Climate Change – a good thing?

World leaders meet in Paris over the next 10 days for the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (known as COP21) to try to thrash out a new international agreement. This made me think about the phrase ‘climate change’ and what it means to different people.

‘Climate change’ is fast becoming one of the most common phrases we hear on our TV, radio and read online and in our newspapers. Climate Change – a good thing?Given all of this exposure is there a chance we are becoming numb to what climate change actually means? Could it, in fact, actually be a good thing?

Dispel misconceptions

Some people I’ve talked to recently actually think that climate change could be a good thing for the UK because they believe it will make our generally miserable weather a bit warmer! But this simplistic view misses the point. Climate change isn’t just about warmer weather, which in itself can lead to extreme heat that endangers health (recall the deaths as a result of the European heat wave in 2003.) A warmer atmosphere also holds more moisture which can lead to greater evaporation from the land, leading to drought, as well as more extreme rainfall which leads to flooding.

Don’t just take my word for it – there are thousands of scientists from all disciplines looking at the impacts and many feed into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Cange (IPCC). It makes sobering reading. We’ve already seen this in the UK and no one would suggest this is a good thing. The truth is that the UK has a high level of resilience to the impact of such extreme events with excellent health and community support services as well as a robust energy network.

Extreme weather impact

Now put yourself in parts of South America, the Indian sub-continent, sub-Saharan Africa or some of the most beautiful tropical islands around the globe we’d all love to visit. Their resilience – or lack of – to extreme weather and rising sea levels means that the impact on communities is far more severe than it would be in developed societies such as the UK. As a company with global operations, Interserve has had direct experience of the effects that severe weather events can have, with our own personnel having to cope with flash floods in Chile earlier in 2015.

While many climate change doubters may be indifferent to the discussions in Paris over the next fortnight, they would do well to note the findings of the recent Stockholm Water Conference where it was agreed that future wars in the Middle East are more likely to be fought over water than oil. The point of COP21 is for our world leaders to achieve a legally binding agreement with universal participation to keep global warming below what scientists believe is the key threshold of 2oC of warming. We’ve just passed 1oC and there is huge hope that we have leaders who are strong enough to face up to the challenges ahead.

Time for business to step up

Businesses can also play a big part by taking action to cut carbon emissions further, especially in areas such as business travel and energy use, while encouraging their customers and supply chain to do the same. Hopefully COP21 can make more people aware of what climate change really is, spur them into action, and put to bed any misconceptions about it being a good thing that will improve the UK’s weather.

‘Climate change position statement’ by Tim Haywood, Group Finance Director

‘Interserve supports the COP21 global climate agreement’ by SustainAbilities

Colin Braidwood

Colin Braidwood is head of sustainability for Support Services at Interserve.