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COP26 is just three few weeks away and there are many millions of people across the globe holding their breath with anticipation. Decisions made at this historical meeting have huge implications for the future of our planet, its inhabitants and of course future generations. In this blog we aim to understand the origins and purpose of the COP, along with how much throw governments really have. We also look at what part renewable energy has to play, as we put fossil fuels to bed and transition to clean energy for a secure and habitable earth.
The COP (Conference of the Parties) is a meeting held every five years and has been going since 1995. Global governments from 197 countries come together in front of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with an aim to make agreements and decisions on how to collectively resolve the challenge of the climate crisis.
26 years after the very first meeting, it’s now time to realise the promises made in the Paris agreement of 2015. This historical event was the very first time that every country in the world actively agreed to work towards maintaining the rising temperatures.
The COP brings every country under the spotlight, broadcasting and analysing emissions per country and per capita, whilst examining exactly what action is being taken to improve it. Or not.
Held in Glasgow, Scotland, COP26 is largely believed to be our last real chance to stop catastrophe.
The key target for all, is to keep global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, with a concerted effort to limit the temperature to 1.5 degrees. By doing so, humans could mitigate the very worst of climate change.
Climate scientists and environmentalist wholly believe that should we fail to stop temperatures from increasing beyond 1.5 degrees. we enter irreversible territory of complete collapse. Although every region across the earth will be affected differently by climate change, there will be nowhere unaffected.
In 2021, the UNs Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared global warming as ‘code red for humanity’.
Right now, the statistics look pretty gloomy. In fact, if we continue along the same trajectory as we are currently, we are still looking at a 2.9C rise in average global temperatures by the turn of the century.
Looming environmental problems would include severe heatwaves and droughts, mass ice melting with rising sea levels, hugely decreased biodiversity and eco systems and inevitable crop failure and food shortages.
The COP26 conference is split into three broad parts.
The first is where key negotiations between all participating countries will take place, with experts interjecting and contributing to discussions.
The second includes a number of exhibitions and events for the 30,000 delegates to attend.
The third section comprises of talks, presentations and events across the city of Glasgow for the public to attend.
To prevent crossing over the 1.5 degree global warming threshold, the COP26 hopes to stabilise and dramatically reduce all greenhouse gas emissions.
Whilst a net zero 2050 is the ultimate goal for most governments, climate scientists and environmentalists say we need direct action much sooner.
Governments have been focused on recovery from the COVID19 pandemic. Ironically, this has given us the unusual opportunity to stop in our tracks and to establish how to ‘build back better’ rather than continue towards self-destruct.
Whilst falling desperately short of the necessary targets already, it’s now become clear that matching previous goal setting isn’t enough. To really succeed, global communities must drive even harder towards decarbonisation.
Every participating country is expected to take dramatic and urgent action, with private enterprise and individuals doing their bit too.
The main tasks ahead seem simple, but yet so difficult to achieve:
Coal must be phased out
Deforestation must end
Regeneration projects worldwide with billions of new trees planted
Electric and automated cars
More investment in renewable energy
Help for developing countries to stop reliance on fossil fuels
Compared to the top five emitting countries (China, America, India, Russia and Japan), the UK does pretty well. On the surface.
For example, whilst number 1 emitter, China contributes 28% of global emissions, the UK is responsible for 1.1%.
For example, whilst the average Chinese person emits 4.58 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, the average British person emits 9.66 tonnes. The average American uses 19.78 tonnes.
Of course, the population of each country must be taken into consideration too.
Although the UK’s seemingly small contribution to CO2 levels doesn’t seem too offensive, figures don’t include our huge imports from other countries – or the emissions that come along with that. Every mod con we enjoy from TVs, i-pads, pairs of jeans, garden sofas or a new bedspread, comes delivered with its own carbon footprint too.
When we consider that almost everything we buy is manufactured abroad, we suddenly don’t look so green. In our emissions statistics, there are no production based emissions (5.66 tonnes per person) or consumption emission statistics. If we did, we’d see a rise to more than 8.05 tonnes per person.
And that’s without talking about our love of foreign travel either.
As education about the climate crisis is becoming more mainstream in the high consuming west, we are seeing a slow drop in things like fast fashion and meat consumption.
However, whilst the UKs ‘per person’ emissions are beginning to gradually reduce, those in developing countries increase.
In the race for poorer nations to become more ‘westernised’ and enjoy all the benefits of a modern and convenient lifestyle, rates of emissions per capita are rapidly changing.
Those countries argue that, whilst richer countries have ridden on the wealth from the slave trade, invasion and industrialisation, they’re still playing catch up.
How is it fair that we should build our economy with no thought of environmental consequence, whilst they’re being stripped of their opportunity to grow as equal. They have a point.
