Thursday 06 February, 2020

Although the 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference isn’t taking place until November there is an almost daily drumbeat of headlines about it.

The current intergovernmental fall out between the UK and Scotland, and the dismissal of Claire O’Neil as President of the summit by Boris Johnson so that his government may take direct control over the event is testament to just how seriously the most senior politicians in the UK are taking it. In short, everyone wants in on COP 26 in a truly unprecedented way.

While environmental issues have garnered the attention of policymakers in the past, this was often short lived. Polling now suggests that their electors now consistently rate climate change as serious priority, up there with health and education.

People are demanding action and are willing to vote in larger numbers than ever based on who will take it.  Terms like ‘net-zero’, ‘climate emergency’ and ‘just-transition’ are now in mainstream zeitgeist.

The previous conference was widely viewed as a failure. Despite green finance dominating the COP 25 agenda, many contentious and significant Paris Agreement pledges were either not even revisited, or delayed, which will have a considerable knock on effect on the policy agenda of COP 26.

A new carbon market that will replace Kyoto credits wasn’t established, nor were new governing rules. Very little progress was made on establishing firmer carbon offsetting rules to avoid short term emission reductions and double counting.

Those promoting an “offset” only solution should think again, as much of the rhetoric surrounding the COP 25 criticised this approach. Environmental groups argue that mitigating emissions should be the focus, not simply offsetting.

Looking closer to home, both the UK and the Scottish Governments realise there is much to be gained by leading by example, and indeed by one-upping each other. The Scottish Government’s ambitions for Scotland to become net-zero by 2045 has been at the core of the 2019/2020 Programme for Government.

This target puts Scotland five years ahead of the UK Government, which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero by 2050. They are also are targeting 50% of energy consumption generated from renewables by 2030 and a decarbonised energy system almost entirely by 2050. The UK government is aiming for net-zero by 2050 and have just announced that no new petrol or diesel cars will be sold after 2035.

Whether these targets will be met or if this type of bold action is replicated on a global level is uncertain. What’s more certain is the genuine domestic and international pressure for change. As we approach the conference this November in Glasgow we can expect a steady stream of further proposals – and disagreements. And as we get closer it is worth remembering that those disagreements are no longer between whether we should or shouldn’t act, it will instead be about how much and how quickly, which is surely a positive sign.


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