The meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – COP26 – will seek to agree actions to reduce global emissions and support the most affected peoples and places to adapt to climate change.
Negotiators and world leaders at these pivotal talks will have to agree actions to keep the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with the Paris Agreement, and as such they need to step up on delivery of emissions reductions, financing to help people affected by the impacts of climate change, and actions to restore and protect nature.
This will be the first time that negotiators have met face to face in 18 months, and it’s crunch time. This is the decade of action, the UN says. Science tells us we have until 2030 to get rising temperatures under control.
However, UN analysis of the national climate plans submitted so far by the 191 countries involved in the COP, suggests there will be a 16 per cent increase in emissions, putting the world on track to an average temperature rise of about 2.7C by the end of the century. So those gathering on by the Clyde have a lot to do – it’s time to grasp the thistle.
Allowing 2.7C is unacceptable. It‘s a death sentence for much of our planet’s species, habitats and peoples. As per the Paris Agreement, made at COP21 in Paris in 2015, the parties meeting next month must lay out how they will keep under 1.5C.
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The difference of just half a degree, between 1.5 degrees of warming and two degrees of warming is enormous. It’s the difference between 70 per cent of all the world’s coral reefs being lost, and virtually all them being lost by 2100. Two degrees means 28 per cent of the world’s population – two billion people – facing extreme heat.
More unpredictable weather events such as heatwaves, wildfires, floods, and droughts are already having deadly impacts on people and nature around the world, leading to famine and drought, resource conflict, and climate refugees having to leave their homes. But while it is those who have done least to cause climate change who are facing its dreadful impacts first and worst, we are already starting to see climate impacts on our own doorstep.
Just a single wildfire in the Flow Country – a part of northern Scotland under consideration for World Heritage Site status due to its rare type of blanket peatland – which burned for six days in May 2019 released the equivalent of six times our daily average greenhouse gas emissions in the whole of Scotland, as well as destroying this globally rare habitat. We can expect to see more wildfires as global temperatures rise.
The extreme weather we experienced in 2018, which saw an unusually prolonged winter, delayed spring, and a very hot and dry summer, affected Scotland’s agriculture sector, with production of winter barley down 24 per cent. Farmers reported a spike in livestock losses and water supplies running dry. We can expect to see more extreme and unpredictable weather as global temperatures rise.
But Scotland has taken huge strides in climate action and has a key role to play globally. While it is the UK government that is hosting COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland and other states and regions have a crucial role in demonstrating what is possible and necessary.
Scotland was one of the first nations to declare a climate emergency. Our Climate Act of 2009 was one of the first pieces of legislation on climate change, setting world-leading targets on emissions reductions.
While international development is reserved to Westminster, the Scottish government still created a Climate Justice Fund in 2012 to help those most impacted by climate change in the Global South to survive and adapt. And while not officially a party to the UN climate convention, the Scottish government voluntarily submitted an indicative Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) – the climate plan that all parties must submit before the Glasgow meeting to show how they will meet the Paris Agreement and reduce emissions in line with the 1.5C threshold.
While Scotland has missed targets and has substantial work to do on implementation and delivery, particularly around heat and land use, it is crucial to shine a light on our bold climate action story. As former COP president and current head of WWF’s global climate and energy programme, Manuel Pulgar Vidal, has stated, “bold action by a small coalition of high-ambition countries has given us a fighting chance of keeping global climate goals within reach during this critical decade”.
It’s crucial that Scotland plays a role in demonstrating ambition and action, meeting our targets and creating the jobs, health benefits, social dividends and environmental wins from taking forward a just and fair transition. While we may not be an official party to the COP conference, we still have an influential role, which we must not waste. By doing so, we not only improve Scotland for us all, we also help demonstrate to others that it is possible.
The name of Glasgow is associated around the world with many things – shipbuilding, art, inventions from ultrasound to the Kelvin scale, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and a certain set of Big Banana Feet.
Will the new association with this global city be the name of the place where the world got to grips with climate change? Will the name of Glasgow be forever synonymous with bringing global temperature rise under control? We’ll find out very soon.
Lang Banks is director of WWF Scotland
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