By setting a net-zero emissions target, Scotland can be a world leader on climate change

Written by Jamie Livingstone on 2 November 2017 in Comment

Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland, says climate change is hitting the world's poorest the hardest and Scotland must act

Kiribati - image credit: Ula Majewski, Oxfam

Moneja Begum comes from an island that is less than half the size it once was. Over the last fifty years, the low-lying Bangladeshi Kutubdia Island has been disappearing because of climate change.

Moneja had to leave the island years ago after five members of her family were killed by one of the deadliest tropical cyclones on record. She lost loved ones, her home and the family’s fishing boat. Moneja, her husband and her three children moved to the district town of Cox’s Bazar on the Bangladeshi mainland. Now they live in a makeshift house they built in a shanty town full of other people from Kutubdia.

“We have nothing to survive on,” Moneja told Oxfam. “Everything has gone to the stomach of the sea.”


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Moneja’s story isn’t unusual, especially in Bangladesh, a country which was left two-thirds underwater earlier this year after experiencing its worst flooding in decades.

In a new Oxfam report out today, we document the terrifying reality of climate change which is driving people like Moneja from their homes. Last year alone, 23.5 million people were newly displaced by extreme weather. This figure doesn’t even account for people forced from their homes by “slow on-set” disasters like drought and sea level rise, or all those battling against the odds to survive without abandoning their home.

“Uprooted by Climate Change” shows how people on the frontlines of climate change are dealing with the threat of displacement. It also demonstrates the ruthless inequality of climate change: people like Moneja in low and lower middle income countries are five times more likely to be forced from their homes by “sudden onset” weather disasters, like floods and storms, than people in richer countries.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has rightly said that Scotland has a moral obligation to tackle this devastating climate change. It’s an issue of justice. Climate change is eating away shores and flooding homes. It’s leaving farmland bone-dry and shattering the lives of millions who did virtually nothing to cause it. It’s unconscionable to leave poor communities alone to deal with disasters they didn’t create, whilst continuing to emit climate changing emissions into the environment.

To date, the Scottish Government has recognised this injustice by marrying progress in reducing our emission levels to enhanced support to countries adapting to the impact of climate change through the Climate Justice Fund whilst also helping those recovering from disaster through its Humanitarian Emergency Fund.

But it’s illogical to give with one hand and take with another: donating tens of thousands of pounds to help with the relief effort to the recent South Asia floods, while continuing to perpetuate the problem by failing to adequately control our own emissions.

As the First Minister heads to Bonn next week, to join other world leaders at the United Nation’s climate conference, she must remember the pledge she made in her Programme for Government where she promised to show global leadership on climate change.

The First Minister must stand true to the promises she made in Paris two years ago, where she vowed to champion climate justice as a global priority.

She must now show that she’s serious about this pledge by doing more than just ‘thinking very carefully’ about introducing a target of zero net emissions. This goal, which is backed by our partners within Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, means we would only emit into the atmosphere what we can remove through measures like tree-planting and technologies which capture carbon.

The First Minister must use the golden opportunity the Scottish Government’s upcoming Climate Change Bill presents to commit to achieving this by 2050. The current plan for a 90 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050 simply doesn’t go far enough.

Scotland’s Climate Change Bill is as important abroad as it is at home. Scotland is one of the first countries to develop new climate legislation since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. The world is watching to see how ambitious we will be.

By setting a net-zero target by 2050 at the latest, Scotland can demonstrate critical global leadership and send a powerful message to world leaders that Scotland rejects any back-sliding on global climate commitments. Scotland should show the leadership needed to re-energise and re-focus global efforts to tackle climate change.

Oxfam’s report today shows some of the costs of failing to take decisive, ambitious action. But it’s not too late yet to do what’s needed to save millions of lives.

The First Minister has the chance to prove that she will lead the fight for the futures of people like Moneja. For all our futures. Will she be brave enough to take it?

Jamie Livingstone is Head of Oxfam Scotland

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