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Acting on Climate Change is Good for Everyone

7 May 2024

SCIAF welcomes new climate change law - climate strike 2019

Ben Wilson, SCIAF Director of Public Engagement, writes about the importance of taking action on climate change as John Swinney becomes First Minister.

Tackling climate change should be at the top of John Swinney’s in-tray as he starts his new role as First Minister. 

The recent Scottish Government announcement to scrap their legally binding climate targets was deeply regrettable and wrong. In 2019, thousands of SCIAF supporters had campaigned to secure these targets, and we loudly welcomed the brave commitment made by the Scottish Parliament in September of that year to put them into law. Crucially, it is vital to remember, all parties in the Scottish Parliament in 2019 backed these climate targets, except the Greens who called for even more ambition.  

In 2019, it felt like the world had woken up to the devastation being wrought already in our world by climate change. Led by the youth climate strikers, thousands of us took to the streets calling for our leaders to do all that they can to protect people, the planet and the unborn future generations who have a right to inherit a livable planet. 

Five years on, I fear that 2019 passion for action on climate has dissolved. For all of our sakes, I hope this moment can be a wake-up call for everyone. This is a moment for U-turn, and for the new First Minister to clearly commit to reversing the announcement that ended the premiership of his predecessor.

Why does SCIAF work on Climate Change? 

Sofia Malawi

In 2023, I had the privilege of travelling to southern Malawi with SCIAF. We were accompanying the BBC, who were featuring our work with communities there who’ve been affected by recent extreme weather events. There I met with Sofia (above) . Sofia was part of a community that was re-homed in 2016, following devasting floods. In countries like Malawi, as in any country, this was deeply traumatic and disruptive.  

When we met her in 2023, she was living in temporary accommodation, with 20 other women and their children. Her home had been destroyed by cyclones in 2022. This had torn her family apart, literally, as this temporary accommodation was, for good reason, female only, leaving her husband to find shelter elsewhere. Not only were cyclones devasting this new land that she had been moved to, but seasonal rivers caused by increased flood waters were splitting the village in two.  

One giant impassable river split this community in half for periods of the year. Soon after we left Sofia, Cyclone Freddy hit southern Malawi – the third extreme cyclone in four years. This again devastated Sofia’s community, and we learned they’ve been rehomed for a third time onto higher ground. For how much longer her new home will be safe, it is hard to know. 

This is why SCIAF works on climate change. This is why Scotland meeting its climate targets matters. The finest scientists in the world have concluded that historical and current emissions from countries like ours are having a massive impact on countries like Malawi, and communities like Sofia’s. Unless we act now, Sofia and millions of people like her will have nowhere else to turn.  

Why is climate change so important to Catholics? 

SCIAF is concerned about climate change because it's our job to stand-up for people like Sofia. This is deeply rooted in our faith and mission as an agency of the Catholic Church. In 2015, Pope Francis published Laudato Si, his seminal encyclical which spelt out with great moral clarity why concern for the planet is deeply connected to concern for people, and why church teachings and ancient wisdom require us to champion a greener world.  

In 2023, Pope Francis published a follow-up Laudate Deum, which was even more explicit in its calls on governments in the industrialised world to up their game on climate change. In it, Pope Francis lambasts those who seek to “blame the poor” for climate impacts in arguments around overpopulation and calls on political and business leaders to urgently increase their ambitions. 

Ben Holy See Cropped

I had the privilege of attending COP28 in Dubai as a member of the Holy See delegation. I arrived in Dubai to the sad news that Pope Francis’ was no longer able to attend due to health reasons. But over the subsequent two weeks, myself and the rest of the small group of Vatican negotiators did our best to inject the talks with Pope Francis' moral clarity on this issue. Here in Scotland now, SCIAF is seeking to bring Pope Francis’ message to Scottish politics and call upon our new First Minister to heed his cries; heed the cries of the earth, and the cries of the poor. 

Our message to the new First Minister is clear - climate change must be back at the top of his government's agenda. Acting on climate change is a moral imperative. It's a duty we have to Sofia and others like her, who are already suffering its effects but have done little or nothing to contribute to it. It's a duty we have to the unborn; to future generations from whom we are only borrowing this planet, who deserve an Earth that can help them survive and thrive.