30 August 2021
About the author: Brendan is a professor at Griffith University Queensland Australia and director of the university’s Climate Action Beacon. He is also a Coordinating Lead Author on the IPCC 6th Assessment Report (Working Group II) and a Member of the Earth Charter International Council.
The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) opens with the riveting statement that “It is an established fact that human influence has warmed the climate system and that widespread and rapid climate changes have occurred”. We should all give ourselves a little bit of time to let that message really sink in: “It is an established fact…”. Anyone still claiming to be a climate skeptic is now exposed as a mere climate science denier.
Other key messages reinforce the report’s carrion call for urgent climate action including that crossing the 1.5°C global warming level is now likely in the early 2030s – about ten years earlier than previous estimates – and that limiting human-induced global warming at any level requires achieving net zero CO2 emissions. The report also cautions that many consequences of ongoing climate change are irreversible on centennial to millennial time scales.
With this new knowledge, the 2021 Glasgow COP26 takes on even great meaning and importance for the future survival and wellbeing of humanity and the greater community of life with whom we share Earth as home.
In this context, the Earth Charter’s opening declaration remains as relevant and potent as when first drafted:
“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.”
In falls on each of us to ask what we can do now to help raise our individual and collective climate action ambition? Here are four critical questions we all should reflect upon and answer.
What gives us hope?
For me, hope resides in the capacity of each person to make informed moral judgments. Our ability to make ethical choices about what is the right and wrong thing to do when faced with challenging circumstances, is one of the characteristics that defines our common humanity and distinguishes “HI” (human intelligence) from “AI” (artificial intelligence). It is our moral intelligence, guided by shared values and ethical principles, such as those expressed in the Earth Charter, that given me hope that we can do what is needed to deliver climate justice to people everywhere, future generations and the wider Earth community.
What is the meaning of Climate Justice?
Climate justice is delivered by all nations achieving the deep and rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, especially CO2 emissions from using fossil fuel for energy, as well as from deforestation and degradation. This is the only way we can limit global warming to the 1.5 degree guardrail. The more we can limit global warming the less severe the impacts, the fewer the dangerous consequences for people and nature, the more manageable the risks, and the more moderate the loss and damage. Climate justice also requires that in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions we do this in ways that benefits and not harms people, especially poor people and people in the least developed countries who are not responsible for causing the problem yet who carry the most burden from climate impacts. Climate justice also requires we provide the resources needed to enable these people to adapt and avoid as best as possible the consequences of unavoidable climate change. We also need to be mindful of our responsibilities to the greater community of life who are also in need of a healthy planetary life support system.
What would be your promise to Mother Earth?
I would promise to leave her to the next generation in a better condition than what I was born into. This will require limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees, the rapid transition away from fossil fuel to clean energy sources, halting deforestation and degradation, transforming our modes of production and consumption, and doing so in ways that ensures human rights are advanced all including the rights Indigenous Peoples.
What should happen tomorrow to achieve a climate Just Future?
Tomorrow, we can all take climate action within our spheres of influence – personal, family, community, school, and workplace – and as our circumstances and capacities allow. We can join organisations that are helping people take climate action. We can contact our elected representatives and advocate for the necessary policies and programs for climate action needed from governments at all levels, but especially national governments. We need climate leadership, but the responsibility and ability to be a leader resides within each us. Every action we do individually and collectively matters. The time for climate action is now.