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Opinion: Will things be different at COP26 this year? Yes. There's a sense of urgency in the air

Addressing the injustice of the climate crisis must be central to discussions at COP26, writes Ciarán Cuffe.

Ciarán Cuffe MEP for Dublin

AS A GREEN campaigner and politician for over thirty years, each year feels like Groundhog Day.

A travelling circus of climate scientists, campaigners, and politicians travel to far-flung places to attend the Conference of the Parties (COP) to try and negotiate a plan of action to halt catastrophic and irreversible global heating. Will it be different this time around when this year’s event starts in Glasgow on Sunday? In short – yes. There is a sense of urgency in the air. Never before has there been so much public interest and media attention on this conference.

Last August, saw the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publish a stark report. It unequivocally stated three important points: the earth’s surface is warming, this is caused by human activities, and our future will involve a global increase in average temperatures, rising sea levels and increased heat waves.

The significance of global scientific agreement on these points cannot be overstated: scientists, unlike many politicians in the vein of Mr Trump, are a cautious bunch. They are careful with their words because their careers and reputation are built on the accuracy of what they observe and predict. The scientists have done their job and told us the state of play. It is now up to the negotiators to decide on the policies to stop global emissions and map our transition to a low-emissions future.

However, to dig deeper into the second point of the report – that human activities led to global heating – is to reveal injustice. The humans who have contributed the least to global heating – those who live in the global south and those who live in poverty in wealthy countries – will be impacted the most by the climate crisis. Similarly, Covid-19 revealed that although the pandemic affected us all, the impact was and is not equally experienced by all. Addressing the injustice of the climate crisis must be central to discussions at COP26.

  • The Journal’s Orla Dwyer will be reporting live from COP26 every day. Sign up here to get her daily must-read newsletter from Glasgow

What can we do to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected from rising costs as our economy transitions to low-carbon policies? Home energy upgrades are one practical way to achieve this. Recently, I drafted a report for the European Parliament arguing that governments must upgrade all homes to an A-energy rating, starting with social housing.

Home energy upgrades are not as flashy as owning a Tesla. However, retrofitting our homes can be a win-win: they reduce emissions as well as protect households from fuel poverty. I am hoping that COP26 will mainstream these types of measures that are essential for climate action and protecting people. 

Green campaigners are hoping that agreement will be reached on funding a Global Forest Pledge. This can help countries in the Global South maintain forests to absorb carbon dioxide, and fairly compensate those who act as caretakers for such resources. These countries are currently paying the price of inaction as extreme heat and droughts lead to crop failures and migration.

The term ‘climate refugee’ has entered the mainstream, and tragically, some who have drowned crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy boats are victims of our failures on climate. Wealthier nations including Ireland must do more to help developing countries towards a cleaner development path. I am hoping Irish Aid, the Government of Ireland’s international development aid programme, will do more in the coming years to promote clean development paths and reduce the numbers of those forced to leave their homes. In 2009 at COP15 in Copenhagen world leaders promised €100 billion to developing countries to aid their transition. That promise was not kept. Now is the time to finally deliver.

In Ireland, a Climate Act has finally made its way onto the statute books. In 2011, the Green Party’s proposal to reduce emissions by 2.5% per year failed to pass, and after a decade of inaction, we now must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 7% a year to meet our international commitments. Taking on this challenge involves changes in the energy we consume, the way we travel, and the food we eat. Collectively the actions we take now can give us clean air, warmer homes, and allow our children the outdoor freedoms that they have lost due to rising levels of traffic. 

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There is no burying our heads in the sand anymore. We cannot ‘solve’ climate change: climate change is here and it is now a climate crisis. Science tells us that we are locked into a warmer world with a more erratic climate for at least thirty years. However, despite the seriousness of this situation, we are lucky to be alive during a time when the actions we take right now and during the next five years will have a transformative effect on all life on earth.

I hope that this COP marks the beginning of an ambitious decade of change, but hope alone is not enough. We must demand action from all of our leaders and governments – they are of the people and for the people. As politicians it is our duty to protect communities, and equally so, it is our duty as citizens to protect each other.

Ciarán Cuffe is Dublin’s Green MEP

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Ciarán Cuffe  / MEP for Dublin

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