18 March, 2016

Explaining Earth Hour: Why changing climate change begins with people

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If there were any doubters left as to why climate action needs to ramp up now, let me set the scene with some astonishing world records…

2015 earned the dubious distinction of being the hottest year on record, but barely a couple of months in, 2016 seems to already be putting up a tough fight with January 2016 being declared the most abnormally hot month in history, according to NASA. The Arctic, in particular, has experienced bizarrely warm temperatures throughout the winter.  At the North Pole for example, temperatures approached 0°C in late December, which is 30°C to 35°C above average.

According to scientists the pile up of records we have seen in the early part of this century are significant. All things being constant, record hot years should occur once every 150 years. Yet 1998, 2005, 2010, 2014 and 2015 have all been record breakers.  In 2015, the strong El Niño had a role to play, but scientists argue that, we would have set an all-time global temperature record even without any impact from El Niño.

The evidence could not be clearer - the impact of our activities and the risk to the health of global ecosystems as well as to the stability of our economic and social systems is vividly obvious, as are the catastrophic consequences for all life on Earth, our own wellbeing and that of our future generations.  

That is the scary part, but there is also a very, very exciting dimension.

Finally the world is taking notice, acknowledging the problem, its causes, its gravity and that now is the time for action. In 2015, we made great progress in creating a blueprint for a sustainable society. First, as the world came together around a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Then in December, 195 countries worked together to agree on the world’s first universal climate agreement that, if fully and urgently implemented, will help humanity steer the world away from a path of catastrophic climate change.

In other good news, global CO2 emissions from the use of fossil fuels have stalled for the second year in a row. Significantly, electricity generated by renewables played a critical role, accounting for about 90 per cent of new electricity generation in 2015. China’s coal consumption also declined for the first time in history and the country announced a three year ban on new coal mines and the closure of a thousand existing ones. 

Now, here we are in 2016 with the momentum building, faced with our greatest opportunity to redefine our relationship with the planet and its natural systems. I am awed by the scale of the possibilities this generation is facing to build a future that is in harmony with the planet. We simply need to follow science and pull together and Earth Hour is our time to do just that.   

Tomorrow we celebrate Earth Hour at 8:30 p.m. local time around the world, homes, offices and landmarks in countries around the world will switch off their lights for the tenth edition of WWF’s Earth Hour. As the lights turn off, people and communities will come together to shine a light on the climate action our planet urgently needs and the role society can play in changing climate change.

This global effort, from the virtual world to on-the-ground events, leaves me in no doubt that people want to be a part of climate action and that is in itself a game-changer in global efforts to change climate change. People are at the heart of climate change and climate solutions. Earth Hour gives ordinary people a chance to come together with one voice to change climate change. I truly believe we would not have a Paris agreement without the years of public pressure from society.

Today, Earth Hour has become a global unifying movement bringing together individuals, communities and organizations to each play their role in changing climate change.

We could be cynical and say that ‘switching off the lights makes no difference’, but it is symbolic and part of something much bigger - a catalyst, giving people the power to be a part of the solution for the issues that affect them most, whether it is the haze in Southeast Asia, coral bleaching on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, thinning ice in the Artic or rising water levels that are threatening their homes in Island states in the Pacific. No one causes climate change in isolation and no one can tackle it alone.

We are living through an incredible period in our history and one that has the potential to build a safe future for people and nature. We are in a phase of unprecedented transition and what we need now is to put in place the changes we need to accelerate the shift towards decarbonisation and a better environment for us all.  This is our time to change climate change - let’s seize the moment.