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A collective threat to our global countryside

Mark Robinson (centre) in Bonn, canvassing opinions on climate change and economic growth. Mark Robinson (centre) in Bonn, canvassing opinions on climate change and economic growth.

Coming back from 'my holiday' at the first week of the international climate talks in Bonn, Germany, I find myself more disillusioned than ever that global efforts to halt accelerating climate change will be successful.

While some diplomats made valiant attempts to press ahead, old conflicts continued to surface like a stuck record. Developing countries maintained their grievances that, despite long-standing commitments of support, their developed counterparts were consistently blocking all negotiations on technology transfer and financial assistance. Developed countries breathed hot air over the microphone as they touted their efforts while funding giant fossil fuel projects behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, people and environment alike are suffering. On the first day of the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), I left the formal negotiations to attend an external workshop with speakers from climate-impacted communities across the globe. Here I heard emotional accounts of the devastation left behind by Hurricanes Maria and Irma in Puerto Rico, droughts causing famine in South Africa as fracking companies move in to mop up the rest of the water, and a Pacific Islander who confirmed that ‘it is no joke eating dinner with the ocean 2 inches below your floorboards’.

People in Fiji or the Marshall Islands are no different to the residents of Happisburgh in Norfolk, a community also losing their homes to the sea due to climate change-accelerated coastal erosion. In 2013, a storm surge named Cyclone Xaver inundated the village, claiming 12 more metres of land and rendering many people’s homes inhabitable. One resident being evicted by the council referred to themselves as an ‘environmental evacuee’ – not dissimilar from the first wave of pacific ‘climate refugees’ currently leaving for new host countries having had their islands, and with it their culture, submerged by a rising ocean.

Of course, the people of Happisburgh and Fiji are facing different situations, but in this collective struggle the comparisons will only become more pronounced. In Lincolnshire, the flooding impacts from a three degree temperature rise will be just as real for national food security and farmer livelihoods as the current swamping of paddy fields in Vietnam. So we can no longer divide our thinking by national boundaries – this is just as responsible for the inability to empathise across geographical distance as it is for holding up international progress at the negotiating table.

Coastal erosion
Mike Page’s aerial views of Happisburgh showing the pace of erosion in 13 years. Source:

Despair at the formal negotiations is why I found myself continually drawn to activities highlighting its inadequacies. Over the course of the week I took part in actions on coal-mining and conflicts of interest at the negotiations, and raised difficult questions such as the relationship between climate change and economic growth. I became involved with the official youth constituency to the UNFCCC, YOUNGO, with whom we were able to deliver interventions during negotiations that raised the alarms on the urgency of the climate crisis.

This shared sense of urgency showed me the importance of people dropping their differences and coming together to stand up for our global environment - our global countryside. The time for action is now, but the Paris Agreement only comes into effect in 2020, and the cumulative effect of all countries emissions reduction pledges would still take temperatures far beyond the limits deemed safe by scientists.  On returning, I felt disillusioned that national and business interests are still so often placed above the plight of people on the frontline against rapidly changing weather patterns.

These sobering facts lead me to one simple conclusion. For all of us watching our coastline disappear, our food security endangered, and the landscape we cherish become unrecognisable, we must mobilise on a wider scale, arm ourselves with education, and collectively fight against fossil fuel extraction. People love and rely on the countryside as much in Cambridgeshire as Cambodia, and we all suffer the same fate if the international climate talks fail to keep up with the rising tide. For that reason, a progressive outcome from this week in Bonn is essential.

The shared sense of urgency shows the importance of people coming together to stand up for our global environment

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