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Opinion Climate transition must happen - it's up to us whether by design or by disaster

Climate expert Ali Sheridan says we must call out obstacles to climate action – the misinformation, the lobbying, the delay tactics, the whataboutery.

GIVEN THE PAINFULLY slow progress of climate action in Ireland to date, criticism of recently announced commitments is understandable. Dilution of climate ambition has been witnessed repeatedly from our leaders as challenges have arisen such as the financial crash, Brexit, Covid-19, and many others.

As we are learning, however, the atmosphere does not care whether other crises are deemed more immediate, and the impacts of climate change have continued to worsen while we have dawdled and delayed.

Speech after speech over the years that referenced the need to take climate action to protect our children and our children’s children, now ring hollow as realisation sets in that today’s adult generation are those children that our leaders spoke of.

And that we have lost critical time in addressing the climate challenge and blocked many of the easier paths we could have taken.

A changing conversation

So, it is not unexpected that some are already writing off our ability to hit our climate targets. However, recent national discourse about carbon budgets and sectoral targets has indicated a waking up of Irish society to the necessity of the climate transition ahead, and indeed the scale.

As rivers run dry, wildfires spread, and lives and livelihoods are increasingly threatened, we have firmly moved on from trying to convince society that climate change is happening to now building acceptance for the scale of action we need to take.

While tense at times, witnessing the conversation finally lean more into the complexities and inevitable tough choices ahead can only be welcomed. As is the growing criticism of attempts to promote business-as-usual responses, which are losing more and more relevance as the worsening impacts of climate change can be seen and felt so obviously around us.

It is now no longer a question of whether we are going to transition, but instead about whether we are going to transition by design or by disaster.

Not only about emissions

While decarbonisation is a core and fundamental part of climate action, the road ahead is not solely about reducing emissions. It is about breaking free of the systemic structures that have fostered fossil fuel dependency, unsustainable resource extraction, destruction of our natural world, and growing inequality.

Nor will the road ahead be a smooth one. Due to decades of inaction, we now must rapidly transition while climate events worsen, and systems continue to break down around us. Yet we are still strategising, teaching, and planning for decarbonisation as if it will be linear. As if future solutions, that are today being used to condone lower climate ambition levels, do not also require a stable climate if they are to be successful. As if we have more time to plan for what is already happening.

What we are now tasked with is creating a better system, but one that is resilient in the context of current climate breakdown. A vastly different situation to comparing our future to the world as we know it today, a world that can simply no longer exist due to climate change.

While daunting, we are in a situation that should give us license to be more creative, courageous, and confident to move forward with climate action at a pace like never before.

We are already behind

Yet, for all our plans and pledges, strategies, and summits, we are already behind schedule and signs are emerging of more delay.

As climate impacts increase in frequency and severity, we risk locking ourselves into a cycle of emergency response after emergency response, failing again to tackle root issues, and running the risk of locking ourselves into even more fossil fuel dependency.

It is understandable to want clarity on the journey ahead, but we no longer have the privilege to spend more time attempting to create a perfect path forward. Our focus and responsibility should be to do the heavy work now so that we leave as many viable options as possible on the table for those coming behind us.

What we today call climate action must only be the preamble to the radical change that needs to happen. We must quickly acknowledge the limits of business-as-usual climate action and start to rapidly roll out the solutions we know work, being open to getting things moving as soon as possible, and improving them as we go.

We must be braver in calling out those things consistently standing in the way of action – the misinformation, the lobbying, the delay tactics, the whataboutery. We must stop being bound by limitations and so-called ‘realities’ that we have created for ourselves, and that are increasingly immaterial in a world experiencing climate breakdown.

‘Do look up’

Changes of the scale of the ones that are coming are understandably scary, but we shouldn’t fear ambition when it comes to climate action. While the climate emergency is the biggest challenge of our lives, we can’t lose sight that it is also the most predictable and the most preventable.

Yet we are acting like we can’t do anything about it. Like we don’t have the power to change the outcome. Like we don’t have the ability to create a better way of doing things. Like we don’t have ways to achieve our targets. We do.

We now live in a constantly volatile world and the future will be no different. In the immediate weeks and months ahead, our climate commitment will be tested as the cost of living and energy crises are addressed.

To delay climate action due to these difficult challenges is to create false choices and to delay hardship. We have a chance to finally do things differently, and start addressing everything through a climate lens, creating measures that support those who need it while also ensuring we have a stable climate, a future.

In a world that is finally starting to look up, let’s not get distracted by the inevitable flying kites in the coming weeks promising us the Earth, and instead stay focused on protecting the only one we have.

Ali Sheridan is a Climate Adviser, Advocate and Adjunct Lecturer.


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