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Opinion Op-Eds

COP26: A summit of extreme importance

At Glasgow, UK government is eager to burnish its Earth-friendly credentials



Artists painted this mural on a wall near the Scottish Events Centre, in Glasgow, Scotland, which will be hosting the COP26 UN Climate Summit in November.
Image Credit: AFP

In a little over a week’s time, world leaders, governmental officials and environmental experts from every corner of this planet will gather in Glasgow, Scotland for COP26 — likely the last best chance to reverse climate change.

It is a summit of extreme importance given that the planet is on a trajectory that will increase its ambient temperature by at least two degrees — an increase that some 99.9 per cent of scientists now accept has been caused by our 250-year dalliance with fossil fuels. Of course, our industrial and commercial activities have also increased the output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and everything from the way we heat our homes, the clothes we wear, the trips we make and the food we eat has brought us to this point of no return. The question now for those at the summit is whether we can actually put the brakes on the warming process of Earth, or have we simply gone too far now.

For the United Kingdom, hosting the summit in Glasgow marks a significant moment for the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, offering his nation, now free of the constraints of the European Union, a chance to leave its diplomatic footprint, if not its carbon one, on the world stage. For a nation too that has been severely hit by coronavirus — its death rate per million of population is the highest in Europe — the summit offers a chance for the Conservative government to make a point. A cross-party report produced last week by a Westminster committee of MPs found the there was a delay in locking down and putting restrictions in place in the early stages of the crisis (in the UK). Johnson has said there will be a government inquiry, but critics say delaying it until next year isn’t good enough — and it needs to start now. As things stand now, there are some 45,000 new cases of coronavirus now daily in the UK even though the nation was quick to get its vaccination programme up and running. In recent months, however, EU states have managed to put jabs in arms at a quicker and more prolific rate.

Over to Glasgow

Less than 100 kilometres from where those world leaders, government officials and environmental experts will gather in Glasgow, civil servants at various levels of local and national government are dealing with a planning application for a new coal mine — one that will produce high-quality coking coal to be used in steel manufacturing.

The proponents of the site say the new mine is needed and will create hundreds of well-paying jobs across Cumbria, the north-western region that has a long history of mining going back at least two centuries. If it’s not opened, they say, coal will simply be used elsewhere to make steel that is essential to build wind turbines and other infrastructure needed by the clean energy industry.

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Opponents say UK must not allow such a mine given that there’s a drive now to wean the world off fossil fuels. It’s not needed, they say, because energy to produce steel can come from environmentally friendly and renewable sources — there are two nuclear stations in the area. And those well-paying jobs can also come from the green energy industry, building turbines, keeping them moving, and by looking at the power of the sea and its predictable tides off the northwest coast of England.

With Cop26 on the horizon, Johnson’s government has called a public inquiry into the mine, pushing it off the agenda for now as that climate summit gets underway.

Queen Elizabeth, who by convention does not speak publicly on matters of politics, was overheard last week in a private conversation in Cardiff saying that she was frustrated that political leaders were merely giving lip service to climate change and weren’t doing enough to actually make it happen. Her grandson, Prince William, who is third in line for the throne, also last week announced the five winners of a £1 million point “Earthshot” prize — a programme aimed at promoting climate change by recognising projects that are and can make a very real difference to our planet.

Over the past week, Johnson’s government has also detailed how it plans to make the UK net carbon neutral by 2050. That means offering some 90,000 homeowners £5,000 each towards the cost of exchanging their gas boilers that heat radiations and produce hot water, for newer, more efficient heat pumps. Trouble is, there are 25 million homes in the UK, and that 90,000 covered by the new scheme.

The plan included help for industry in moving to greener technologies and encouraging Brits to drive electric vehicles.

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The environmentalists say the plan is too little too late and liken it to walking the first lap of a 1,500 metre race with little time to catch up. For most Brits, however, it’s hard to think of green energy when monthly gas bills have shot up. Most consumers have seen a large increase in their monthly power bills already. Those, and the high price of petrol at the pumps, have left them with more pressing concerns than the ones facing those experts when they gather in Glasgow soon.