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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Thoko Chikondi Cyclone Freddy caused devastation when it hit earlier this year displacing over 1.5 million people in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. In Malawi, a state of disaster was declared in 14 districts.

Opinion The speeding climate train will have catastrophic implications for billions

Karol Balfe says not doing anything on climate change is no longer an option as COP28 kicks off.

THE OUT-OF-CONTROL CLIMATE train is on track to have catastrophic implications for billions of people on the planet. In many parts of the world, climate devastation has already struck hard, and we are on course for further and more severe disasters. Yet we’re not responding as we should. Anyone who believes drastic action isn’t needed is living in a fantasy land.

On an almost weekly basis new reports from climate scientists and experts are published warning of the devastation that lies ahead unless radical measures are taken to tackle the climate crisis, and keep global temperature rises within 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But as the world hurtles towards climate meltdown the question is are we, and world leaders, listening? The repeated warnings of the consequences of climate inaction are surely heard by all, but yet we are not seeing the transformations we so desperately need.

How many facts do you need?

The latest damning climate change report came last week from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) which predicted a 3 degrees Celsius temperature rise this century due to record-breaking global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. This is insanity.

Released ahead of the COP28 climate summit which opens in Dubai tomorrow, the report says current pledges by countries under the Paris Agreement are now insufficient due to the rise in extreme weather events and other climate impacts across the globe.

Rich countries in the Global North are beginning to feel the impact of climate change. This summer saw record temperatures of up to 46 degrees Celsius recorded in parts of Spain, and there were 12 deaths across Europe earlier this month due to Storm Ciarán. The storm also hit Ireland with small local businesses wiped out and homes destroyed in parts of the country due to storms and floods.

But there is no justice or fairness when it comes to the climate crisis, with the impacts in the Global North mild compared to the devastation countries in the Global South are experiencing. These countries have done the least to cause climate change but are hit first and hardest.

Privileged lifestyles in Europe, North America and other nations in the Global North produce a carbon footprint 100 times greater than that of the world’s poor nations combined.

In the Global South extreme weather patterns have a brutal impact leading to failed harvests, health crises, food and water shortages and mass displacement. It is estimated that by 2030, climate change could push more than 120 million more people into poverty.

Climate disasters and erratic weather patterns disproportionally affect women and girls. Women are 14 times more likely to die from climate disasters than men and 80% of people displaced by climate disasters are women. It is women and girls who must walk further to fetch water when wells dry up. It is women who skip more meals than men when crop failure impacts family income. Girls are pulled out of school before their brothers and they may be married off at an early age by parents who can no longer afford to feed them.

So how do we get out of fantasy land and face what’s before us?

We need to see governments deliver at COP28 in Dubai this year. It is the most important annual climate summit, attended by world leaders who have the power to deliver change.

Every year there is great expectation in the build-up to COP, with disappointing outcomes.

There are very clear actions that can be taken at COP28 to transform the lives of those already affected and to slow down this runaway train. First is the recognition of the historical responsibility of rich countries. We have caused the worst damage, and acknowledging this is crucial to efforts to address poverty and ensure climate justice.

Last year’s COP was deemed a victory for climate justice as governments agreed to establish a Loss and Damage Fund. This year it is crucial there is agreement on the level of funding, how the fund will work and how it will be distributed. Ireland must play its part here by making an ambitious contribution to the Loss and Damage Fund above its existing climate finance commitments and official development assistance.

Secondly, we simply have to address the root cause of the climate crisis – oil, coal and gas. Phasing out fossil fuels in a way that is fair, fully funded and fast is among the most important tasks our governments face. It cannot be diluted by partial phase out and nonsense solutions such as carbon capture. We have to take every necessary action to do this. Our lives, our children’s futures, our global solidarity depend on this happening. Unbelievably this hasn’t been a huge part of COP negotiations to date.


ActionAid research published in September found that in the seven years since the Paris Agreement was signed, banks in the Global North have provided $3.2 trillion to fossil fuel activities in the Global South.

This unsustainable financing is provided by many of the world’s biggest banks, with Ireland enabling billions of this money to flow with investment managers registered in Ireland holding US$6.2 billion in bonds and shares attributable to fossil fuels and agribusiness in the Global South.

In essence, this means that some of the world’s largest polluters – Shell, Exxon and Chevron – are channelling money through Ireland, with devastating consequences for climate change in the Global South. This cannot continue.

Other actions are needed including scaling up climate finance and shifting the world’s financial flows to stop doing harm and to build a more sustainable future.

The first ever Global Stocktake is set to conclude at COP28 and ActionAid believes this is an opportunity to take a long, hard look at the state of our planet and to chart a better course for the future.

Finally, a new work programme on Agriculture and Food Security to be agreed at COP28 must talk about the real solutions, such as agroecology, to make farmers and food systems fit for purpose in an era of climate change. It is up to governments, including the Irish government, and world leaders to chart the course and to lead in taking the hard decisions that will avert climate catastrophe and futureproof the planet for generations to come.

People are willing to make sacrifices, but they need leadership to guide them. A Friends of the Earth survey shows that 80% of Irish people are in favour of cutting our climate-changing pollution by at least 51% by 2030: with 50% of people actually saying we should do more than that.

We cannot fail, yet again, to take bold action.

Karol Balfe is CEO of ActionAid Ireland. ActionAid is a global federation working with more than 41 million people living in more than 71 of the world’s poorest countries.

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