Climate change is an issue we urgently need to address and the United Nations has this year chosen ‘Families and Climate Change’ as its theme for International Day of Families being marked today.
Intended to recognise families’ important role in social, environmental and economic development, the UN’s themes tend to be chosen from among its Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by world leaders in September 2015 to encourage all countries to accelerate their efforts to end poverty, fight inequality and help protect the environment over a 15-year period.
Climate change is a global challenge and needs a global response from us all.
This clarion call emerged just last week when the UN released its Global Assessment Report warning that one million species were threatened with extinction.
This three-year global assessment of nature, which was compiled by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, laid bare the devastating impact humans are having on nature.
This is the starkest report yet and makes compulsory, if alarming reading.
Forests are diminishing rapidly; the area of natural ecosystems has almost halved and nature everywhere is declining at a speed never previously seen.
The major contributor is global warming, brought about by so many human activities such as deforestation, greenhouse gases, destruction of marine ecosystems and global population growth.
Rising temperatures affect the physical world, such as the melting of the poles and loss of habitat for animals of the region, as well as a rise in the sea level, which results in flooding and seriously endangers the existence of numerous small island states.
Climate change does not only affect the physical world. A study published this year by the US National Academy of Science illustrates how global warming exacerbates inequality between countries, as economic output has declined in poorer, hotter countries.
Rising temperatures make growing conditions more difficult, particularly affecting farmers’ livelihoods and children’s nutrition needs in many regions.
It should not be surprising that global warming is linked to increasing levels of mass migration as people seek a safer future for themselves and their families.
According to the World Bank, 55 per cent of the world’s population lives in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia, which will be particularly affected by climate change, forcing over 140 million people to move.
It is not only the developing world that faces the risks of climate change.
As the US government’s Global Change Research Programme finds, the developed world also faces health risks related to higher temperature, including cardiovascular and respiratory problems among others, contaminated water, the quality of crops, and diseases borne by vectors such as mosquitos and fleas.
Even if the worst effects of climate change may appear remote to us, and the chances of us making a difference may seem small, we all have a role to play.
Acting for climate change is about solidarity – not only with faraway people whose lives and livelihoods are threatened, but also with our children and grandchildren
Acting for climate change is about solidarity – not only with faraway people whose lives and livelihoods are threatened, but also with our children and grandchildren.
It is about intergenerational justice. There are many ways in which families can reduce their footprint. We need to actively inform ourselves to educate our children about our common responsibility for the planet, and about how we can all make choices to minimise the impact of our daily living activities on the natural environment.
Progress was made, but there are other ways in which we can make a difference.
Avoiding single-use plastic and disposable items, taking our own bags to buy fruit and vegetables and seeking to extend the life of any item as much as possible before discarding is one of them.
Other changes include consuming only what we need, and committing to the separation of waste so that recycling is maximised. Using paper produced from sustainable forests, choosing alternative means of transport, whether public, cycling or walking where possible.
We should preserve green areas and plant more trees, learn to appreciate nature and treat our public spaces with respect.
We should also work to avoid unnecessary use of water and electricity and consume a more plant-based diet, including local seasonal produce where feasible.
The Malta Foundation for the Well-being of Society has sought to mainstream environmental concerns across its many research activities and programmes, including a workshop on the SDGs in 2016, a national conference on Food Security in 2018 and fostering children’s appreciation of nature through the Secret Garden initiative.
Such initiatives complement many others taken by statutory authorities and NGOs over the years, which deserve our support.
It is families, however, that must take the message to heart and make a difference together.
Those old enough to remember the introduction of mandatory seatbelt use will recall the scepticism and reluctance that came with it. Today, most would agree that driving without a seatbelt feels uncomfortable and goes against the grain.
With practice, we can develop similar habits for the sake of the planet, perhaps even learning from the younger generations as we commit to work as a family, and with families to mitigate climate change – we must make climate action a habit.
Sue Vella is an expert with the National Centre for Family Research within the Malta Foundation for the Well-being of Society.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece