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Building bridges to ensure greater impact

Recent events in Paris brought to mind children’s author Natalie Lloyds’ description of the Eiffel Tower, the city’s instantly recognizable landmark, which she admired because it looks like ‘steel and lace’. It struck me how accurate a description of the country’s resilience it was too: a beautiful city with a metal ‘core’, that core being its national spirit of liberté, fraternité and egalité.

Of course the French capital was also the location of COP21, the United Nations climate change conference which was expected to be the last chance to ink a global commitment to halt climate change. Hopes were indeed high – more country leaders attended than Copenhagen(following the terrorist atrocities), both in a bid to show a united front and as a statement to somehow make the world a better place.

President Obama set the bar high, saying: “Our generation may not even live to see the full realization of what we do here. But the knowledge that the next generation will be better off for what we do here – can we imagine a more worthy reward than that?”
Hmmn. That’s all very noble and altruistic but one of the big problems of convincing people about the necessity for action on climate change now is that a lot of its devasting impacts are in the future.

In the UK mid-COP21 certain areas of the country were devastated by Storm Desmond (yes, we’ve succumbed to the ridiculous habit of naming our storms).

Cumbria received 30cm in 24 hours and 6,000+ homes were flooded. If ever we needed a wake up call to climate change, surely this was it? For many, climate change impacts are always so distant and gradual that it’s difficult to people to buy into. Many think of climate change as hotter summers, failing to connect the fact that a warmer climate means more energy in the system and therefore more moisture in the atmosphere. And who doesn’t like a hot summer?

So will the latest batch of devastating floods actually trigger any real action? Maybe there’ll be a mindset change in Cumbria but for the rest of the country? It’s a bit like trying to encourage a young child to save up his pocket money for something worthwhile instead of frittering it away. Trying to argue that sacrificing that chocolate bar now for a new skateboard in a month or two is always a hard sell.

Indeed, global public concern about climate change has declined over the past six years, especially in industrialized countries, finds a new 21-country poll from GlobeScan. Less than half (48%) of citizens living in industrialized countries (OECD members) now rate climate as a “very serious” problem, down from 63% in 2009. Interestingly, a higher percentage of citizens in non-OECD countries (54%) now rate climate as a “very serious” problem.

Only 8% of citizens across 21 countries polled wanted their government to oppose any climate deal being reached in Paris. An average of 43% want their government to play a leadership role in setting ambitious targets, while another 40% want their government to take a more moderate approach and support only gradual action.

So will COP21 trigger any real action? In her guest column on p4, Claudine Blamey proposes that post-COP21 CR and sustainability professionals act as a bridge between the worlds of sustainability and business, helping translate and relate social and environmental issues to the organisations they work in. I like that idea. And it’s a great thought to kick off the new year!


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