2015 is set to be the hottest year on record by a wide margin. According to Met Office data, global surface mean temperatures are set to reach 1°C above pre-industrial levels for the first time. That’s halfway to the internationally-recognized 2° limit for avoiding dangerous climate change, and yet we’ve also used up two-thirds of the emissions that will take us to that limit. According to the Met Office and partners in the AVOID project, we’re also rapidly coming to the point where GHG reductions alone will be insufficient to meet the target, and ‘negative emissions’ technologies like carbon capture and storage will be necessary.
Extreme weather is happening with increasing frequency: just think how often we hear weather forecasts these days that include the phrase “since records began.” But because of the lag in the climate system, we know that the majority of climate change impacts are still to come. More than a metre of sea level rise by 2100 is a real possibility. Extreme heatwaves in Europe will become the norm by the 2040s, and intense summer rainfall could be five times more likely by 2100.
So not only is the need for a binding international agreement on reducing emissions more urgent than ever, it’s also crucial that adaptation to cope with the inevitable impacts of climate change isn’t overlooked. This is particularly true for people in the developing world, where the most vulnerable people live. Indeed, climate change will threaten our ability to deliver every one of the new Sustainable Development Goals set recently by the United Nations.
But adapting to climate change isn’t just a problem for the developing world. The UK will see impacts including increased flood risk, overheating, and water scarcity. These will reach into every level of our society – our communities, our local economies, our local health and wellbeing. And just as in the wider world, the most vulnerable among us will be most adversely affected.
There is a lot that we as communities can do to help ensure our own resilience to severe weather and climate change, and to be more self-reliant – especially as government agencies and authorities see their resources reduced. Locally-owned community resilience projects get communities to identify risks and produce their own plans to cope with severe weather.
Local businesses can complete a Business Resilience Health Check to help them discover where they may be vulnerable and what steps they can take to improve their resilience. Many local councils are collecting information about the costs of severe weather on their services and communities, and of the measures they can take to respond.
Public Health England works with partners serving vulnerable communities to ensure that messages and support get through to those who need it most.
To identify the most vulnerable people and the best strategies for protecting them in our professional roles and responsibilities, local decision-makers have a helpful tool produced by Climate UK for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Climate Just highlights which people and places are likely to be most vulnerable to the impacts of extreme weather, examines fuel poverty and inequities in energy policy and how these can be addressed locally, and provides resources to support local action to tackle climate disadvantage.
The Conference Of the Parties ‘COP21’ meeting taking place in Paris over the next two weeks may seem removed from our lives, and something that only our governments need concern themselves with, but the outcomes of this impact upon us all. And if they don’t agree measures to change our current climate path for the better, then we face an even more serious problem of runaway climate change!
The Paris COP is galvanising many different civil society groups and concerned individuals to get together to take action and raise public awareness and involvement about climate change. So whatever happens, or doesn’t, over the next fortnight in Paris it will be down to all of us to grow our resilience to the inevitable impacts whilst reducing our contributions to greenhouse gas emissions to avoid dangerous climate change.
There’s never been more at stake for the world, so we need a fair COP to start making the changes needed!
London Climate Change Partnership