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Enough meetings and speeches about the climate crisis. It’s time for action

The world's poorest communities are hardest hit by the climate crisis they contribute least to. They need more than good intentions from wealthier countries, says the Environmental Justice Foundation's Steve Trent
The UK is responsible for nearly five per cent of global carbon emissions since 1750

The UK Climate & Development Ministerial meeting on March 31 discussed how to support those countries most vulnerable to the climate crisis. But the fine sentiments did not go nearly far enough if we are to deal with some of the worst outcomes and impacts of global heating.

The climate crisis is already here. Just last month the Red Cross revealed that in the last six months almost 10.3 million people had to leave their homes as a result of climate-related events such as flooding and droughts. The number displaced by conflict in the same period was 2.3 million.

The impact of global heating is profoundly unjust. Those who contributed the least to our heating planet – its poorest and most marginalised – are being affected first and worst, while the world’s wealthy are still able to avoid the worst consequences. And as our planet continues to heat up, these injustices will magnify and multiply.

The UK is responsible for nearly 5% of the total global CO2 emissions from 1750-2019. Our government should be a global leader. Instead, last year UK aid to some of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries was slashed, from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of national income. Hardly a large difference for a wealthy nation like the UK, but a critical blow to communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis.   

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Nor is the commitment to climate mitigation on our own shores clear. Last year the government stood by while a new coal mine in Cumbria was planned, and just a few weeks ago it gave permission for more oil and gas wells to be drilled in the North Sea.

This is not enough. Developed countries need to step up – and step up now.

Delivering the ambitions of the Paris Agreement can happen only with substantial finance from developed nations. Meetings like the Climate & Development Ministerial are needed to agree strong commitments that will see real help delivered to countries that need it.

What we wanted to see from this meeting was a clear commitment from developed nations’ governments to new pledges that would exceed the US$100 billion over five years that was promised in the Paris Agreement for developing countries to mitigate and adapt to global heating. 

A binding political plan for long-term finance is also needed – including cancelling debts – that would support those communities severely affected right now, balancing adaptation and mitigation.

What we saw was stirring speeches with nods in all the right directions and promises of a detailed pathway for achieving progress. It is that detailed, actionable plan that we need. If it is not forthcoming in the very short term, this meeting will have been yet another example of empty words that will put humanity and the planet on the road to suffering and degradation. 

All too often, action to combat global heating and other pressing environmental crises is presented as a cost, when in reality action today and big spending now would be the biggest cost saving of all time.

The truth is that our world is in crisis in more ways than one. As global heating worsens so does the extinction crisis, and the Covid-19 pandemic is still causing tragedy around the world. To recover from these interconnected problems world leaders must ensure that environmental justice is at the centre of every decision. Everyone has an equal right to a secure and healthy environment, and a safe, equitable and sustainable future.

Steve Trent is executive director for the Environmental Justice Foundation