We are all in a position to make a difference on climate change and its devastating effects on communities. Let’s use it.

4 min read
Children fetching water,  From left: Zwebi, 13, Ntsika, 16, Sandziso, 15, and Temasiko, 7. while there are some boreholes in the community, many people live a long distance from them, and are dependent on water that wells up into shallow depressions s ...
Image: WaterAid/ Nyani Quarmyne/ Panos

They say a week is a long time in politics. How about a year in the life of planet earth? The past year has seen seismic moves in the narrative on climate change: we had the ongoing Attenborough effect on reducing plastic use; the school strike campaign across the world led by Greta Thunberg; and the birth of Extinction Rebellion, adopting confrontational but non-violent means to demand immediate action.

We also had a plethora of reports, like the damning report on loss of biodiversity, and analysis on humanity teetering on the edges of irreversible environmental degradation.

The UN Secretary-General believes climate is our biggest risk

The Inter-governmental panel on Climate Change (IPPC) has been sharp in pointing out that human activity is solely responsible for at least 1°C increase in temperature above pre-industrial levels and can move up to 1.5°C in the next 15 to 30 years. We all know where the fault lines are – stemming from fossil fuels, commercial agriculture and lifestyle choices that create the demand and put pressure on the planet's scarce resources.

Tswarelo, 12, scooping water from a riverbed depression. Lubombo Province, eSwatini.
Tswarelo, 12, scooping water from a riverbed depression. Lubombo Province, eSwatini.
Image: WaterAid/Nyani Quarmyne/Panos

We have also heard from many world leaders (with some exceptions) on the need to address climate change on a war footing. The UN Secretary General warned business leaders attending Davos this year that there are dark clouds ahead as climate risk becomes climate reality, saying: “I think the climate risk is the most important systemic risk for the near future. I believe we are losing the race.”

Climate change is already ruining lives

Amid all this noise at the macro level, climate change is leaving its mark in the lives of individual and communities. Floods, forest fires, hurricanes, heat waves and rising sea levels have impacted on people around the world. While many of those affected in developed economies were covered by insurance or supported by the state, for those in most developing economies who are affected, losing their home, livestock, means of livelihood or even relatives can mean starting from scratch all over again. A climatic shock can take a family back by many years, or even a lifetime.

As water becomes scarcer, people – mostly women and girls – must walk further and further to access it. Children miss precious school days, not only because of floods or cyclones, but because of the daily challenges posed by lack of clean water or adequate sanitation. This reality exacerbates ever-growing inequalities, within and between countries. This failure to provide basic services further skews the power balance in favour of those who are already well off and have the support and capacity to cope.

Ntsika, 16, on his way home with a bucket of water in Lubombo Province, eSwatini.
Ntsika, 16, on his way home with a bucket of water in Lubombo Province, eSwatini.
Image: WaterAid/Nyani Quarmyne/Panos

Doing good with one hand is not enough if the other is doing harm

The tragedy of this story is that many world leaders are not doing enough. The international community, made up of governments, corporates and powerful individuals, has a part to play in ensuring that everyone, everywhere is able to realise their human rights to water and sanitation. It is not enough to fund projects through corporate social responsibility programmes, if another division of your business is actively threatening people’s access to water or failing to ensure good sanitation in the communities where you work, or producing emissions that contribute to climate change.

We need to wake up to the realities of dwindling water supplies and ensure a step change in action and attitude.

You are in a position to make a difference

Not all is doom and gloom – we have seen many initiatives, led by people, communities, innovators and entrepreneurs who are making a difference. There is, in many parts of the world, growing attention to climate change. There is a global momentum for a new green deal to wean the planet from fossil fuels, curb global warming from greenhouse gases and create new high-paying jobs in clean and green industries. Meanwhile, communities affected by climate change are adapting and finding their own coping mechanisms, with very little financial or technical support.

Time is not on our side. As we mark another World Environment Day, let's ask ourselves – what am I doing to save Planet Earth? How can I make a difference in my own life as an individual, in my community and my work place? There is a huge task ahead for each one of us: supporting those who are campaigning or protesting; disrupting and demanding action at our work place; making sound choices as consumers; and using the power of ballot as a shareholder and as individuals who have the privilege to vote. If you are reading this blog, you are definitely in a privileged position to make a difference. So ask yourself what difference you are going to make.

Savio Carvalho is Global Campaigns Director at WaterAid UK. @SavioConnects