It was announced this week that the end of 2015 would see our climate warm by 1°C compared to pre-industrial levels. As we enter what is ‘uncharted territory’ according to the Met Office, the issue of climate change is no longer an issue just for slightly mad environmentalists and hippies.
Fortunately, there are signs that climate change is, somewhat belatedly, being recognised as a problem that needs to be taken seriously. Amber Rudd, the Energy and Climate Secretary, recently said, “Climate change is one of the most serious threats we face, not just to the environment, but to our economic prosperity, poverty eradication and global security.” The issue is obviously serious if this comes from a government doing its best to remove subsidies for the renewable energy sector.
Whether your interest is in human rights, engineering, technological innovation or simply making a living, you cannot fail to be affected by climate change – particularly if the world exceeds its 2°C warming target. This fact is the theme behind this year’s Oxford Climate Forum, a student run climate-change conference taking place this week.
One of this year’s keynote speakers at the forum is Bianca Jagger. As the Founder, President and Chief Executive of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, she is a leading voice for human rights globally. Her concern over climate change stems from the inevitable challenge it poses to human rights. Arguably, the great climate migration has already begun, with life in many island nations on the brink of becoming untenable.
On Tuvalu, for example, saltwater intrusion has made farming increasingly difficult. The rains that provide drinking water are becoming unreliable and by the end of the century all of the nation’s land could be underwater. Just last year, a court ruling in New Zealand granted residency to a family from Tuvalu, with part of their lawyers’ argument being that climate change had made their life on the islands almost too difficult.
There is also a plan underway to relocate thousands of indigenous Guna people from their islands in the Caribbean Sea to the Panamanian mainland as rising sea levels and the increasing frequency of storms flood settlements and farmland. If we cannot stem COâ‚‚ emissions and the rising tides then we may face the mass movement of millions of people: a terrible prospect that will be made worse by the fact that the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees still fails to recognise climate change as a valid factor for refugee status.
The future of technological innovation is also set to be shaped by climate change. As governments move away from traditional energy generation based around fossil fuels, lots of research and development is being done on finding ways to reduce the cost of renewable energy technologies. In the UK this has been somewhat undermined by the recent cuts to subsidies for the solar power industry, which have already forced two companies into administration. Similar cuts look likely to also hit onshore wind farms in coming years. But millions of pounds are being poured into research, not only into power generation technology, but also into carbon capture, nuclear energy and electric cars. Whole new areas are opening up but these areas desperately need engineering and technological expertise.
Even the financial sector cannot remain unconcerned about climate change. A changing, uncertain and volatile climate increases the risk of investments, especially in the longer term. We might also ask when investors will finally begin to look beyond fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. Some would argue that this should have already started, with divestment campaigns – including the Guardian’s ‘Keep it in the ground’ initiative – spearheading lobbying efforts. Investors and financial advisors will have to know how climate change will affect both their clients’ investments and their own.
Given the enormity of climate change as a global issue, the Oxford Climate Forum, beginning later this week on Friday 13th November, promises to be an important and highly relevant event. There will be a wide variety of impressive speakers giving addresses from a range of perspectives. Matt Brown, the director of a management consultancy will be giving a speech, along with Sally Copley, Oxfam’s UK Campaigns Director, in addition to a range of others.
You don’t have to be a tree-hugger to take an interest. A warming future will affect us all, no matter what priorities we have.
For tickets and more information on the 2015 Oxford Climate Forum, please click here.