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Reflecting on the Bonn Climate Talks: A Letter to my Son

18/06/2013 17:03 BST | Updated 18/08/2013 10:12 BST
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My Dear Alfred,

As I write this, the rain is lashing down and it's late. Last time I wrote to you about the issue I work on, climate change, I was far away in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the UN Sustainable Development Summit. One year on, I am speeding home from Bonn, Germany, where I spent the past week at the latest round of UN climate negotiations trying to support governments to act quickly and boldly on tackling the global climate crisis.

As I look out of the train window at the unusually wet summer weather I am concerned for the people who have suffered extreme flooding in eastern Europe over the past days, many of them not too far from where the Bonn talks took place; floods that are exacerbated by increasing climate change or, as I have come to call it, global climate disruption.

You see, Alfred, as the earth warms, the global climate system is spiraling out of control, becoming less stable and increasingly unpredictable. Arctic ice is melting, seas are rising, storms are growing more intense and the world's weather is becoming increasingly erratic. In short, the very basis of our societies - a stable and predictable climate - is now rapidly changing beyond our control.

I am sorry to tell you that the latest round of UN negotiations stalled for a whole week on a point of disagreement. This wasted thousands of hours of people's time, hundreds of thousands of dollars and emitted tonnes of carbon as scores of people had gone to Germany with the intention of making progress to safeguard the future of the planet.

Again in the negotiations, we heard small island developing countries, such as Barbados and Tuvalu, make impassioned pleas to big emitters to stop polluting and help secure a safer future for people who live in low-lying nations before their homes go underwater. But still big emitters like the US, and growing economies like China and India, fail to show the necessary leadership required to stop the worsening climate catastrophe. Given the seriousness of the problem that is upon us, I find it incomprehensible that those in positions of power are still failing to act with the urgency and leadership we so desperately need.

Through my frustration I cannot forget the climate alarm bells ringing in my head. It isn't good news, Alfred. Last month, the world passed a critical milestone when the concentration of carbon dioxide reached record levels of 400 parts per million. That means there is now more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than at any point in the last three- five million years. In fact, the last time CO2 was so abundant, sea levels were up to 40 metres higher.

And that's not all. More research released last week by the International Energy Agency shows we only have until 2017 to radically transform our societies and adopt new, sustainable, low-carbon and climate resilient ways of living on planet Earth if we are to have any hope of keeping global warming with a safe limit of two degrees C by the end of the century.

But Alfred, we must also put the climate crisis into context. You and I have the luxury of a place to sleep, and regular meals to eat. But for millions of the world's poorest people, who have done very little to cause climate change, the impacts of a rapidly changing global climate are far, far worse.

Climate change is not occurring in isolation. It comes on top of many other inequalities. How can it be that in 2013, nearly one billion people still go to bed hungry every night? Or that two thirds of the 774 million people who can't read and write in the world are women? Or that 780 million people lack access to clean water? For the world's poorest who are already fighting hunger, scant healthcare, poor sanitation, and unequal rights, the worsening impact of a changing climate is making their lives harder still.

Thankfully, there is some good news. There are ways for us to ensure continued prosperity, safeguard people's lifestyles, and help lift people out of poverty; we just have to be smarter about how we do it. We need investment in new forms of renewable energy and we need to ensure poorer countries have access to green development pathways. Above all, we must tackle inequality and ensure it is a key measure of success.

Here in the global north, we urgently need a green revolution across all of our economies and across all sectors; whether food, energy, transport or sustainable production. But we must also live up to and pay the costs for the damage that our societies are inflicting on those in the global south through unsustainable forms of consumption and production.

The only thing holding us back is the weakness of our global leaders, our addiction to oil and most importantly the lack of a collective, common vision that things can and must change. We have no time to lose. If world leaders won't act, we must be bold enough to demand and take action ourselves.

We all have a role to play - especially those in the global north who are most responsible and can take decisive steps. The choices each one of us makes on a daily basis are crucial to solving the climate crisis. We can start to consume less, recycle the things we no longer need, buy food locally, eat less meat, and choose fair-trade and organic products. Most importantly we must stop our banks from investing our money in unsustainable and unethical activities that damage our planet and the world's poor.

And Alfred, that's what I am trying to teach you as you grow up - that we can make a difference though the choices that we make in our everyday lives. For the wellbeing of your generation, and mine, taking action today is no longer a choice but a necessity. Remember: we must take positive action together. By collaborating we can build a safer and better world for all of humanity - not just for the haves, but also for the have-nots.

This is our challenge, Alfred. Another world is possible, we just have to believe in it and fight for it.

With much love, your father,

Kit