When will our leaders take climate change seriously? 

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The tragedy of the Australian Bush fires | Credit @mattabbottphoto

It’s a sobering thought. Climate change isn’t so much creeping up anymore, it’s coming at us in leaps and bounds. Europe is now the fastest warming continent in the world. 

According to the latest assessment by the European Environment Agency (EEA), energy, food, homes and our health could all be at risk. Without urgent action, many of these risks could become catastrophic. And as climate change doesn’t respect borders, it means that whether living in continental Europe, Scotland and the UK, or elsewhere, this concerns us all. 

It echoes similar reports from a range of sources, not least the Scottish Government which found climate change as threatening the country’s soils, agriculture, wildlife, and coastal habitats.

Climate records are now tumbling like dominoes. 2023 was the hottest year on record, with global temperatures close to the 1.5°C threshold deemed ‘safe’ by the UN Paris Agreement.

Our leaders have left things too late. The EEA’s assessment comes on top of a worrying report by the Climate Change Committee looking at UK Government performance on tackling climate change. UK policy development was found to be “too slow” with confidence in meeting Net Zero targets ebbing away.  

Failure to act fast enough has left us fighting on two fronts; reducing the damage and trying to stop it getting out of hand. Frankly, all our futures are now at stake. Decarbonising our economy is key. 

As the EEA’s Executive Director, Leena Ylä-Mononen puts it, “policymakers must act now to reduce climate risks both by rapid emission cuts and by strong adaptation policies and actions.” 

Nothing new there. So, what will it take to really get decisive action?

The EEA report predicts extreme heat, drought, wildfires, and flooding in Europe getting worse, even under optimistic global warming scenarios. As the heat ramps up, our health looks set to be affected too, with people working outdoors and the elderly being amongst those particularly vulnerable. 

Rising sea levels and changes in storm patterns are likely to cause devastation.

Crop failures look set to increase. Prolonged droughts will affect large areas, particularly in southern regions, affecting the availability of food and drinking water. 

Longhorn cattle at Knepp Wildland estate, England | Credit: Philip Lymbery

One way suggested by EEA to ease the situation is a shift from animal-based proteins to sustainably grown plant-based proteins, which would reduce water consumption in agriculture and dependency on imported feed.

Other ways to act with the ambition needed to succeed include ending harmful subsidies for agriculture and fisheries. Nature-based climate adaptation solutions such as giving space to wetlands and diverse forests should also be prioritised as they store water and absorb carbon. Restoring our oceans as the world’s greatest carbon sink must be an urgent priority. 

Measures are needed to build a clean, low carbon and circular economy that steers away from our current practices so often based on activities that drive pollution and global warming. 

As so much of our pollution and greenhouse gas emissions come from food and agriculture, what’s on our plate will increasingly hold the key to the changes needed for a sustainable future. 

Note: This is a version of an article that first appeared in The Scotsman on Friday 22nd March, 2024

Main Image Credit: Luigi Giordano

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