In recent weeks, young people around the world have been speaking out about climate change, from 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg addressing politicians at the Houses of Parliament to pupils skipping school across the UK to join the fight to protect their planet. But no one in power seems to be listening.
The world is in a state of emergency. Parents in drought-hit Niger struggle to feed their children after another crop failure. Climate refugees in Bangladesh flee their waterlogged homes to live in cramped, unsanitary conditions, working for a pittance. Climate change is pushing people to the brink, propelling them further into poverty, stripping them of their dignity and of the chance to lead fulfilling lives.
Last month the Committee on Climate Change urged Britain to cut greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050 in an attempt to stop the degradation of the planet. But we at CAFOD believe we need to act faster and should legislate for a 2045 target at the latest.
What’s more, the government needs to allocate the funding required to tackle climate change immediately and put in place policies to help people make changes in their lives, across society and the economy, to achieve the target.
As a lifelong Liverpool FC fan, I was over the moon when they got through to the Champions League final. But, as much as I love them, I just couldn’t have justified flying to Madrid to watch them play (against another English club, Tottenham) because of the emissions.
I know I could have gone by train and enjoyed the journey (with the additional time this takes) but for me, the premise of two English clubs and hundreds of thousands of fans travelling to Spain – and the expense this means – when they could have played down the road at Old Trafford was simply wrong.
This illustrates to me that we need a big shift in mindset to tackle climate change. Targets, investment and policies are vital, but we need to change how we do things.
Net zero gives us a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate how we want to live. For example, clean air, with no pollution in our cities and towns, would bring health benefits, protect and bring back to life nature and biodiversity, and entail a good, reliable public transport system. Net zero also gives us the chance to address inequalities in society, both in the UK and overseas.
The UK led the world when it passed the Climate Change Act in 2008, with cross-party support, and it is true there has been some progress – our emissions are at their lowest level since the 1880s and across the country windfarms and solar panels provide clean, renewable energy – but we need to step up the fight at home and abroad.
We must continue to support poor countries to adapt to and mitigate against climate change. As one of the countries that has put more carbon in the atmosphere than most others, it is only right that we do so.
Climate change is an injustice. But just as we cleared the slums after the Second World War and installed a sewage system during Queen Victoria’s reign – which brought one of the biggest changes in public health this country has ever known – we can win the fight.
For our brothers and sisters living on the brink in Niger, Bangladesh and across the globe, this cannot wait until tomorrow. Their tomorrow depends on what we do today.
Christine Allen from Liverpool is director of CAFOD, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (cafod.org.uk). Later this month, campaigners from organisations including CAFOD, WWF, Friends of the Earth, Christian Aid, the Women’s Institute, Oxfam, RSPB and National Trust will descend on Parliament to lobby MPs on climate change. To join a coach from your region to The Time Is Now lobby on 26 June go to cafod.org.uk/climatelobby