COP26. A new mediocre police drama or a global conference with the weight of our futures on its shoulders? Unfortunately for Netflix, (catchy name, right?), it’s the latter. And I’m not exaggerating either: COP26 is undoubtedly the most crucial conference of our lifetimes. The decisions made at this event will have a direct impact on our futures, since they will set the tone for the level of action our governments commit to for combating climate change in the next critical 8 years before 2030, when our time for action is up.
So, what actually is it? COP26 is the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties and it’s being held in Glasgow in the first two weeks of November 2021. As this year’s hosts, the UK has a huge responsibility to set a strong example for other nations to follow. Making sure that the negotiators feel the gravitas of their decisions should be our number one priority in the countdown to COP26, because this conference is our last chance for unified action against a sixth mass extinction and environmental catastrophe.
1.5°C cannot be considered a safety net. It’s our lifeline
To really understand why this particular meeting is so crucial, we need to wind back the clocks to 2015, when world leaders from 197 countries established The Paris Agreement at COP21. The Paris Agreement was a major turning point. It’s a legally-binding, international climate treaty that lights a pathway to prevent the extremes of the climate crisis. However, despite this being a major step in the right direction, since it means that governments are lawfully obligated to keep their promises for a greener future, in hindsight it’s far from a ‘happily ever after’ moment.
Broadly speaking, the goal of the Paris Agreement was to limit the increase in global average temperatures to well below 2°C, with aims to curb global warming at 1.5°C. However, aiming for the easier option of 1.5°C, in my opinion, pretty much has the same attitude we show when we lack the motivation to start a new fitness programme. ‘Oh, don’t worry, I’ll start on Monday’. If we’re to prevent catastrophic damage to our planet, 1.5°C cannot be considered a safety net. It’s our lifeline.
Here’s why. Half a degree might not sound like a lot, but in terms of global averages, it equates to a huge difference in the damage to the planet. Climate scientists have shown that at 1.5°C, the Arctic would experience an ice-free summer every 100 years. The effects of this would be devastating; extreme winters, coastal cities becoming submerged by the rising sea levels and major food insecurity for hundreds of millions of people, to name just a few. However, with 2°C of warming, these disastrous ice-free summers would be likely to occur every 10 years. The damage would be astronomical and would render huge swathes of land uninhabitable.
COP26 must decide on clear and effective action
It’s the same story for our oceans. At 1.5°C, just 20% of all coral reefs would remain due to increased temperatures causing acidification. As if this wasn’t bad enough, at 2°C, coral reefs would be wiped out entirely. We’d be condemning these incredibly biodiverse, beautiful and vital ecosystems to exist as wasteland. Both science and our humanity come to the same conclusion.
With 1.5°C being the cut-off point before devastating effects occur, COP26 must decide on clear and effective action to reaching this goal. Else, we wave goodbye to our future on the only known habitable planet in the universe.
It all hangs in the balance at this moment in time
I realise that’s all a bit depressing. On a more positive note, though, there is genuinely so much hope. COP26 poses an opportunity for increased commitment to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals and for countries worldwide to finally start taking large-scale action to reverse global warming. With international cooperation and vision, it is possible.
Project Drawdown have shown through their extensive research that even by only using existing solutions, we can ‘drawdown’ emissions, restore the rich biodiversity of the natural world and create, not just a future, but an incredibly beautiful future for ourselves and future generations.
It all hangs in the balance at this moment in time. My opening point that COP26 holds the weight of our futures on its shoulders really was no exaggeration. The most important thing we can all do now is to make sure the UK Government understands its weight too, so that our officials don’t make the easy choices, but the right ones.
If you feel empowered to use your voice after reading this article, then here are 3 ways you can help sound the alarm.
- Write to your local MP to tell them how important COP26 is to you. Follow this link to a template you can use – just add your name and your MP’s name and send it on its way.
- Talk to your friends and family about climate change and COP26. The more people that are aware of the conference, the greater the pressure on the decision-makers.
- Educate yourself further. I’d highly recommend Project Drawdown for excellent resources as well as the documentary series ‘The Breakdown’ by Jack Harries which you can stream for free on YouTube.
In-article image courtesy of cop26uk via @instagram.com. No changes were made to this image.
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