• The YSI

Finlay MacDonald: We cannot afford to forget about the Climate Emergency

We are living through the horrors of the Coronavirus, but we cannot afford to forget about the Climate Emergency

On the 23rd of March 2020, Boris Johnson declared Coronavirus a “national emergency”. This virus threatens lives, industries and hugely impacts the way society functions. However, while this threat is understandably recognised and fiercely combatted, it is important to remember that this is not the only emergency we are currently living through. The Climate Emergency impacts the world in similar ways and equally requires drastic action. We have seen the extreme measures being taken to combat Coronavirus, so we have to ask is the Climate Emergency being treated as the same level of threat?

The initial response to this might be that the Climate Emergency is simply just not a threat on the same scale. This is absolutely not the case; experts warn that deaths from climate change are set to rise every year. On our current path we are estimated to reach an extra 7,000 annual deaths in the UK by 2050, from just heatwaves alone. The effects of climate change are much more than just heatwaves however, there are other extreme weather patterns such as droughts and extreme flooding. In fact, the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit state “five out of the six wettest years documented in UK history have occurred since the year 2000”, the devastating impact these floods have has already been seen, particularly across the UK in recent years. These extreme weather patterns will not only become much more common, but also far more extreme. These effects are not a distant forecast, they are already happening and will get much worse.

Yet another disastrous effect will be a dramatic drop in global food supply as the land struggles to be sustainable enough to farm. Coronavirus has already showcased exactly how the UK population reacts when there is even the slightest threat of a food shortage, imagine the carnage if this were a permanent situation. Perhaps the greatest cruelty of all is that those worst affected will be the people living in the world’s poorest countries, despite the fact they contribute to global warming the least. A food shortage is almost guaranteed to cause large numbers of people fleeing their home countries on a scale never seen before , creating a new migrant crisis. A migrant crisis is yet another disaster that we have already experienced, one which caused mass chaos, tragedy, pain and suffering felt right across Europe and the world.

These warnings do not come from some doomsayer in the street holding a ‘The end is nigh’ sign; they are coming from the world’s top scientists. A statement endorsed by 11,000 scientists from 153 nations warn us of an “untold suffering due to the climate crisis”. When Coronavirus struck the immediate response was to listen to the expert scientists and follow their advice to minimise tragedy as much as possible. Do we have a similar attitude of listening to the experts, who have dedicated years of study to this topic, when it comes to the Climate Emergency?

Scotland was the first government to declare a Climate Emergency and is a country proudly leading the charge, introducing measures that are “the toughest anywhere in the world” including reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2045. These targets are being taken seriously too, with renewable energy making up 90% of Scotland’s electricity usage in 2019. With such disastrous potential consequences though, we must always ask if we are doing enough? Professor Mark Maslin, Professor of Climatology at UCL, along with other top scientists recommend the UK reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030, 15 years before our current target. Scotland has already proven it is a front runner in tackling the Climate Emergency – but we have to keep asking ourselves if we are taking serious enough measures to deal with the scale of this emergency.

There is no denying that measures to combat climate change will have some effect on our lives. Even still, climate action has the growing support of the general public, with the environment having never been as high up on people’s voting priorities. As with Coronavirus there is a recognition it is better to make positive changes in advance, than have to later deal with disastrous consequences.

Even with the general consensus there are some concerns that climate action harms our economy. It is perhaps worth noting that failing to act on the Climate Emergency also damages our economy as well, flooding alone already costs the UK around £2.2 billion annually. The more these disasters occur, the more the costs will increase, causing far more damage to the economy than some planned and controlled changes. The climate emergency does deserve priority, after all if no climate action is taken the economy will soon become worthless to a planet uninhabitable to humans. There is no reason an economy being environmentally friendly means that it cannot also be an economic and social success.

Written by Finlay MacDonald