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Climate March London: Action on climate change must happen

This Sunday, 29th November, I will join Climate March London.

Along with thousands of others, I will walk from London’s Hyde Park to the Houses of Parliament, while thousands more around the world take similar action.

We will be walking to tell government, ahead of vital climate change talks in Paris, that drastic decisions must be made.

It is vital that governments commit to curbing the effects of climate change after decades of procrastination.

climate change march london save the children typhoon haiyan
The destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan in Calubian Barangay where a Save the Children and Merlin mobile Health team visit.

At the risk of appearing glib, it feels like the attitude of many world leaders when it comes to climate change has been: ‘Why do today that which can be put off until tomorrow?’. But the notion that we have time to play with before climate change destroys lives, communities, and even whole cities, is an illusion.

It may not be happening right now to us, to our family, or to our friends, but it is happening. And world leaders should not be allowed to indulge in yet more haggling and debate before taking decisive action.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) starts in Paris on 30 November and will continue until 11 December. During these meetings, concrete and binding decisions must be made to cut emissions and mitigate the impacts of extreme weather on vulnerable populations.

Climate change is not just a threat for the future

In December 2013 I arrived in Tacloban in the Philippines, three weeks after the country was struck by Typhoon Haiyan. 90 % of the buildings in the city, which was home to more than 220,000 people, had been destroyed. As we flew in to Tacloban airport, the scenes greeting us were reminiscent of apocalyptic action movies. Rubble was everywhere, there was barely a home or building left unscathed, shocking sights such as cars lodged in the branches of half-fallen trees periodically pierced our field of vision.

And it wasn’t just Tacloban that had been left in tatters– Haiyan, which came with top sustained wind speeds of 195 mph and spanned more than 500 miles, killed an estimated 6,340 people and left more than 2.6 million people homeless across the country.

An emotional plea

On November 11 2013, just three days after Haiyan struck, the Philippines’ climate change representative Yeb Sano addressed that year’s United Nations Climate Change Summit in Warsaw, Poland. In an emotional call to action, he told delegates:

“Up to this hour, I agonise waiting to hear of the fate of my very own relatives…I speak for my delegation, I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm, I speak also for those who have been orphaned by the storm. I speak for those people now racing against time to save survivors…

“We can take drastic action now to ensure we prevent a future where super typhoons become a way of life. Can we ever attain the ultimate objective of the [UN climate] convention, which is to prevent dangerous anthropogenic [human] interference with the climate system? By failing to meet the objective of the convention, we may have ratified our own doom.”

climate change march london save the children typhoon haiyan
Kirby, four, stands among the debris where his house once stood before it was destroyed by typhoon Haiyan, Dulag, Leyte province, Philippines.

Rising temperatures will cause more human suffering

It is not as simple as saying Typhoon Haiyan was caused by rising temperatures – it is nigh on impossible to attribute specific weather events directly to climate change with any certainty. But we do know that tropical storms are expected to become more and more powerful due to rising sea temperatures.

NASA has said that climate change will also increase the likelihood of droughts, like the one that is currently threatening to cause havoc with the lives of millions of people in the Horn of Africa.

Water levels in the Philippine Sea are expected to rise 10.2cm every ten years according to the World Meteorological association – more than three times the global average. This will increase the risk of storm surges like that seen during Typhoon Haiyan. They reached heights of 20ft and were one of the main causes of building destruction and loss of life.

What can be done

There are simple things that can be done to mitigate the risks. In Tacloban I spoke to a 13-year-old girl who explained to me that her family and neighbours would have evacuated their home had they fully understood the warnings they were being given. Had they been told that storm surges of up to 6 metres meant a giant, powerful and potentially deadly wave, they would have sought safety in an evacuation centre. Clear communication and improved information sharing are vital for combating the impact of extreme weather events.

The next steps

World leaders have already agreed that global temperature rises must be kept down to two degrees above pre-industrial levels. That would give us a fighting chance of stopping disasters like Typhoon Haiyan becoming commonplace.

At the UN Climate Change Conference they must take the decisive action necessary to cut carbon emissions enough to achieve that aim. They must also agree to ramp up efforts to help those countries most affected by climate change to adapt, so that they can become better able to cope with the impact of extreme weather events.

There is no more time for rhetoric or vague commitments – we need binding agreements accompanied by mechanisms which ensure that words are followed by deeds.

That is why I will be marching on Sunday, because I want to ensure that our message to politicians meeting in Paris on Monday is clear – drastic measures are absolutely vital.

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