One planet living

MaggieJones2014.JPGMaggie Jones calls on the UK government to have a clear plan of action for dealing with climate change

Last week, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) produced its annual Red List of threatened species. From polar bears to fungi, the scientists have now identified 23,250 species threatened with extinction. This list matters because it acts as an early warning system about something more profound and ugly happening to our planet. Never before has one species dominated an ecosystem so completely. Through our actions we are undermining the very biodiversity which keeps nature in balance and sustains us.

I will raising these concerns today in a Lords debate on the impact of human actions on biodiversity. The truth is that the scale of population growth and the resulting drain on natural resources is increasingly unsustainable. In 1950, the global population was 2.4bn. It is now over 7bn and rising. Forests are being cleared to accommodate expanding populations but also to meet the insatiable appetites of consumers in the developed world. For example, replacing trees with cattle ranches in the Amazon to produce beef for export. This results in a major loss of species, but more crucially jeopardises our reliance on the forests to be our global lungs – absorbing carbon via photosynthesis.

Like the forests, the oceans are an essential part of our life support system – generating half of the world’s oxygen and absorbing almost a third of carbon dioxide. But rising sea temperatures and increasing acidity is dramatically weakening the marine eco system. The recent World Wildlife Fund Report Living Blue Planet shows a decline of 49% in the size of global marine populations between 1970 and 2012. At the same time, overfishing is reducing food fish such as tuna, mackerel and bonito. This is a disaster for those in the developing world who rely heavily on the ocean’s resources.

At its heart, the increase in CO2 emissions and its effect on climate change is at the core of our planet’s challenge. If current trends continue, it is predicted that the earth will be one degree warmer by 2025 and three degrees by 2100. This can already be seen in the reductions of snow and ice cover. The IUCN report highlights the loss of artic sea ice which has been declining at a linear rate of 14% per decade since 1979. This not only affects the survival of native species, it represents a major global environmental threat.

Rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions such as drought, flooding and hurricanes will further threaten habitats and potentially lead to huge population migrations. These trends require international understanding and cooperation on a heroic scale. Major changes need to be made to the way we live our lives. We can no longer go on burning fossil fuels and using up finite resources. We need to learn to respect and nurture our natural environment. The outcome of the forthcoming Paris talks on climate change is vitally important. It must be matched however with a passion for change – and clear programmes of action – from individual governments. Ironically, China is increasingly taking a lead in this regard.

Sadly, there is no similar enthusiasm from our own government. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power are being discouraged. The opportunities for building a world-class reputation for research and development in emerging technologies is being squandered. Instead the new emphasis is on investment in gas – putting in jeopardy our current EU CO2 reduction targets. Our credibility at Paris is already undermined and leadership is increasingly coming from elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the government is working on a 25 year plan for the environment and Labour will play its part in trying to raise the ambition and focus. Coordinated action is needed at a UN, EU and domestic level. Ministers however, have a long way to go before it can repair their battered green credentials and deliver a credible plan for sustainable one planet living.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is Shadow Defra Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl

Published 24th November 2015

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