Thursday, February 20, 2020

Blog 7 - The most important, boring sounding, thing of the year!

Not everything that matters sounds sexy. Not everything important involves tiny, adorable, fluffy baby penguins struggling to survive a changing climate in a thoroughly telegenic manner. No, much of what really matters is boring and detailed. And on that note, let me introduce to you the fabulously dry sounding COP26 summit to be held in Glasgow this November.

Now, dear reader, it may be that you are well educated, passionately dedicated to climate change and, by coincidence, a huge fan of international agreements and their mandated five year review processes. If so, then this blog is not for you. You know all this already. For the rest of us, it's time to get focused on where the biggest climate stories of the year may well emanate from.

COP26 is the follow up to the Paris Climate agreement of 2015. It is a gathering of all the signatories of the Paris deal to see how much progress they have made in that time period. Before we get into the nitty gritty of Glasgow, it's worth reminding ourselves of what Paris achieved.

The Paris Climate agreement was the moment when countries around the world agreed that we needed to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050. That by itself was a significant step forward. What was then unique was that action was not centrally mandated. Instead 197 countries put forward what they felt they could do over the next five years (2015-19). These actions were knows as Nationally Defined Contributions (NDC's). Glasgow is the review of those plans. It as also the time for countries to step up and show where they can do more as technology, investment and political activism make climate friendly policies more possible.

The COP process has plenty of critics. At last years meeting in Madrid (COP25), many of the big decisions were pushed back and will now be on the table again in Glasgow, doubling its importance. Negotiators failed to come to agreement on issues like carbon markets and financial aid for smaller nations. Meanwhile, outside of the endless round of negotiations and discussions, global emissions are at an all time high. 
On top of that the person meant to lead the discussions in Glasgow on behalf of the UK government was sacked a few weeks ago. Claire Perry O'Neill was a former clean energy minister and had been appointed President of COP26. It was suggested by that as she was not a member of the current government she may have lacked influence and power to get hard decisions taken but her removal is more widely seen as politically motivated by a Prime Minister with a decidedly thin skin when it comes to those who criticise him.

None of this helps.

COP26 marks a crucial point in our planets journey to finding the collective answers needed to the climate crisis were are living through. The problems facing our world are only going to be solved by far reaching multi-national action and the COP process is the only framework for that. We are also running out of time for countries to stop looking for accounting loopholes and quick fixes when it comes to the actions they commit to taking. Ignoring the impact of aviation, for example, is not feasible and undermines the credibility of what is agreed. As we've said on this blog before, time is running out and serious structural change is needed to how we, in the western world in particular, live our lives. Whilst we can all take individual actions, we need top down legislation and action to drive change in those sectors where the current status quo is both comfortable and profitable.

Had I mentioned all the big oil companies will be at COP26, lobbying the participating nations furiously?

The other elephant not in the room is large, orange and incredibly ignorant. The only nation to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord was the USA. Partly this is due to the rampant climate change denialism that surges around the right wing of American politics, partly it is due to the anti-science leanings of a spectacularly uneducated President. Sadly, a lot of it also down to the fact that anything Trump finds out Obama signed up to, he immediately seeks to overturn in a display of petulant insecurity. The absence of the U.S further harms the credibility of any agreements struck.

But, it is important to focus on the positives. 196 nations have remained committed to the ideas of the Paris Accord, even if none are on target currently to meet their commitments. Glasgow provides an important opportunity to apply pressure to countries in a bid to show them they need to step up and deliver not just what they promised was a starting point, but go beyond that and show a truly credible path to net zero by 2050. The agreements made at Paris would lead to a projected temperature increase of over 3 degrees across the globe by the end of the century. The commitment agreed was to reach net zero by 2050 in order to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees and preferably below 1.5. So, there was always an acknowledgement that more action was needed and that NDC's had to become more ambitious as time passed. Glasgow is the moment when we see if that review process and peer pressure can lead to that happening.

For all of us who passionately believe in a sustainable future for generations to come it's important we engage with this boring stuff. Carbon markets and taxation are nobodies idea of a good time but they are a crucial component of providing a way for large companies to pay for the pollution they cause. It's also important that the pressure is maintained on the UK government to do the necessary, detailed groundwork that could make COP26 a success rather than a photo opportunity. Across the worl
d citizens have a window of time in the first half the year to lobby their elected representatives to make meaningful increases to their NDC's.

This isn't sexy. It's isn't fluffy baby penguins but it is vitally important. We've got eight months to get educated, informed and influencing. The clock, as ever, is ticking.