Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

We can all play our part to avert climate calamity

The Assembly should pass a Climate Change Bill to ensure Northern Ireland does its bit to tackle global warming, writes Tim Magowan

On Monday, thousands of negotiators from all around the world will descend on Copenhagen for the UN climate change talks. As they wrangle over text and lobby each other in the corridors, in flood-hit Bangladesh Archona Roy and her family are struggling to survive.

Archona's family of seven is just one of 350 families in the village of Kaya benia in south west Bangladesh who are living on the frontline of climate change.

Caught between a hellish combination of rising sea levels, flooding rivers during the monsoon season and increasingly frequent and more intense cyclones, they are seeing the ground they live on literally being washed away from beneath their feet because of climate change.

"Twenty years ago the river was much narrower," Archona says. "Now it has doubled in size. We had over 10 acres of land, over a hundred coconut and date trees and a rice paddy. We have lost it all to the river.

"When the high tide comes during the dark moon and full moon each month it comes over our knees in our home. We are inundated with rain. When it is not needed it rains and we don't have it when we need it. The temperature is much hotter than it used to be."

Archona's story is all too common across waterlogged southern Bangladesh. Climate change is not just something that is happening in the future or far away for these communities. They live it every day.

Over the past two decades the seasons have changed. Instead of the six seasons they used to have, most of these communities now experience just two - hot and wet.

Seven days worth of rain can fall in just one hour. They have lost their land and homes to storms and rising sea levels. Archona herself has been forced to move four times.

The people of Kaya benia are resourceful and have, assisted by Tearfund's partner HEED, learned to adapt to their changing environment, switching from farming to fishing as their lands were gradually swallowed up by the rising river.

Nevertheless, for the families remaining in the village, life is incredibly tough. They could soon become climate refugees.

Archona's message to Copenhagen is clear. "We are losing our home, we have lost our livelihood, we are fighting for food and fresh water every day. Everyone else has shelter, but we have none. What can you do to help us?"

Her fate lies in the hands of those bureaucrats and negotiators. This should be a historic event, as world leaders come together to secure a deal to limit global climate change and provide significant financial help to the world's poorest communities living on the edge of climate change, so they can adapt to their changing environment.

If world leaders come away with a deal that secures strong and just international targets for CO2 reduction, then families like Archona's know their communities will be spared the horror of runaway climate change, which would be even more devastating than the changes they have already seen.

Today is International Day of Action on Climate Change. In Belfast, Stop Climate Chaos Northern Ireland, a coalition of environmental and development organisations of which Tearfund is a member, is hosting a free open air concert and mass action called, The Wave.

It takes place from 1pm-2.30pm in Bank Square, behind Tesco and Primark in the city centre, and everyone is welcome to attend. Those coming along are asked to bring or wear something blue in order to form a vast wave, representing the rising tide that threatens Archona and millions like her.

Please join us. Your presence will show that the people of Northern Ireland are looking for leadership on climate change. We need to give a strong message to those in Copenhagen that they must secure a global agreement which is a good deal for Archona and her family.

Furthermore we must ask the Assembly to introduce a Northern Ireland Climate Change Bill to ensure we do our share in tackling climate change and its injustices.

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