The UK Government has put forward a revised date for the next UN Climate Change Conference to take place during the first two weeks of November 2021. This decision will suggest shifting the summit back by a year.
The next session was due to take place this autumn in Glasgow, but unsurprisingly, the global gathering of world leaders has taken a backseat due to the unfolding coronavirus crisis.
The now postponed COP26 was regarded as the most important summit since the Paris Agreement in 2015. The 2020 conference had been earmarked as the year in which countries had agreed to establish plans to meet goals of the Agreement, to ‘limit global warming to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.’
In light of the unavoidable pause to the COP program, renewable and environmental industry figureheads have been lobbying governments to seek a ‘Green Recovery’ from the economic impacts of COVID-19. Many are keen to see global leaders stick to their Paris Agreement commitments, despite COP26 being rescheduled. Richard Black, the Director for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), writes that, “Governments specifically committed in the Paris Agreement to deliver enhanced carbon-cutting pledges, long-term decarbonization strategies, and 100 billion US dollars (£81 bn) per year in financial assistance by 2020, not by COP26’.
Our actions now are pivotal to changing the trajectory of global warming, and it is crucial that the effort to create low carbon societies has an energetic push over the next few years.
Professor Mike Berners-Lee of Lancaster University reports that the scientific consensus is that “We’re on course to go through 1.5 degrees [of warming] in just a few decades’ time…and not long after that we are on a trajectory to go through 2 degrees.”
1.5 degrees of warming has long been regarded by environmentalists as ‘the dangerous line in the sand’. Although we feel and see impacts of climate change today, tipping over the 1.5-degree mark would see natural systems cross points of no return. Life as we know it would be transformed, and we would witness massive ecological collapses across the globe. If the planet warmed by just 1.5 degrees, there would be inevitable and increased risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth.
In David Attenborough’s Climate Change – The Facts, Sunita Nurain, the Director General for the Centre for Science and Environment, states that the world needs to, “Join the dots, it’s happening. It’s happening in your world, it’s happening in my world. And let’s be clear about this – it is going to get much worse.”
Donald Speirs, Business Development Manager at renewable energy specialist Dulas, adds that, “the most vulnerable nations in the world are now suffering the worst of the climate change effects, but in time, the richer nations will suffer too and the damage could be catastrophic. Studies suggest that it will be next-to-impossible to maintain our current levels of agriculture and water provision, and if this problem is put on the back burner now, we’ll create very serious and intractable problems for future Governments to sort out. The science is now unequivocal – we are barrelling towards exceeding the 1.5-degree threshold within the next few decades, and unless we urgently combine renewable technologies with the other decarbonization technologies, it is no longer alarmist to suggest we are heading for disaster.”
But, under the current circumstances, governments around the world have understandably prioritized health over the impending environment disaster. Even the Glasgow SEC, the venue for COP26, has been turned into a makeshift hospital.
So clearly, life as usual is not an option. But global leaders can’t afford to turn their attention away from the bigger picture –April’s IPSOS MORI report shows that 71% of the world’s population believe climate change to be as serious as coronavirus. It’s clear that the will of the public also supports the idea of a green recovery. But what would that look like?
Kevin Keane, the BBC’s Scotland environment correspondent, writes that Governments should prioritize investment in areas such as “Renewables, home insulation, carbon sequestration (such as tree planting), public transport and cycling, to boost jobs and improve lives.” Not only would these decisions provide health and wellbeing benefits, but as IRENA outlined earlier this year, such decisions would also create an economic boom. IRENA states that every dollar invested in this ‘green recovery’ scenario, would generate a return of between $3 and $8.
Renewable generating technologies like wind are regularly smashing records for the lowest cost of electricity delivered to consumers. We have also seen the rapid adoption of electric-powered vehicles that are convenient, clean and can be charged from the home. Finally, in the next five years, we may see a replacement for fossil-based heating systems in the home through expanded use of technologies like heat pumps and green hydrogen.
Just this week, Germany has been declared a ‘post-coal society’, and in the US, renewables have outperformed fossil fuels in the stock markets for the first time in history. Imperial College London outlined how the excellent performance of renewables was due to ‘significantly higher investor returns and lower volatility over fossil fuels.’
Given this backdrop, it may be foolish to do anything other than mobilize a large-scale green recovery. And in fact we may not have much choice. We are already starting to witness clear effects from decades of carbon pollution till now, which are manifested in ever more extreme weather patterns. In the UK, the population has been spooked by February this year which showed the highest rainfall recorded in a single month since 1862, and in May the highest amount of sunshine ever, in any month, at any time in the UK’s recorded history.
Despite having a long way to go, it is clear that we are moving in the right direction. And hopefully, by the time COP26 can convene late next year, we’ll be further ahead than any of us thought possible.