What happens after ‘Your last best chance to address climate change’ doesn’t deliver the scale of changes required?  The consensus view is that COP26 has delivered some tangible gains. Coal and fossil fuels are now explicitly mentioned, countries will have to report more frequently on progress towards targets and there have been headline-grabbing ambitions around forest protection, cutting methane emissions and private sector investments. 

Despite this, the fundamental truth is that COP26 has not produced the required radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. With ‘climate anxiety’ rapidly rising, particularly amongst the young, how can we ensure post COP26 that there is sufficient energy, engagement and commitment to slash global emissions to reach the 1.5C target?

1) Redouble efforts

Three significant things happened at COP26. The concern voiced by civil society organisations – particularly youth groups and those from the most vulnerable communities – reached a crescendo and is building to a point where it cannot be ignored by governments. Corporate commitment is at an all-time high and has far more substance than previously, partly due to the changing economics of renewables. The scientific evidence is more robust than ever, reinforced by increasingly frequent extreme weather. These three things give hope that efforts to cut emissions will be redoubled and that COP26 could become a catalyst for significant further action.

2) More honesty

COP26 articulated the ever-growing scale of the climate challenge and has deepened public understanding.  Crucially, the debate is becoming more refined. The need to keep fossil fuels in the ground is clearer than ever, as are those countries and companies that are blocking progress. This is making it increasingly difficult for governments to get away with empty promises and companies to ‘greenwash’ policies. Ultimately this could lead to a more honest debate, forcing politicians to confront issues they would rather avoid such as diet and travel choices and also increase public scrutiny on policies that move away from net zero targets.

3) Build resilience

The need for urgent action has never been more apparent. Whatever happens post COP26, we have already pumped sufficient greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to create more extreme weather events. Government policies, infrastructure development, planning and community preparedness need to shift to accept this reality.  Urban centres should prepare for more heatwaves by creating increased green spaces and shaded areas.  Flood alleviation and preparation has to be increased, coastal sea surges will become more frequent and essential infrastructure such as power stations and transport networks need to be more resilient to extreme weather.  

4) Create a national resource strategy

The UK Government now has no excuse about fundamentally re-examining how the UK uses resources. The requirement for a water industry that ensures national access to clean water in periods of drought and flood will become essential. Rural planning will need to generate more UK based protein diverse food, whilst safeguarding crucial carbon sinks, such as peat, and increasing natural diversity. Our energy network needs to quickly decarbonise built around a smart grid. Investment is required in a more circular economy to stop exporting our waste and maximising resource use.

5) Get political   

The energy and passion voice from civil society organisations at COP26 need to build and translate into political change. True government leadership is required to cut emissions and create a more climate resilient country. This will only happen if the public voice is sufficiently strong to persuade politicians to change. The last few years have seen public protest mount, but campaigns such as Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain have often been divisive and further polarised public opinion. With a growing number of people recognising the real threat of the climate crisis, we now need smart political engagement that brings along a more mainstream electorate.

Even though COP26 hasn’t delivered the game-changing targets that are required, there is hope that it might spark further immediate action and that is the aspiration to which we must all cling.

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