Advocating for change at the Scottish Parliament

Fr. Leonard Chiti, SJ, the Jesuit Provincial of the Zambia-Malawi Province, is a great friend of SCIAF and has worked with us for many years to fight poverty and increase justice in his native Zambia. Here he reflects on his recent visit to the Scottish Parliament, advocating for the bold new Climate Bill.

Before I got onto the plane that would bring me to Glasgow last week, I learnt from the media that the Shire River in Southern Malawi had burst its banks, flooding the surrounding area. Not surprisingly, homes were washed away, crops destroyed and lives lost. By the time I arrived in Glasgow, I learnt that 50 people had died due to the flooding. We are all only too aware of the devastation caused by the recent cyclone and flooding in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Historically speaking the southern part of Malawi is prone to flooding when there is heavy rainfall. However, this was not a frequent phenomenon until now. It happened only once in a while. These days the floods are a lot more frequent and more intense. This is one reason why we in Malawi, and other developing countries, believe that the more severe floods and droughts in recent years north and west of the Shire River are a consequence of climate change.

The effects of climate change also include more erratic and unpredictable rainfall patterns. For the majority of people in southern Africa, who rely on agriculture to provide food for their families and earn a living, this has become a living nightmare. Many people are already poor and don’t have any resources or a safety net to cope with the changing climatic patterns which can ruin or diminish their crops. They are also unable to access finance from commercial banks. They simply rely on rain and hard work and, sometimes, a benevolent state to help in difficult times.

My recent visit to Glasgow was intended, among other things, to speak to members of the Scottish parliament to highlight the urgency of the climate emergency and to encourage parliamentarians to pass a new Climate Change (Scotland) Bill that enshrines bold targets to reduce emissions. I met with three MSPs from different parties, Alasdair Allan, Liam McArthur and Ross Greer. I called on each MSP to remember the poorest when they debate their new climate change legislation at the start of April.

Colleagues in Glasgow had also arranged that I travel to Edinburgh and sit in the First Minister’s session, thanks to the support of Elaine Smith MSP. It was a rare privilege for me to be in the chambers and follow live the deliberations of MSPs on various issues.

One item that moved me very much was a question from Maureen Watt MSP on what the Scottish Government was doing in the wake of floods that had devastated Southern Malawi. I was encouraged by the response of the First Minister who announced that the government had set aside money to respond to the suffering of the people in Southern Malawi.

I applaud the Scottish people through their representatives for showing solidarity with people of Malawi.

However, I believe the Scottish people through their government must go a step further. This year, the Scottish Parliament must pass a Climate Change Bill that includes stronger targets on cutting greenhouse gas emissions which are driving climate change, and is underpinned by principles of climate justice – that wealthy countries responsible for creating the problem should help developing countries who are being hit first and hardest.

SCIAF has been working with many people in Scotland and Europe to lobby for strong, legally binding emissions reduction targets to tackle climate change. I pray that their initiative, alongside many others, succeeds in saving the planet and its people at this dangerous time. Pope Francis, a strong advocate for urgent action to combat climate change, calls for us to do what is necessary to save the lives of vulnerable people, and care for our common home.

As the Pope says, the environmental crisis and poverty are not two crises but one inseparable crisis. I believe that Scotland should take a lead in reconciling the two sides of this one coin.

Countries like Scotland and others who have contributed more to greenhouse gas emissions leading to global warming and ultimately climate change should do more to bring about the radical changes in lifestyles and their economic production to help us avoid catastrophic consequences in the near future.

This moral responsibility also extends to helping those who are now suffering the negative effects of climate change despite having done little to cause the problem.

Supporting a bold new Climate Change Bill is a key way for Scotland to meet its moral obligations.