Next week over 100 World leaders will descend to Glasgow for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26. The conference, which follows on from the historic 2015 Paris meeting, has been hailed as the most important climate summit in history. But whether the hype is justified depends a lot on the course of action taken by the leaders in the weeks to come.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries pledged to meet every five years to agree more ambitious emission reduction targets that align with achieving net zero by mid-year. of the century. Setting goals is an important first step in tackling climate degradation, and it is crucial that countries that have disproportionately contributed to the climate crisis lead by example. But for COP26 to be successful, progress must also be made on How? ‘Or’ What these objectives will be achieved. It is in this area that the gap between politics and science remains dangerously wide.
A striking example came back in July when the UK Prime Minister’s spokesperson for the COP26 climate summit, Allegra Stratton, suggested that the British public can tackle the climate crisis with ‘micro-steps’ such as not rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.
Although his comments have been widely condemned, the idea that the responsibility for tackling the climate crisis rests primarily with individuals who must change their behavior and make different consumption choices remains deeply rooted. The internet is full of articles offering advice on how we can ‘save the planet’ by making small adjustments to our daily lives, albeit a lot (but not at all) of them will have negligible impact on climate outcomes.
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Of course, human activity Is must change if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe. The question is: what behavior needs to change, and who is responsible for driving these changes?
As the graph below shows, the task ahead is difficult. Had we taken steps to curb the rise in emissions in 2000, the path to net zero would have been relatively straightforward and a gradual transition would have been possible.
But delayed action means emissions must now follow an almost vertical trajectory. Each year of inaction that passes has an aggravating effect, requiring ever greater carbon reductions in the years to come. According to a report published this week by the United Nations Environment Program, current country commitments would reduce carbon by only about 7.5% by 2030, far less than the 45% reduction scientists believe is needed to limit the increase global temperature to 1.5 ° C. Unless radical action is taken, by the next big COP meeting in 2026, the prospects of limiting warming to 1.5 ° C will be all but gone.