Paul's Column: Climate change - why we simply can and must do more

15 August 2017

What do you remember about the year 2006? I have been in quite a reflective mood this summer holiday so a few events stand out for me. At the very beginning of that year, a northern bottlenose whale was discovered swimming in the River Thames to the shock of many onlookers. Understandably a momentous incident for Londoners, it inspired the creation of a song as well as a children’s book. For me however, it revealed just how disconnected some of us have become from nature. Later on that year the tables turned and little Pluto got disconnected from us. It lost its planet status and was downgraded to a ‘dwarf planet’, thus changing the way we view our Solar System. And that same summer, former US Vice President Al Gore brought to light a “planetary emergency” of our own as An Inconvenient Truth was released, documenting his campaign to inform people about climate change and how it is threatening our existence on planet Earth.

Over a decade on from the ground-breaking documentary that made this the topic of many dinner table debates, the follow up, An Inconvenient Sequel, is making its way to cinemas across the US and the UK this summer. Will this bode well with audiences in countries now governed by either a President like Trump - in denial of the devastating effects of climate change, or a Prime Minister like ours who fails to challenge these scientifically wrong and harmful views?

Last week, news broke that staff at the US Department of Agriculture were told to avoid using the term “climate change” in their work and replace it with “weather extremes”. These instructions date back to February, shortly after Trump’s inauguration. But are we past the point of being shocked at this stage? Can this still come as a surprise from a head of state who in just a few months managed to undo all the environmental progress made by, say, the Obama administration? As a long-term climate change activist I must confess that Trump’s failure to grasp the importance of our future on this planet still manages to baffle me, as much as it worries me that the damage may become unrepairable. And dealing with it is already proving to be very difficult.

Undoubtedly, a huge step forward was the pledge made in the Paris Agreement by 195 countries to avoid global warming. But researchers are now telling us our common goal is too ambitious, as there is only a 5% chance that this is still achievable. In September, the European Parliament will be voting on a very important regulation on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions from land use, land use change and forestry into the 2030 climate and energy framework. My hope is that once this is integrated, tackling climate change will become smooth sailing.

Before I became a Member of the European Parliament for the North East of England, I worked for Christian Aid and back in 2005 we were the first of the UK’s development agencies to point out the devastating impact climate change was set to have on the world’s poor. Nowadays, in the time I have left as an MEP, I continue to be a crusader for hampering global warming. Which is why you will always hear me say that wood and forests are the key to tackling climate change. I want the North East to be home to a Cross Laminated Timber plant which would not only provide good quality jobs, but also help the environment by sequestering carbon. I have been working hard on that and campaigned for increasing the forest cover in the UK and building from wood. Just like Mr Gore (albeit with slightly less political clout and having yet to perfect his trademark gaze) I have been doing my level best to inform those within my reach of the benefits of this new regulation.

I strongly believe in something he said a few years ago: “I’m naturally an optimist, but my basis for hope is rooted in my understanding of human nature”. The wheels have truly started turning in the machinery to tackle climate change and there are many positives. However, we simply must and can do more.

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