Brussels, Belgium – Angela Burnett, Author of The Irma Diaries and local Climate Change Officer started her European book tour this Monday 17th September with presentations and readings at the European Commission External Cooperation Infopoint and the Embassies of the Eastern Caribbean States & Missions to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium.
The event at the European Commission was chaired by Georgios Pantoulis, Deputy Head of Unit, Sustainable Energy, Climate Change, Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development. Officers from the European Commission and other Brussels-based international institutions attended the talk as well as members of the public. Mrs. Sharlene Shillingford-Mcklmon, Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassies of the Eastern Caribbean States & Missions to the European Union hosted their reception and introduced the evening’s proceedings with remarks about the impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria and climate change more broadly, including the major contribution of recovery from severe weather events to the region’s high debt burden. The audience included a number of Ambassadors from across the Caribbean as well as Latin America and representatives of the European Commission who expressed their interest in The Irma Diaries’ message continuing to reach a wider, global audience.
Yesterday, Tuesday, Ms. Burnett went on to present at a reception hosted for UK-based students from the Territory by BVI London Office under the theme “An Evening of Reflection & Gratitude.” Ms. Elise Donovan, Director of London Office and UK/EU Representative, gave introductory remarks which highlighted the strides made towards recovery in the BVI and the importance of climate change as a threat to the Territory. The audience encouraged sharing of The Irma Diaries with youth in the BVI as a means of raising local awareness on climate change.
The evening at BVI London Office also featured other well-known BVI talents, including dance master Dennis George of Zimmer Theatre who performed an original piece titled Migration with Ryan Edwards. Vocalist Alyssah Harrigan gave a rendition of Rise Up. A video introducing Action BVI Foundation, established by UK-based BVIlanders to raise funds in support of recovery, was also debuted at the event and presented by Ms. Kadaeu Collins. Ms. Siobhan Flax, Cultural & Social Officer and Personal Assistant to Director at BVI London Office who was responsible for organizing the event said, “I cannot think of a more fitting way for the BVI-UK community to have reflected on Hurricane Irma one year on. It was a gripping, moving night filled with world class BVI talent and we were absolutely honoured to have our featured guest Angela with us sharing The Irma Diaries and the harsh realities of climate change. It is safe to say that we all left thinking about at least one small thing that we can do to affect change and help to preserve our beloved BVI.”
Ms. Burnett’s presentation at each event highlighted the real risk of climate change creating Caribbean “climate refugees” – persons forced to leave the region by extreme events like Hurricane Irma as well as slower onset changes such as sea level rise. She discussed how stronger hurricanes are fueled by warmer ocean temperatures associated with climate change and revealed that as a result of such warming, the probability of an Irma-type hurricane near BVI has increased by more than 4 times within her lifetime (since 1990) and is expected to double again before the end of the Century.
Her presentation also took audiences far beyond the news headlines and dramatic images into the personal human experience of Hurricane Irma through a number of readings from The Irma Diaries. Finally, Ms. Burnett focused on the importance of individual/personal actions in addressing climate change and the necessity of personal connections to the issue to drive that action. She highlighted that studies show storytelling which translates climate change risk into “relatable and concrete personal experiences” is a powerful way to enhance public engagement on climate change and is the thrust behind The Irma Diaries.
The Irma Diaries book tour will end on 25th September. Tomorrow, Thursday, Ms. Burnett will participate in a press conference in Brussels organized by Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe to draw attention to the need to increase the EU 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in line with keeping global average temperature rise to a maximum of 1.5°C. The press conference foreshadows the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on a 1.5 °C rise. Ms. Burnett will represent the case of small islands and will appear alongside Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Professor of climate and environmental sciences at Université catholique de Louvain and former Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Armando Carvalho, Plaintiff of the People’s Climate Case and Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe.
It has long been recognized that a 1.5°C rise is the maximum that can be tolerated before detrimental and irreversible climate change impacts are experienced in small islands. Small islands only emit a fraction of 1% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Small island leaders have campaigned to ensure global political commitment to a rise of no more than 1.5°C under campaigns such as “1.5 to stay alive.” Currently, under the United Nations Paris Agreement on climate change, global leaders have only committed to 2⁰C rise (with a 1.5⁰C rise being an aspirational target). However, with the current level of global action, even the 2⁰C target will not be achieved. Further advocacy is needed to ensure stronger commitments and faster action.
Other events along The Irma Diaries tour include participation in a debate hosted by CAN Europe and Université Saint-Louis; a luncheon presentation and reading hosted by the National Centre for Development Cooperation, Belgium (CNCD-11.11.11); and a presentation and reception hosted by the Centre for Integrated Caribbean Research, Institute of Latin American Studies School of Advanced Study, University of London in collaboration with the British Library. The full tour schedule can be found at: https://www.theirmadiaries.
The mission of The Irma Diaries is to use compelling stories of survival from Hurricane Irma to bridge personal, action-inspiring connections to climate change. Locally, Angela is working to increase awareness and action on climate change through a partnership with Miss World BVI; the upcoming launch of Islands for Life, a movement to convert love for islands into climate action as well as the Read to Heal programme which will share readings from The Irma Diaries in schools to provide psychosocial support and educate about climate change. More about these initiatives can be found at www.TheIrmaDiaries.com.