Belfast Telegraph

'There is no magic bullet with climate change ... we all have to play our part'

Prince Charles' former personal adviser, Jonathon Porritt, brings his world-saving message to Belfast today. 'Every little thing we do adds up to something much bigger,' he tells Stephanie Bell

Jonathon Porritt
Jonathon Porritt
Flooding leaves a car stranded in England
A young Jonathon Porritt
How climate change affects Greenland as icecaps melt

By Stephanie Bell

The UK's leading environmentalist, Sir Jonathon Espie Porritt, is bringing his battle to save the planet to Belfast today.

An eminent writer, broadcaster and commentator on sustainable issues, Jonathon has also worked as a personal adviser to Prince Charles.

He has an inherited baronetcy, which is why he has the honour of being called "Sir", but the title is one which he famously refuses to use.

His campaign to combat global warming takes him from the highest levels in international government and business to communities on the ground and there are few people with better credentials on climate change.

The Linen Quarter Business Improvement District has invited him to Belfast for today's special sustainability event, which is open to everyone and free of charge.

He said: "I have been to Belfast many times as chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission from 2000 to 2009.

"This event is a great opportunity to outline what can happen in Northern Ireland when local businesses and the community get together to address the issue of climate change.

"Northern Ireland really isn't that different from the rest of the UK in terms of what is being done and what needs to be done.

"The most important thing now is to seize the moment. There is no magic bullet, but we all have to play our part."

As the most prominent environmentalist in Britain, his credentials in the field are too numerous to list.

Highlights include being chairman of the Green Party from 1978-1984, when he increased its membership from a few hundred to more than 3,000. He then spent six years as director of Friends of the Earth, when its supporters rose from 12,700 to 226,300.

He is currently founder-director of Forum for the Future, the UK's leading sustainable development charity, which he set up in 1996. He has also recently taken on the post of president of the sustainability charity Population Matters.

After Eton and Oxford, he started his career as a teacher, but concern for the future of the children he taught led him down a very different path.

Now, as a father of daughters, who are aged 28 and 30, he is driven to protect the planet for their future.

"I have two daughters and I think a lot about what the world will look like for them in 2050," he said. "Being a father changes things and you do think about the prospects for your own children and it is hard to deal with. I think global warming is a really difficult thing for parents to cope with."

His key message is that there is no quick fix, but that we should all be doing our bit.

"We know that, in Greenland, the ice caps have been melting much faster over the last three years than scientists originally thought, causing average sea levels around the world to rise by two to three metres - and that's just Greenland. The same is happening in the Arctic," he said.

"All of our coastlines are at risk and already there are lots of places in the UK where they are under real pressure to defend our coastlines.

"It is a race which we all need to take part in and which we all can help by taking steps now to improve our sustainability at home and in our businesses.

"We need to focus on getting our low-carbon infrastructure right and making sure every new building - be that a retail unit, hotel or new home - is built to the highest level of energy efficiency to reduce gas emissions."

Jonathon hopes that the audience today will be made up of students from Queen's University and other young people who, he believes, are key to making - and sustaining - change.

He said: "It really is the basics. We do need to think carefully about energy consumption in our homes and workplaces. Our purchasing power is another way we can help.

"Fast fashion, in particular, is a problem. People are buying cheap clothes and maybe wearing them once and then chucking them out and they end up in landfill. People really need to think about that.

"We can also play our part by changing our eating habits. We are eating too much meat and we need to phase out the amount of meat we have in our diet."

As well as working with senior ministers in government on sustainability policy, he has also advised Prince Charles on green issues in his capacity as co-director of the Prince of Wales Business and Environment Programme.

Jonathon admires the stance the future monarch has taken on climate change.

"Prince Charles really has been ahead of his time in realising how critical it is," he said.

He believes a lot more work needs to be done and hopes his lecture in Belfast will inspire more change in Northern Ireland.

"The important thing is that, unless we can crack the small issues first, then we won't be able to crack the big ones," he added.

"We haven't been doing badly on recycling, although the UK hasn't performed well in comparison to other European countries and we are really poor when it comes to plastics.

"In the next year or so, we can expect significant change in the ways we tackle recycling in the UK. Every little thing we do adds up to something much bigger."

Jonathon Porritt will be appearing at a free event in the Clayton Hotel, Ormeau Avenue, from 6pm to 8pm, hosted by BBC Northern Ireland journalist Mark Simpson. To register, visit www.linenquarter.org

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