Regardless of whether the UK completely irradiates their carbon emissions, we are still morally obliged to help other countries to go net zero too. We can do that by responsibly trading with those who aren’t actively destroying the environment.
There must be a distribution of wealth and a fair approach that allows poorer nations to continue to grow sustainably, whilst stemming capitalism at a healthier level.
Wealthier nations committed to giving £720m a year to reach $100 billion by 2020, which was designed to help poorer countries tackle climate change and make reductions to their own emissions.
COP26 should give more indication about what more will be pledged.
Our own future is still reliant on the worst five contributors making enormous reductions. So how are they doing?
President Joe Biden agreed in Aprils 2021 Earth Day Summit that Americas emissions would be halved by the end of the decade. The sceptics among us know that he’s simply making up for lost time, since Trumps removal of the US from the Paris agreement. Biden has also agreed to double investment in helping other countries to reduce their emissions.
China have agreed to peak emissions before 2030 and be at net zero by 2060. It remains to be seen exactly when they intend to do that. They are such an important role model for all other developing countries but Chinas COP26 announcements are key to the entire plan.
Japan have also upped their game, with a new intention set at the 2021 Climate summit that emissions targets lay at a 40% cut from 2013 levels (up from 26%). With increased solar investment things look hopeful, but Japan also must detach from their reliance on coal and fossil fuels to achieve targets.
India is the third largest carbon emitter worldwide and maintains that it’s on track to go beyond its Paris climate agreement pledge. This was to reduce its carbon footprint by 33-35% from 2005 levels by 2030. It remains to be seen if they will increase targets again at the 2021 COP26 or when they intend to be net zero by.
Russia is on board with the 2015 Paris agreement, with President Putin ordering his government to cut emissions by 30% by 2030 (below 1990 levels). With much to lose if the permafrost in their most northern cities melts, Russia is currently warming 2.5 times quicker than the global average. With huge oil reserves they still intend on using, it will be a challenging time for Russia to move more urgently towards new goals.
We can only assume that the future may have to be governed by richer countries refusing to trade with those refusing to budge on environmental policies.
The fact is, whilst governments continue to debate, argue, disguise the real statistics with clever offsetting and try to pass the buck, the looming truth is inescapable.
Every person on the planet has a responsibility to leave this world in a better condition than which we found it.
Some new laws regarding pollution and emissions have been set in place, which ensure countries are held accountable for failure to move rapidly towards the net zero future we need.
This will invariably be passed down to the public, who will be given incentives or financial punishments alike for making changes to the way they heat homes, travel and consume.
Of course, for domestic renewable energy the UK government are extremely keen to convert the energy inefficient housing stock, but in order to do so, we need more engineers. Currently, the renewables industry is facing a mass shortage of qualified installers, thanks to lack of proper investment in the past.
However, new build homes will be committed to adhering to the Future Homes Standard, which ensures every home is as efficient as possible. On the other hand is the enormous challenge of converting 600 thousand homes.
Insulation, low carbon heating and the complete phase out of gas boilers means homeowners can dramatically decrease their personal carbon footprint as well as their energy bills.
For existing homes, the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is the government initiative that’s been put in place to lure people over to technologies like air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps and biomass boilers.
The scheme allows people to claim back money over period of time for generating clean energy in their home.
The national grid source is already transitioning to renewable energy, using offshore wind farm and larger solar farms. Many other industries will follow suit, such as transport, building, manufacturing and medical.
Gas is becoming more expensive and will continue to do so, adding more incentive and pressure on homeowners to make the switch to renewables.
For the humble car, a complete ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles cars from 2030, clearly shows that the UK government intend to make it increasingly difficult to continue as before.
Charging points, increased battery range, battery disposal and more rapid charge times are all challenges for the next generation of personal transport.
It’s already known that we simply don’t have enough tin for everyone to have a personal electric vehicle (E.V), so it’s likely that the future will consist of automated vehicles too. The important thing is to lay clear expectations. Fossil fuels have to go.
To really impact on emissions coming from cars, homes and travel, the onus is on the private sector. Sectors like agriculture and fashion are privately owned and also the biggest emitters.
So that means that it’s down to consumers to consciously vote with their wallets and their actions too.
Banking ethically and reducing our consumption of things like fast fashion, binge flying, industrially produced meat and diesel cars, means that it’s we, the people, who truly have the power.
The latest IPCC report shows that we really have run out of time. We now know we have until 2030 to half our global emissions. That puts a very clear deadline and time pressure on individuals, companies and nationally determined contributions efforts.
We need ambitious, nationally determined action. We need world leaders to create a plan to benefit all, not just any one country.
Being sustainable is a choice we can all make. Reducing, recycling, reusing, repurposing and repairing are all easy and affordable ways to improve your own contribution.
Taking care to choose wisely is to live by the excellent quote
“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the type of world you want to live