So we’re two days into the long awaited COP26 in Glasgow, and what have we seen so far? Well, as expected, there has been a healthy smattering of sound-bites with Prime Minister Boris Johnson leading the way.
He opened with a stark warning for humanity saying that we had ‘run down the clock on climate change’ and, ‘it’s one minute to midnight and we need to act now.’ But against a backdrop of rubbish overflowing as the Glasgow bin-men voted to strike, and amidst an unseemly row between the UK and France over fishing permits there was a danger the message might be lost in some quarters.
But the redoubtable PM was undeterred, tabling a call for action on ‘coal, cars, cash and trees’, his mantra to phase out coal, transition to electric vehicles and stop deforestation. The Prince of Wales addressed the issue of cash, telling delegates it would cost trillions for us to tackle climate change.
And there-in lays the rub.
It is in everyone’s long term interest to slow climate change but, after 18 months during which economies around the world have been ravaged by COVID, cash is in short supply. And when workers are emerging from furlough the short term priority is to pay off the credit cards and manage the family budget. This issue is aggravated by the fact that progress on climate change necessitates agreement from multiple nations; we don’t have a world government and local issues differ around the globe.
Even in the UK, one of the acknowledged leaders in the fight against global warming, the public is unsure. A recent survey conducted by YouGov found that a majority of the UK population was in favour of a referendum on the government’s net-zero plans and we all know how referendums tend to turn out!
42 per cent of adults supported a people’s vote while 30 per cent opposed it, with 28 per cent not worried either way. When the ‘don’t knows’ are taken out the public vote is supported by 58 per cent.
Meanwhile, two of the biggest polluters, China and Russia are not represented at the summit, after both had previously made it clear they had no intention of following Britain and its allies to net zero carbon by 2050. China has the world’s biggest carbon footprint while Russia is one of the nations in hot pursuit, in fourth. China confirmed to the UN, last week, that it would aim for 2060 and Russia agreed, while a spokesman for the Kremlin said climate change was an ‘important’ priority for Russia.
The USA, the world’s second biggest polluter is on board to get to net zero by 2050, while third placed India has pledged to reach the goal by 2070.
It was always going to be a difficult challenge to emerge, after two weeks, with a plan to help the planet, but where there’s a will there’s a way. And by Tuesday morning there was a report of some early progress, albeit tentative. A pledge to stop deforestation by the year 2030 was agreed in principle by dozens of nations, including Brazil.
Meanwhile, at midnight France postponed the threat of sanctions to British fishing boats!
The world leaders attending COP26 need to be together and share the commitment to tackle climate change, and of course the delegates are on board. It’s far too early to say whether the hot air blowing through Glasgow will become a deposition of meaningful action, but it won’t be a total cop out.