Five years ago in Paris, world leaders made history. In signing the Paris climate agreement, 197 countries agreed to work together to sort out the climate crisis. Leaders pledged to put people first and reduce their countries’ greenhouse gas emissions, with the aim of limiting global warming to well below 2ºC and ideally to 1.5°C.
Fast forward to today, and we’re living through the beginnings of a worsening climate and nature emergency, as well as a global pandemic. Turn on the news and you’ll see forest fires, extreme heat, mega-storms and floods. People are dying and ecosystems are collapsing.
What’s happening to our planet is already a tragedy; a failure of leadership and collective action. But if governments begin to act on the promises they made in Paris, we can avoid much worse.
The historic goals set by the Paris agreement, plus strong climate leadership from governments, may well mean it’s not too late to sort out this mess. But to succeed, we will all need to work together over the next year to make sure political leaders feel the pressure.
There’s still hope of meeting the Paris agreement goals
It’s not too late to keep global warming below 1.5ºC. Many countries have already pledged to take climate action, including some of the world’s big climate players, like China.
One recent study has crunched the numbers from commitments and pledges over the last 10 years and found that the Paris agreement’s goals are ‘within reach’. But reaching them won’t be easy. Every country has to take bold action, right now, to keep the promises they’ve already made, and keep raising their ambition.
As a start, every government needs to make a plan to substantially reduce its emissions over the next decade. The aim should be to get the world’s emissions down to zero by 2050.
What’s the UK’s role in tackling climate change?
The UK is one of the biggest economies in the world. This country holds a unique place in history as the birthplace of the industrial revolution – and therefore one of the greatest historic emitters of greenhouse gas emissions.
This gives us real influence and responsibility when it comes to climate change. We led the world into the fossil fuel age – now we need to help lead it out.
It’s time to channel the UK’s strengths in engineering and innovation into bold plans to help climate and nature. The more ambitious these plans are the more they’ll help to spark more global action to tackle the environmental crisis.
And it’s not just nature and the climate that needs our leaders’ attention. After a year of immense suffering with the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s never been more important to reboot the economy, invest in communities and tackle the hardship so many are facing.
If we get this right, the UK has a chance to tackle the climate and nature emergency and create thousands of new green jobs all at the same time.
And with the next global climate summit (COP26) coming up in Glasgow, the UK has a unique opportunity to show the world that it is serious about protecting the planet, and encourage others to join in.
How the UK can become a global climate leader
As hosts of next year’s global climate summit, all eyes will be on the UK. By building on the progress already made and stepping up its action at home, our leaders can set an example to the rest of the world and encourage other countries to roll out more green solutions.
Pledges are important, but they won’t get the world on a safer path without proper, well-funded action. New analysis from The Climate Coalition shows that in 10 of the top priority areas for the UK’s climate leadership over the next year, none of them are fully on track.
Here are some of the most important things our government needs to do:
Transition away from oil and gas production and support workers with secure green jobs. The UK already has an energy workforce with the knowledge and experience needed to transform the sector to clean power, many of whom are keen to retrain and work in renewables.
Roll out a plan for 100% renewable energy. This will create jobs in wind, solar, tidal power and other technologies to support the rollout, such as batteries and energy saving apps.
Invest in a world-leading public transport system, rather than new roads. Better transport options will improve countless lives across the country, making our air cleaner and streets safer.
Invest in warm and sustainable homes. These investments wouldn’t just keep people warm through the winter – they would also create thousands of jobs, such as in home insulation.
Ramp up financial support for countries on the frontline of the climate crisis. The world won’t be safe unless every country rolls out green solutions. High-emitting rich countries owe it to the poorest countries that are least responsible for climate change to help them to adapt and transition.
Stop food giants destroying forests and nature. Deforestation – particularly for industrial meat – is one of the major causes of climate change. Ending polluting corporate behaviour, eating less meat, reducing food waste and producing local sustainable food are all vital solutions.
Put ambitious targets in law to protect the environment. The value of nature in helping to absorb carbon is immense, and it is also vital to protect precious wildlife and natural landscapes that many of us treasure. And as the pandemic has shown, protecting nature better protects people.
Stop destructive fishing depleting our seas. As a huge store of carbon, a healthy global ocean is one of our last defences against climate change. To keep it healthy, we need at least 30% of the ocean in protected areas and destructive overfishing eliminated from the rest.
Reduce plastic production and ban exporting our plastic waste abroad. Single-use plastic, fast fashion and other plastic-heavy sectors must be regulated properly by the government to reduce the amount of waste we create in the first place.
Require the finance system and all government spending to support, rather than work against, action for the climate and nature.
Every country needs to do everything in its power now to cut emissions and protect nature. But the UK has real power on the world stage to do more than most – not just in terms of plans at home, but influence abroad too.
Make no mistake, even 1.5ºC of global warming is too much. But limiting warming to even 2ºC is still better than doing nothing. The more global warming and environmental breakdown is contained, the more the damage can be reduced across the world, and the greater the chance of a safe, fair and green future.
Let’s work together over the next year to hold the government to account, and create a better world for everyone.