There can’t be many who will have missed the fact that, in yet another stark reminder of the effects of global warming, warnings have been issued from North America to Europe and Asia as temperatures soar to record highs. Europe, which is now the globe’s fastest-warming continent, is bracing itself for its hottest-ever temperature on Italy’s islands of Sicily and Sardinia, where a high of 48°C (118°F) is predicted.
For those living in any of the 811 displacement camps in northwest Syria, the situation is dire. They already suffer from a shortage of necessary water but are forced to use their limited resources to sprinkle their tents in the extreme heat to save their lives. Dandoush, a resident in one of the camps, told Al Jazeera: “We live as if we are inside an oven, struggling to breathe due to the heat inside the tent”.
Eleven thousand miles away from Europe, in California’s Death Valley, near-record temperatures of 53.3° Celsius (180° Fahrenheit) were reached on Sunday afternoon.
Secretary-General, Petteri Taalas, of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is clear: “The extreme weather – an increasingly frequent occurrence in our warming climate – is having a major impact on human health, ecosystems, economies, agriculture, energy, and water supplies. This underlines the increasing urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions as quickly and as deeply as possible.”
None of this will come as a surprise to anyone with even a modicum of knowledge about the severe consequences of environmental neglect.
There has been a lot of talk and broken promises over many years. In 1992, more than 170 countries came together at the Rio Earth Summit and agreed to pursue sustainable development, protect biological diversity, prevent dangerous interference with climate systems, and conserve forests.
COP 27, held in October 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, supposedly agreed a package of decisions that reaffirmed their commitment to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The most significant decision to emerge from this conference, though, was to provide loss and damage funding for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters. Inherent in this decision is a recognition that we may well have hit that tipping point and have left it too late to stop the worst excesses of the climate disaster, particularly for the Global South.
A research paper published in 2017 attempted to answer the question, “What’s going wrong with sustainability initiatives?” and found that three types of failure kept recurring: economic, political, and communication. The economic failures stem from the basic problem that environmentally-damaging activities are financially rewarded. Political failures happen when governments can’t or won’t implement effective policies. This is often because large extractive industries, like mining, are dominant players in an economy and see themselves as having the most to lose. Communication failures centre on poor consultation or community involvement in the policy process. The opposition then flourishes, sometimes based on a misunderstanding of the severity of the issue.
Meanwhile, climate protestors who are doing everything they can to challenge both the public and government complacency over the destruction of our planet are being vilified in much of the media and are receiving disproportionately harsh sentences in our courts. Three non-violent ‘Insulate Britain’ activists were jailed in March 2023, for telling juries why they were protesting. According to the Judge, Silas Reid, the trials were not about climate change…but whether the protestors caused a public nuisance.” Similar rulings, restricting freedom of expression have been made in other courts. This, coupled with the draconian new offences under the Public Order Act, 2023, means that the government is doing everything it can to ensure that the impact of its serious failures to act on the climate emergency are stifled.
It is hard not to be pessimistic. A change of government doesn’t hold even a tiny chance of halting the onward trend towards climate disaster. Even before the election, Keir Starmer has rowed back on his initial promise to invest £28 billion a year in climate-related measures. He is now saying it would be ramped up by the middle of the first parliament.
What these politicians don’t seem to understand is that time is not on their side side.
This means that a great deal of responsibility continues to lie with climate protestors to raise awareness and to increase pressure on governments to make the changes necessary to save our planet.
It is not too much of a stretch to say that the weight of the world is on their shoulders.