Scientists have issued the starkest warning yet. A long-awaited landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that the world is heading for widespread devastation unless emissions are brought down sharply.
Weather disasters in the UK and around the world this summer should already be enough of an alarming wake-up call. The series of extreme weather events, from wildfires in Turkey and even Siberia, heatwaves in the United States to deadly floods that swept through Germany and Belgium, are all caused by climate change. But are these scientists’ warnings and the extreme weather events we have seen spurring world leaders, and our prime minister, to take the action that is needed?
There is certainly a growing sense of urgency coming from governments but not at the level we need and not coordinated across the globe. We are running out of time if we are to get anywhere close to meeting the challenge we face.
Scientists are telling us that there are things we can do to get ahead. Emissions from power plants, transport, housing and industry must be significantly reduced over the next decade if we are to prevent the earth’s catastrophic temperature rise. And this year of the COP26 climate conference is when we must start to see that meaningful action take place. We cannot afford to fall short.
The UK government has a particular role to play as hosts in demonstrating serious leadership and action. Under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, nearly 190 countries committed to limiting global warming to under 3 degrees with 1.5 degrees being the ambition. The world is now looking to the UK to negotiate and broker a serious deal that means those 190 countries meet that commitment. Yet despite the rhetoric, there has been little action. China and India have yet to publish their climate plans. Worst still, we have seen the UK government undermine vital progress: slashing development aid and hampering projects for the most climate-vulnerable communities and continuing to pump billions of taxpayers’ money into dirty fossil fuel projects, all despite Labour’s calls to halt these investments and end the delay on real climate action.
The outlook is not good. The prime minister’s spokesperson for COP recently sneered at taking serious action, rejecting the transition to electric cars and saying the government’s 2050 net zero target was too far off, telling us not to rinse our dishes and freeze bread. Flippancy at best but an attitude that fails to take this threat seriously. There need to be some tough choices and bold steps if we are to address this climate challenge. Labour, like Joe Biden, has a serious ambition, proposing a £30bn investment into a green recovery to create a thriving low carbon economy, new jobs and skills. Our next steps need not cost our future; instead they can provide the opportunities we need, and we must seize them for the good of this planet.
It is sadly inevitable that those who contributed least to climate change experience the heaviest burden. We have a duty to put this right. Not only to help those most impacted but to help us here at home too. The interconnected nature of our world means that action on climate overseas will deliver greater security at home. Having supported families through devastating floods in my constituency of Cardiff North as well as seeing first-hand the brutal impact of severe drought across East Africa, it is clear that if we are to make a difference, we must take action to support developing nations through this crisis.
To do this we need a new finance deal for developing nations so that they are able to take the decisions and action needed to help themselves. Second, they need a seat at the top table to give a voice to those suffering within their communities. Finally, there needs to be a commitment from the global nations that we must set our sights on achieving the more ambitious 1.5 degrees target limit. There is still time to see these ambitious actions at COP. But it remains to be seen whether Johnson can deliver.
The world’s eyes are on us. Do we continue down this path of rising emissions, missed targets and locking ourselves into a fossil fuel era with devastating consequences, or do we ensure that COP26 is the watershed moment to get a grip, drive global ambition and ensure a safe and secure future for our future generations?
Our children and grandchildren will ultimately judge us in how far we rise to the scale of the climate crisis. Failure to deliver now fails us all. Time is running out.
Image credit: Dibakar Roy