Climate Change: can it be tackled?

The Great Debate

"With the sheer volume of data available and with the vast majority of scientists in agreement, there can be little doubt climate change is a reality. It's now time to ask what is the scale of the climate change we face and how might it affect us and our children?"

These are the questions posed by Sir David Attenborough in a recent documentry. But while there have been significant developments in scientific research, the debate continues as to whether climate change can be tackled.

And with 2015 being documented as the hottest year since records began in 1880, the pressure is on to act fast.

"We appear to be at a tipping point where the effects of climate change are starting to have irreversible impacts," says Dr Chris Bussell, Dean of the College of Life and Natural Sciences at the University of Derby, kick-starting this roundtable discussion.

"That’s certainly true for our wildlife," says Matt Williams, Policy Officer for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). "Since the turn of the 20th century, 120 new species have colonised the UK.

However, Kittiwakes, a kind of seabird, have declined by 70% in the UK since the mid-1980s. That decline has been linked to changing numbers in sand eels [the Kittiwakes' food source], a fish that has been affected by rising ocean temperatures in the North Sea.

"There's a substantial body of evidence that climate change is already having effects on the world; this is only going to become worse over the course of the coming decades if we don't do something."

And while the destruction of food chains will have long term implications for wildlife and human health too, climate change is also said to indirectly increase the likelihood of violent conflict over dwindling resources, according to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This is already taking place, according to Dr Sian Davies-Vollum, Head of Geoscience at the University of Derby.

"As temperatures continue to change, the Middle- Eastern and Mediterranean climate becomes drier and the drought that's impacted the Eastern Mediterranean becomes worse, there are going to be more climate change migrants.

"Climate change is wrapped up in everything and needs to be a part of politics. It's hard to take politics out of climate change because politicians make the policy which can help us deal with the problem."

But is the current political system able to cope with planning on a long-term basis, questions Chris.

Tim Birch, Head of Advocacy and Conservation Strategy at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, doesn't think so.

"We have electoral cycles every three to five years. We are looking at the short, medium and long-term implications of climate change and yet our political systems are very short-term. We need consistency."

In agreement, Matt says tackling climate change must not be a dividing issue across the political spectrum:

"Any issue, climate change being one of them, is by virtue political in that it’s about who holds power – there are a lot of voices in this debate which are not heard.

"However, last year, the Climate Coalition, which the RSPB is part of, did a great job of getting party leaders to sign up to a climate change pledge, committing to issues such as removing coal from the energy system."

So how, asks Chris, can individuals be brought into the conversation of climate change in a way that is relatable to them?

Making reference to a recent study by the University of Derby's Nature Connectedness Research Group, which revealed children who are in touch with nature achieve better results in their Year 6 SAT exams, Chris says informing young people about climate change has never been more vital.

"We do need to get more young people involved in these discussions," agrees Tim.

"The way Leonardo Di Caprio used his Oscar speech to address the urgency of climate change was key. If he says climate change is a problem, it's amazing the influence this can have on young people."

Peter Robinson, Chair of Derby Climate Coalition, says the biggest task is to get people talking about climate change: "There is a huge amount of denial, which reminds me of the discussion about smoking.

"Scientists and doctors were years ahead and yet the last people who acknowledged smoking was harmful were the smokers themselves."

The key to addressing this is to be realistic when informing people of how they can help the crisis, says Matt.

"Telling people they can save the world by turning off one light is a counterproductive way of tackling the problem. You have to give people things to do that are going to make a 'real difference' rather than trying to make them 'feel like they're making a difference'."

In December 2015, politicians from across the world met in Paris and agreed, for the first time in history, that greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut and global temperature rises need to be below 2oC.

This is encouraging, says Chris, but is it enough to make an impact?

"We could go cold turkey and not emit any more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere," says Sian.

"Eventually levels would stabilise but realistically that's not going to happen. The 2ºC tipping point is what scientists think is going to create irreversible changes, but unless we use the many ways we can to decrease the amount of greenhouse gases we're putting into the atmosphere, we're heading for that."

Matt says the RSPB is currently looking into how the UK can meet its energy needs in the future and how to reduce the carbon budget without impacting the environment.

"But there is a need for more research to help us understand the impact on the natural world of renewable energy developments."

So there is a consensus that climate change can be tackled, but influencing society to address the global problem is critical, summarises Chris.

"Stop ignoring it," adds Sian. "Whether you're the communicator, the conservationist or the person who's looking for a different type of energy, do what you can and move forward with it."

Writer: Kelly Tyler

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