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We must hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor

Last week SCIAF Policy Officer Ben Wilson was at the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland, trying to make the world’s leaders listen to voice of the poor. In this blog he explains why action is still desperately needed.

For the last two weeks the annual UN Climate Change Conference has taken place in Katowice, Poland. I represented SCIAF at these talks, where we worked to bring the voices of the poorest to world leaders, and put pressure on the governments of the world to increase their action on climate change.

Climate change is a priority issue for SCIAF, because every day we see its effects on our poorest brothers and sisters in developing countries. Earlier this year, I travelled to Malawi to visit SCIAF projects supporting subsistence farmers.

In Malawi, one of the poorest countries of the world, the majority of people rely on rain-fed agriculture to feed their families. This means they have one harvest per-year, as they must wait for the rainy season to irrigate their crops, and their entire livelihood depends on weather patterns. Climate change, caused by the greenhouse gas emissions in wealthy countries like Scotland, is disrupting weather patterns.

For millions of people in Malawi, and in countries like Malawi, this makes climate change a matter of life or death. When rains fall too heavily they can sweep away newly planted seeds; when they fall too lightly, crops shrink and die; when they come too early or too late, farmers can miss the chance to grow the food their family relies on.

Alongside this, climate change is causing increased heatwaves, floods and droughts for millions of people across the world, and as always, it is the poorest who will feel these effects most.

At the UN talks in Katowice, SCIAF was disappointed by a lack of action from governments of the world. The science shows clearly that we must prevent global temperature increases rising above 1.5oC to avoid the most serious impacts of climate change, but if countries fail to enhance their current commitments, we are on our way to global average temperature increases of 3.5oC.

Make no mistake, temperature increases of this level is nothing short of climate catastrophe; droughts leading to famines, mass climate migration, and some countries wiped off the face of the earth.

In his papal encyclical Laudato Si Pope Francis writes that “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental”.

These sentiments were underlined to me as I attending the UN talks, where world leaders and businesses bickered over technical details of global environmental policy. It is essential that we bring the voices of the poor to our leaders, give climate change a human face, and demand action from our governments.

The Scottish Parliament has the chance to pass a world-leading Climate Change Bill in 2019. In the name of the poorest, and as the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in Scotland, we are calling on the Scottish Parliament set targets in law to cut emissions by 77% by 2030 and achieve net-zero by 2050.