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23 October 2013
Global warning

Global warning

When the message by a group of international scientists was finally delivered, after a week of intense negotiations, perhaps it wasn’t a surprise to anyone, but it was no less stark.
The UN’s climate panel meeting in Stockholm, in its most comprehensive statement yet on climate change, concluded that the warming of the planet was “unequivocal” – and that with 95 per cent certainty we can say humans are to blame.

The International Panel on Climate Change said that not only had each of the last three decades been successively warmer, but they were warmer than any period since 1850 and probably any time in the last 1,400 years.

And while the questions came thick and fast in the press conference on a ‘pause’ over a 16-year period where the rise in temperatures had slowed, Tom Ballantine, chairman of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, noticed another revealing aspect.

In more than 20 questions, there was only one, from a China Daily journalist, who asked: ‘What does this mean for the consumption patterns of the Chinese people?’

Ballantine said: “It was a scientific report, so fair enough, people want to ask about the science, but it was interesting that with all these British press people who were desperate to find a way out it seemed, and only that one question, really, from the whole conference was about what does this mean for people.”

It was lobbying from Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, a coalition that represents over 60 organisations and 1.6m people that helped secure the Climate Change Act (Scotland) in 2009, unanimously agreed by Parliament and introduced legally binding targets to reduce carbon emissions.

But far from meaning its work was over, since 2010 when Ballantine took over the chair, it has been campaigning to ensure that the lofty ambitions are met.

Earlier this year the Government published its second Report on Proposals and Policies, setting out plans to curb carbon emissions between now and 2027 – and help towards the ultimate aim of cutting carbon by 80 per cent by 2050.
Stop Climate Chaos was critical of the report, and highlighted targets would only be met if all the proposals and policies were implemented in full.

Ballantine said: “The message we’ve received over the years from the IPCC has become more certain and become stronger and the need for action has become more urgent.
“If we don’t act, the outcomes are going to be grim. With that context, do I think the Government is going to be doing enough?

“Well, it will be doing enough if it meets its targets. I think Scotland should be proud of setting the 40 per cent target by 2020, 80 per cent target by 2050, but of course it’s only a matter of pride if we actually succeed in meeting those targets and it would be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory to be the great leaders on this issue in the world and trumpeted abroad as a country that is doing fantastic things and then not deliver.”

He emphasises the importance of both governments and individuals to take responsibility for their role in climate change.

Ballantine said: “If I have one message, it is about honesty and about the need for honesty at an individual and governmental level about the situation and about the risks and benefits of different courses of action.

“The risks of doing nothing are all too apparent from the IPCC report, there are very few discernable benefits from doing nothing, we know where we’re heading and it’s not a good place.

“The benefits of doing something are, we end up with a cleaner, healthier economy with renewables at its heart - an infinite source of energy.”

He adds: “Politicians are elected by individuals and unless individuals make it clear to politicians that they want a government that takes this issue seriously, that moves towards sustainability rather than constantly going on about economic growth, if individuals don’t ask for that change then it is going to be very difficult to make it happen.

“It’s also about government looking honestly at the situation, the concern is sometimes that politicians want to see the nice picture that fits their own model of the way they want the world to work, sadly, the world doesn’t work in the way they want it to.”

Ballantine, a lawyer by training, worked as a partner in an Edinburgh law firm, but has had a long-standing interest in the environment dating back to university and previously he chaired Friends of the Earth Scotland.

He said it was 20 years ago that he made a decision he would retire at 55 and concentrate on something on “the environmental side”.

“I didn’t know what, I just wanted to do something, I progressed through my thirties doing my legal work and I reached the age of 43 or 44 and thought this issue is really pressing.

“The original plan had been to do this when I was 55, but truthfully, I came to the conclusion that this was such a pressing issue that I wanted to start doing it earlier.”

He joined the coalition in 2007, but agreed with his partnership he would stop work first as a partner, then as a consultant – freeing him up to take on his more public role as chairman in 2010, taking over from the founding chairman, Mike Robinson.

“An example I would use is that my uncles were lawyers and both of them before they went into law, they fought in the Second World War, they had a period of their lives they had to give to a bigger cause.
“I take the view that when you have something as desperate as this, then all of us ought to be thinking what can we do about it because, if we don’t the outcomes are so devastating for the next generation and generations.”

While the focus last year was on lobbying the Government as it put together the RPP2, the coalition’s big task over the coming 12 months is to get the Government to spend more money on active transport.

Roughly a quarter of all emissions in Scotland are from transport and the coalition wants to see more being done to encourage people to walk, cycle or take public transport – and leave the car at home.

Money was announced in the draft budget by John Swinney, but Ballantine said the target was to get the budget for active travel up to around £40m in the 2014/15 budget, tipping the balance to what is spent on greener methods of transport over building roads.

It is also campaigning about the launch of the Procurement Reform Bill, wanting to ensure that despite having the word ‘sustainable’ removed from the title, it is not forgotten when it is implemented.

He said the concern was “the focus on economic issues or economic benefits will simply crowd out the environmental and social aspects” and added: “Whatever this act does, it has to properly embed social and environmental benefits and make sure they are delivered rather than paid lip service to.”

Ultimately, much of the debate over climate change comes down to fairness. While the impact of global warming may not be felt as keenly in countries like Scotland, in other parts of the world it is already having a devastating impact. It is for that reason that the Scottish Government hosted a Climate Justice Conference in Edinburgh in October and set up a fund last year, which helps projects in countries like Malawi, to help mitigate the impact of climate change.

The coalition has supported the formation of the Climate Justice Fund and wants to see more action along those lines.
Ballantine says: “It is the responsibility of governments to make it easier to behave in ways that work for the individual and society. I think it’s for the individual to think about the impact of his or her behaviour now and for the future.

“It’s a lot easier for someone with resources to do these things and it is the biggest consumers, the people who have the biggest resources, who have the biggest responsibility that applies to individuals and countries.

“If you are sitting in a very arid part of Africa and you have life and death decisions to make about what you do with resources, it’s pretty clear the direction you are going to take.

“When you are sitting in the UK, with comparatively a much more secure situation in terms of money, resources, education, etc, then you have more choice and therefore you have to have more responsibility.”

He adds: “I think you have to be fair. If the developing world has, broadly speaking, created this problem, I think it is fair that the developed world should be the first ones to address it.”

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