Is the Cop26 agreement enough to avert climate disaster?

Climate urgency

I have strong doubts. I have been encouraged by some of the Cop 26 outcomes. But grand proclamations mean nothing unless followed up with results. Those results should all be leading to one goal — to keep temperatures rising below 1.5℃. But even on the most optimistic forecast, the temperatures are going to be higher and that doesn’t take into account the extra emissions from unexpected events — such as from the horrendous fires during the summer.

In the past, I often found myself in disagreement with people who denied climate change. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen nowadays because we no longer need science to tell us what’s happening — we can all see it with our own eyes. It’s happening now and getting worse. As I write this article, the UK is being battered by 100 MPH winds causing havoc and even the loss of life through falling trees. Freak weather in the form of floods, heatwaves, and abnormal storms, is now occurring not once in a century but annually. Denying that climate change exists is now like denying that 1 +1 = 2.

The climate debate is thankfully no longer about denial but the urgency of action — and most climate scientists agree we have very little time left to avert catastrophic consequences. This means we must follow the scientific evidence — as presented by the IPCC earlier this year — and act on it effectively. Tinkering around by planting a few trees here and there is not enough. At the heart of the main findings of the IPCC is the urgent need to end our addiction to fossil fuels through a transition towards renewable energy sources.

Grounds for pessimism

I have to admit, I’m not optimistic because there are too many powerful forces opposing change. This is a problem that feels beyond human endeavor for the following reasons. First, solving this climate crisis will mean the whole world will have to find a way of working together — complete global cooperation. Can it? It’s an almost impossible task. We live in a world where nation-states seem to live in a perpetual conflict. Blaming enemies is convenient for them when things go wrong but that is not going to help solve the climate crisis because this is a global problem and requires global cooperation. At the moment, it’s like watching a bunch of bald men fighting over a comb. The blame game will not solve this problem.

Another problem that is difficult to overcome is the reluctance of governing political parties to take the long-term actions necessary. Democracies work in shortish five-year cycles, and the modus operandi of governing parties is always to get re-elected. Will they be ready to act in the long-term if their re-election chances are diminished? One way of solving this is for political parties to work together on this matter. But there is little sign of that happening at present.

An even greater problem is taking on the vested interests of the powerful fossil fuel industry. They will resist changes if it means protecting their business interests. Persuading fossil fuel companies to abandon huge profits fossil fuels and invest in cleaner renewables is not going to be easy and that is all the more reason why it is necessary to get political parties working together. The national interest must come first and politicians have a duty to ensure this happens.

Finally, there is the impact on ourselves as individuals. The cost of this will mean a huge investment in clean renewables and possible changes to our lifestyles during this transition. I use a car and was also a frequent user of air travel before the pandemic. Accepting restrictions and/ or higher taxes will affect may affect many of us.

But what if we don’t act? The consequences will be infinitely worse. There isn’t any alternative other than a descent into hell. I’m not a climate scientist, but I’ve studied the numbers, and they all point towards this conclusion. Adopting short-term fixes will not do because science shows that that the world is on the verge of tipping points. This means that significant events could happen that would have a catastrophic effect on our planet rendering short-term fixes useless. For example, the melting of the polar ice caps, already at an advanced stage, could mean global sea level rises of two meters causing many parts of the world to sink. scientific predictions show that the beautiful Maldives Islands will be underwater within seven years because of sea-level rises. Local action, such as through building stronger flood defenses, is no longer enough. Intense fires throughout the world have had a similar effect, with many losing their lives and towns destroyed. We must tackle this problem at the source –meaning reducing carbon emissions.

Grounds for optimism

The good news is that there are hundreds of innovative businesses now investing heavily in research and development in renewable energy. Even in areas like commercial aviation, there is much activity in renewable solutions. These private businesses are leading the way. But it will take more investment and time. More investment means more funding. This is the crux of the matter. Fixing this problem will cost lots of money.

There is still a consensus in the scientific community that it’s not too late. But time is running out. So let’s hope for the future of humankind that the international agreements made at the Cop26 climate summit prove to be binding. But we as citizens must also play our part. We could consider using a bicycle or walking rather than using our cars if possible. We could also eat less meat, insulate our homes, and so on. Remember the aphorism “think global, act local”.

Final thought

Is the political will there to solve this problem? Most political parties claim to be committed to solving the climate crisis. But they need to work together, and seek world cooperation, on this issue like no other — and that is not in the nature of the beast. Political parties have demonstrated readiness to put differences aside during the war years in the national interest. So why can’t they do the same now on a matter of this seriousness?

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My specialism is AI with a Ph.D. I live in Wales, and am interested in politics and climate change. I'm also independently minded.

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Dr Keith Darlington

Dr Keith Darlington

My specialism is AI with a Ph.D. I live in Wales, and am interested in politics and climate change. I'm also independently minded.

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