By Ian Allen
Many were hoping the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) would draw a clear line in the sand and mark some progress when it comes to policy and commitment.
It failed on most counts. Two months after the summit, it’s worth analysing as to whether there is light at the end of this environmental tunnel.
Most campaigners and activists have lambasted the paltry measures agreed at COP26 as falling short of what the world needs.
The targets to cut emissions are too weak to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. There’s no specific and reliable tool to hold governments accountable.
A backtrack from India and China asking for the original “phase out” of coal to be replaced with “phase down” is a worrying signal. It proves that reliance on fossil fuels is still too deep-seated.
Conference participants agreed that countries are to submit more challenging emissions reduction targets next year. But procrastination seems to be the name of the game – the UK that made a big promise to cut their emissions by 78 per cent by 2035.
The UK government published the long-awaited Net Zero Strategy in October last year, and it was perceived as a big step forward.
However, it turned out more like a summary of what has already been said, rather an all-encompassing and forward-looking strategy.
Just a month before the Net Zero Strategy, the Green Alliance think tank said current plans won’t even reach a quarter of the progress needed to meet the UK’s commitment to a 2030 climate goal.
In the progress report to parliament by the Climate Change Committee (the CCC), we can also find some damning verdicts. None of the 34 adaptation priority areas it identifies have seen substantial progress.
The core issue is that the legislation simply doesn’t back up the big talk from UK decision-makers. Creating a legal case to answer is essential to tie businesses and the government to their net-zero plans.
The legislation will also introduce consistency in actions and claims. For instance, the UK government has refused to intervene with a coal mining project by Cumbria County Council, even though the site will inevitably increase global emissions. This could be solved with the Net Zero Test suggested by CCC to measure compliance of new developments with net zero targets.
The Clean Growth Strategy also appears to be one of the solutions, but commitment is necessary. Further, the UK’s changes on Vehicle Excise Duty and a shift to electric vehicles are progress, but not progress enough. Especially considering the £27bn budget for new roads and airport expansions. A legal framework that would regulate all such cases is therefore critical.
Public reaction to the COP26 summit shows that a simple promise isn’t enough anymore. When it comes to protecting life on our planet, countries must be more proactive to make sure we see real changes. If this means a need for new legislation, governments shouldn’t hesitate.
Ian Allen is a freelance writer with a background in political theory. Besides politics, he is particularly interested in innovations and society.
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