15/10/2013 13:32 BST | Updated 15/12/2013 05:12 GMT

We Must Stand Together on Climate Change

I'm currently in New York rehearsing the role of Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's a wild and magical play with the mysteries and chaos of nature at its heart.

Oberon quarrels so violently with his wife Titania that the natural order of things is disrupted: there are storms, floods, drought and famine and all of humankind is affected. Only the triumph of love will let the world return to normal, but that is easier said than done.

What seemed like a fantasy world in Shakespeare's time is increasingly the daily reality for millions of people. More and more, extreme weather and its effects are being seen in every country around the world: only recently with typhoons in the Philippines, hurricanes in Mexico, flooding in Bangladesh, and wildfires here in the US.

Of course, not every extreme weather event can be attributed to our changing climate. It's a complex and wide-reaching problem. But scientists have said that when these events happen more frequently and with greater force, they form a pattern that points strongly towards climate change.

I was thinking about this a few weeks ago when members of governments from around the world met at the UN General Assembly here in New York. While they had a lot on their agenda, one of the issues they debated was the environment, examining what can be done at next month's special UN summit on climate change in Warsaw.

Of course, they discussed other man-made crises as well: the war in Syria; the international drug trade; and continuing concern over the global economy.

But what all those issues have in common is that it is always - without fail - the poorest who are hit hardest, because they are already so vulnerable. And climate change is no exception, as a new report from Cafod - What have we done? - makes clear.

When I visited Maralal in north-east Kenya with Cafod, I spent time with families and communities devastated by drought in the region. Already facing extreme poverty, they had been dealt another crushing blow as their whole way of life was destroyed by extreme and unpredictable weather. This meant the loss of livelihoods and homes, desperate shortages of food and water, and the risk of conflict over the few remaining resources.

When I watched the gathering of the great and the good at the UN on the news earlier this month, I thought of those families in Maralal who were so warm and welcoming despite the devastation they faced.

They shared their stories and their smiles with me, and insisted on sharing what little food they had, while not knowing what the future held. They told me they were hopeful - not that the weather would suddenly return to normal - but that their sisters and brothers around the world would see their struggles and show compassion.


When we see world leaders debating climate change like scientists at an academic symposium, discussing percentages of temperature and carbon, I think they could badly do with a dose of compassion and a sense of the reality of what climate change actually means for the poorest people in regions like Maralal.

Of course we as individuals have our own responsibilities and need to show compassion ourselves. We cannot expect national governments around the world to show respect for nature and arrest the gradual exhaustion of natural resources if we're not willing to play our part.

There must be meaningful changes in our everyday lives so that we contribute in the right way to the speed of climate change, whether it is reducing our carbon footprint by buying local produce; wasting less food; recycling; or doing what my daughters have done ever since I returned from Maralal - not leaving taps running unnecessarily.

But those lifestyle changes will only take us so far. They won't undo the decades of greenhouse gas emissions pumped into the atmosphere. So now is the time to unite as one global family and call for legally binding agreements that will reverse the effects of climate change.

We need to value and protect nature, so we can provide a safe, fertile environment for everyone on the planet. And there's no time to waste. As Cafod's report shows, and as I saw for myself in Maralal, the lives of millions of people all over the world are being impacted by the changing climate right now. And most of them have no way of making things better without help from the rich countries that have caused most of the problems in the first place.

It is time for us to stand together on climate change and demand that when world leaders meet in Warsaw next month, they learn a lesson from Shakespeare's play, and show some love and compassion: for our planet; for people living in Maralal or the Philippines or Bangladesh, and above all for the generations yet to come.