Evening Standard Comment: COP26 is our chance to unite on climate – we must take it

·2-min read
 (Christian Adams)
(Christian Adams)

The industrial revolution transformed Glasgow into a manufacturing and economic behemoth. Glass, paper, cotton and textiles — the city became one of the largest and wealthiest in the world.

It remodelled not only Glasgow but the world, from driving urbanisation and population increase to the rise of nationalism and total war. It also — as we know too well — changed our climate as a result of the unprecedented release by humans of greenhouse gasses.

The COP26 summit, which begins in Glasgow on Sunday, will — for good or ill — be remembered as a historic event in the history of our planet. It could lay the groundwork for humanity to step back from the brink and put in place the commitments and financial structures to curtail carbon emissions and restrict warming to 1.5C.

Alternatively, it could be perceived as the final missed opportunity to preserve the habitable planet we have long enjoyed.

It is unlikely that the summit will end in total triumph or abject failure, but defining goals is a necessary step. Success would be permanently and realistically shifting emissions trajectories in line with our objective to keep 1.5C alive.

That must include not only net-zero targets decades into the future, but substantial reductions in emissions by 2030 — and more nations setting out clearly how they will achieve that.

Making steps on the issue of climate finance will be critical. The rich world is still yet to achieve its promise of $100 billion a year for poorer nations, and has now said this target won’t be reached until 2023. This has to be brought forward.

More than this, the world’s financial systems needs to be transformed to mobilise the trillions of dollars needed to finance the green transition.

Great responsibility falls on the UK, and our Prime Minister, as hosts of the summit. And Britain does have convening power. However, we must recognise that we still only have limited ability to influence events and the behaviour of other nations.

What we know for certain is we must aim higher. Analysts have concluded that China’s NDC, published yesterday, contains no new ambitions and is consistent with warming by the century’s end of 2.7C. That would be a catastrophe.

Gaining global agreement in a fractious world will not be easy. But the prize — the chance to bequeath to future generations the same sort of planet we have had the good fortune to call home — is on offer, if we want it enough.

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