We need to work together to tackle the climate emergency

23 December 2019


Last month 11,000 scientists declared a climate emergency, warning of "untold human suffering" if we don’t stop our planet from warming. It is the world's poorest people who are hit first and worst. We can solve the climate crisis and create a fairer, more just world in the process but we need to look beyond our borders and work together to find the solutions, writes Jess Xavier.

Hard to breathe and see - Sydney today, Dec 19. Credit: Fairuz Ibrahim @MFairuz_I
My city is shrouded in smoke again, the sun blood red.

On the way to work this morning I could smell the smoke in the train carriage. I looked around. I wondered if the people sitting near me are worried, like I am.
The haze that hangs over Sydney is the ghost of lost lives, homes and habitats burning hundreds of kilometres away. Catastrophic bush fires continue to rage in New South Wales and Queensland. The NSW premier has just announced a state of emergency for the next seven days.  Towns and cities in other states are on high-alert as temperatures soar past 40C. This is not normal.

The climate emergency is a major concern for most Australians. There’s fire in our bellies. We’re crying out for action because people will continue to suffer if we don’t stop the planet from warming.

Facing up to the reality of climate change - and its human impacts - is uncomfortable. Yet I refuse to be comfortable while people are suffering and calling out for help. And I’m certain that the devastation in Australia is part of a global crisis affecting people all around the world. 

Right now 70 million men, women and children are displaced because of conflict or disaster. They need urgent support and protection. Already the international community is struggling to meet the need. As temperatures rise, the International Organisation for Migration predicts that climate-fuelled disasters and violent armed conflict made worse by climate shocks will force between 25 million to 1.5 billion people from their homes in the next 30 years.  

I believe we should take our cue from the volunteer firefighters who are working together to protect everyone in the path of catastrophe: our fates are entwined and we need to work together to find solutions. 

To do this right  we need to keep at the forefront of our minds the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, both here and overseas, who are being hit the hardest by droughts, food and water shortages and displacement; those at the front line without a fire brigade.

In Vanuatu, people risk losing their lives homes as seas rise, and disasters hit harder and more often; in South Sudan, mothers nurse malnourished children because cattle and crops have all died out from severe drought; in Bangladesh, Rohingya families who've fled conflict are being threatened by floods that their ramshackle tents cannot withstand; and in Australia 724 homes and 1,582 buildings and 2.7 million hectares have been torched, and summer has only just started.

I believe we need leaders to acknowledge the current reality, show moral courage and commit to working together for a healthy planet and a safe future for everyone.  I think we need a society that values cooperation and collaboration; one that reaches out to everyone, including those who disagree with us.

Climate change requires looking beyond our borders, understanding that our struggles are connected and ensuring that everyone in harm’s way is helped.

It’s a big idea. But I believe we are not only ready, we are on our way.

Through your support, our overseas partners are working in their local communities with people badly affected by climate change. In Tonga, you’re preparing people living in disaster-prone areas on what to do when disaster strikes, meaning less lives lost. In Zimbabwe, you’re helping farming families pushed to the brink of starvation because of the drought to grow enough food to eat.

It is because of people in Australia, like you, who refuse to turn away from injustice that this life-saving work can happen.   

By working together we can solve the climate crisis and in the process create a world that is fairer and more connected; a world that values human decency, dignity, responsibility and care; a just world where all people and the planet are safe.

I believe we can’t afford to ignore what these horrific fires tell us about our changing planet. And I know I’m not alone.  It is time to act and I urge you to think about the ways that you can. You can speak up and call on our leaders to take this crisis seriously. You can also support people affected by climate change right now, both here and overseas

We are in this together. Hope lives in action.