Coghlan at the 2010 Walk Against Warming event in Deakin.

1992, the year of the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, and the year in which the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was drafted, was the very same year that all Australian state and territory governments endorsed the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development. The Strategy’s core objectives included:

  1. . To enhance individual and community well-being and welfare by following a path of economic development that safeguards the welfare of future generations;
  2. . To provide for equity within and between generations; and
  3. . To protect biological diversity and maintain essential ecological processes and life-support systems.

Importantly, this strategy had a key principle: ‘where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation’.

We are 18 years on. 2010. And just how far have we come?

18 years on, and internationally, the world’s politicians have been unable to reach a legally binding agreement on curbing global greenhouse gas emissions; and have been unable to reach an agreement which ensures the provision of financial support to help the poorest and most vulnerable communities and countries adapt to the impacts of climate change that they are already experiencing, and will continue to feel the hardest.

18 years on, and in Australia, our own politicians are mired in inaction and embroiled in tit-for-tat point scoring on developing effective domestic policies to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. The Australian Government is already falling short of commitments made in the Copenhagen Accord to help developing countries adapt to climate change.

18 years on, and short-sighted governments around the world and in Australia readily continue to give priority to sustaining jobs, to selective subsidies, and to economic growth, ahead of longer-sighted visionary policies that would sustain the fundamental source of our wealth, our health, and our well-being – our natural environment and the life-supporting systems of our planet.

18 years on, and 2010 is on track to be the warmest year since reliable temperature records.

For those Victorians already suffering from persistent and severe drought, for those who during recent Summer heatwaves have sweltered, and for those who lost homes and loved ones in the tragic Victorian bushfires of 2009, the implications of climate change on the health and wellbeing of our own communities is terribly real. Climate change impacts are not only of relevance to future generations – they are affecting our communities today.

While communities in developed countries like Australia might find it difficult to cope with these impacts of extreme manifestations of climate change, the poorest people in developing countries face even greater challenges.

In the past few weeks we have seen an unprecedented number of weather extremes around the world, for which global warming is one cause – from forest fires in Russia, to floods in Pakistan, to rains and landslides in China and downpours in countries such as Germany and Poland. The worst floods in Pakistan in 80 years have killed more than 1,600 people, and between 14 and 15 million people are affected and need help, including food, water, shelter, basic cooking and hygiene items, health services, community rehabilitation, and psychological/social support.

Asif Iqbal is a World Vision Program Development Coordinator in Pakistan. He is also a climate change advocate, and blogs regularly to his own website - The Colours of Life. In his latest blog written on Friday, Asif writes:

In the KPK district alone, 9000mm rain has been recorded in one week which the province usually receives in an entire year. There is a big risk of a food crisis after damages to crops, while the outbreak of water-borne diseases is getting high after the flooding. This is all what our people are facing due to unexpected weather patterns resulting from climate change. For me and many, immediate support to flood survivors is vital, however, until the world’s leadership become serious about taking action against climate change, and until, side by side, governments become more efficient and transparent in good governance, tragedies like in Pakistan will continue to hit the dignity of people around the world due to man-made natural disasters.

Without question, climate change will challenge almost every aspect of the work of organizations like World Vision in the years to come. Climate change is a development problem, a sustainability problem, and a moral challenge which jeopardizes decades of gains in development work. Climate change threatens the basic elements of life for people around the world – access to water, food, health, and use of the land and the environment. As a child-focused organisation, World Vision cares for the children who are already disproportionately affected, and for future generations of children for whom the burdens will only increase over time. A disregard for the wellbeing of today and tomorrow’s children comes into stark reality in the context of climate change – how much should we invest in or should we borrow from our children’s future?

The impacts of climate change and risks to both current and future generations take us to the very core of sustainability and sustainable development – the need to achieve and maintain environmental and social conditions that can support human health and wellbeing into the future. For all of us, rich and poor, our planetary environment, and the health and wellbeing of the world’s people, are in jeopardy.

Reduction of all emissions sources in a global system is critical, including those of Australia. Every global change in the climate has a local effect. Every local solution undertaken to combat climate change will have a global effect. We all need to do our bit. Australia, in particular has a great capacity for leadership and for generating and sharing solutions with others. Together, we need to develop effective and just climate responses which honour both international and intergenerational equity. So where can we find hope?

Only just last week, Australia’s former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was appointed to a new international High Level Panel on Global Sustainability to continue the work which started in 1992 in Rio. There is some hope here.

The world’s politicians will meet again in Mexico in December to continue the unfinished work of Copenhagen in reaching a global deal on climate change. We cannot afford not to have hope here.

But the real hope comes with you. What we do have is a growing body of the public, in Australia and around the world, who want action on climate change, and who are stepping up to take individual action and calling on their governments to do the same. The majority of the Australian public is concerned that climate change and pollution is damaging the health and wellbeing of our population – 77% of Australians believe that we should give the planet the benefit of the doubt and act on the best scientific information we have.

Civil society needs to come together, again and again and again, to build an unprecedented movement of people creating, and demanding of their politicians, an equitable and sustainable future.

The opposition here is not each other, but the devastating cost of inaction, complacency, and business – and politics - as usual. The goal here is not to own goals or be the winner, but to use teamwork to create a safe climate and deliver climate justice and equity. We already have you and the majority of the Australian public on board - the only team that is now missing to save the planet are our politicians. Australia can be a leader and set an example to the world in clean energy. We can create a cleaner and healthier environment in Australia, which will in turn create a better future for our children, and children in other countries.

If our political parties want direct action on climate change, they have it in you. If our political parties want to see community consensus on climate change, they can see it clearly today in you and the other groups gathering around the country to demand action of them. Thank-you for continuing to demand this of them.

Rachel Coghlan
Advocacy Campaign Leader – Climate Change

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