In less than a month’s time, the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow will have drawn to a close. Pressure to act on climate change is mounting with climate protests spanning across the country, everywhere from the M25 to Durham’s own Market Square.
There is some optimism about the ability of the world leaders to make the meeting a success. However, there remains an overbearing sense of trepidation at the mammoth task to achieve the necessary changes to international and domestic policy required to combat the climate crisis. How can our generation judge the success of COP26 and what can Durham students do to take part in this effort?
Firstly, it is no secret that the world’s nations are not on track to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees – the point at which the worst effects of global warming will occur. Wealthy countries are still heavily invested in carbon-intensive industry and developing nations have no other option but to follow a similar route to lift their populations out of poverty and grow their economies. The cost of fossil fuels needs to better reflect the damage it inflicts on the climate. A further lowering of fossil fuel subsidies and greater consistency in the pricing of carbon are essential.
Secondly, COP26 must address measures to mitigate climate disasters such as intensive flooding or wildfires in places of vulnerability. These extreme events have become commonplace and alongside working to prevent them by achieving net-zero, world leaders must work to adapt populations and infrastructure to make them more resilient. Financing efforts to minimise effects on the natural world is also key.
Thirdly, another essential point to assess success and failure will be by examining actions over climate finance. Up to this point, wealthy countries have failed to offer reasonable financial support to less developed ones. The goal has been to make one hundred billion dollars available each year, but this has not been achieved. COP26 must address opportunities for less developed nations to attain greater financial support.
Additionally, greater clarity for financial systems should be achieved in general regarding climate risk. The leaders at COP26 must examine ways in which private and public finance can help support innovation technological development to achieve a net- zero economy.
Negative actions for the climate such as burning fossil fuels do not take place because people or industries want to increase global warming. They do so because the incentives to burn oil or gas are greater than those not to. Therefore, COP26 needs robust political and economic solutions to install financial incentives which benefit the climate. Industrial development produced by capitalism certainly created our current predicament but seeking some totally new idealistic system is not realistic. Students have a key role in demanding that government policy accelerates a sustainable and fair transition.
The final point of evaluation should be to what extent meaningful co-operation can be achieved. For nations to be partisan on this issue is not valid but tribal. The United Kingdom is no longer the world’s greatest emitter but was the first to use fossil fuels at such an industrious scale. There is a great responsibility for Mr Johnson and other Western leaders to show leadership on this issue. The recent gas crisis has shown that renewable energy sources need more consideration and support needs to become more resilient. Young people from the UK to Australia have demonstrated a commonality in concern for the climate. Durham students can be a further part of that conversation, helping to develop concepts and technologies that will aid transition.
In recent months, many people affiliated with Extinction Rebellion across County Durham have conducted protests in the build-up to COP26. Such actions are important but are often controversial. Durham students concerned about the summit and climate change in general can make a difference by voicing their concerns by contacting their parliamentary representative and by taking part in any local or community efforts. Joining societies involved with sustainable energy, fashion or environmental law is another fantastic way to join the effort for sustainability.
The Covid-19 pandemic overshadowed much needed conversations on climate change, yet it made us painfully aware of our fragile world. Every year action is deferred, the more substantial and critical the action will become. The burden will be on our generation and on those to come; we should press our leaders to seek meaningful change and denounce them if they fail.
Image: Caitlin Kinney