Could climate change be the catalyst we need for social reform?

Photo credit: Tashiana Osborne

Climate change is one of the worst problems facing our planet. The potential impacts of a global warming above 1.5⁰C, are well documented and are even becoming more commonly discussed in the general media, but it still feels like there’s a resistance to policy changes which could mitigate climate change. Maybe this is because we’re approaching it wrong.

For two weeks, from the 2nd to the 13th of December, policy makers from across the globe are coming together to negotiate the terms and conditions of climate change action. However, some of the most exciting and inspirational discussions are happening away from the negotiation table, in the side events and the protests, and all the other activities that are going on at COP25. These discussions are centred around climate change, obviously, but they also include a wide range of other related issues that our society is facing such as gender inequality, education, health, and human rights. So, this got me thinking, could there be a ‘positive’ to climate change? Could it bring us all closer together? Could it be the catalyst for much needed societal change?

Using local knowledge

When it comes to tackling climate change, we need an all hands-on deck approach, but some of the people most affected by climate change, the people whose input is needed most, don’t currently have an equal voice in the discussion. Local and indigenous people not only have a relationship with the area, having a history of relying on the natural resources for their livelihoods and sometimes having ancestral or spiritual connections to the land, but also have a greater knowledge of the land that is collected over the course of several generations. A recent IPCC report states that “The effectiveness of decision-making and governance is enhanced by the involvement of local stakeholders in the selection, evaluation, implementation and monitoring of policy instruments for land-based climate change adaptation and mitigation”. So, we need to make sure that these people have a platform, that their voices can be heard, and most importantly that we listen.

Promoting gender equality

In the areas where climate change is felt more directly, it is often women that are most strongly affected. Women are often more socially, economically, and politically vulnerable than their male counterparts. This vulnerability can mean that they aren’t as resilient to disasters, or extreme events, which are becoming more common as the climate changes. A report by the Women’s Environmental Network states that women make up 80% of people that are displaced by climate change, however women made up only 27% of heads of national delegations and only 34% of all delegates that attended COP24. By representing women equally in discussions, we will benefit from their ideas and skills and importantly issues that predominantly effect women will also be discussed.

A healthier planet

It’s becoming more acknowledged that climate change is and will continue to have a massive impact on our health. Floods and droughts limit access to clean water, heatwaves put stress on the body that can lead to stroke, and poor air quality can cause respiratory disease. One in nine people lack access to clean water and this will only get worse with climate change. In response, several organisations are working to improve water management systems which will lead to more people having easier access to clean water. Greenpeace advocate a diet with less meat and dairy which will not only reduce carbon emissions but has been shown to help some patients with type 2 diabetes. We’re also encouraged to walk short distances rather than drive to shrink our own carbon footprint which will mean we’ll be getting exercise to make us fitter and healthier reducing the risk of several illnesses.

Reframing the problem, and reaping the benefits from the solution

Climate change isn’t just temperatures on a graph. Climate change involves societies, livelihoods, cultures, and wellbeing. So, when we are looking at solutions to tackle climate change we need to involve and include all people.

There was a quote shared at COP25 by Prof. Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University Climate Science Center: “One of the most important things we are lacking right now is a vision of a better future we can head towards, as opposed to only an apocalyptic future that we can avoid.”

Could this be the approach we need? To not run away from a disastrous end but instead to run towards the future we want? I’m not saying climate change is a good thing by any means and its impacts will be devastating, but the solutions could be exactly what we need to recharge society.