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Kellogg at COP26

November 16, 2021

This is the first in our GCHU ‘COP26 Insights series’ which draws on thought leadership, key debates and lessons learned directly from COP26 in Glasgow as global experts gathered to discuss and agree on ambitious net zero climate targets to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

This series, written by Visiting Fellow Katherine Maxwell, is based on key events at the two-week conference and will provide insight on urbanisation and health / well-being themes at COP26, specifically, how cities can address rapid urban growth and rising temperatures whilst recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing the climate crisis requires both anger and optimism

For the first article in the ‘COP26 Insights series’ I summarise some key points from the 43rd McCauley Lecture in Glasgow hosted by the McCauley Institute. The annual lecture was developed to stimulate thinking and dialogue about contemporary environmental issues. This year, it was a conversation between Christiana Figueres, an internationally recognised leader on global climate change, previously the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2010 to 2016, Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and climate youth activists. This article focuses on the social and moral questions of reaching net zero that were raised in the discussion.

In recent years the climate crisis has disproportionately affected those in the global south. Often, it is those in lower income countries whose ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from, the impacts of climate change are limited. This is often due to the existing vulnerabilities, resources and capabilities the countries face when addressing climate change. Those countries least responsible for causing climate change tend to be the ones suffering most from its effects, in particular regarding food insecurity (which relies on relatively predictable climates).

As a result, the impact of climate change further exacerbates global inequality – countries producing the majority of carbon emissions do not experience the same impacts of climate change. This is the inherent injustice of climate change – it widens the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. The result is both a moral and a humanitarian crisis. It is hoped that the COP26 negotiations recognise the debt and obligation to the global south and consider their responsibility for both causing climate change and resulting action needed. Our global response to climate change and net zero targets must be fair and actions must not further exacerbate these inequalities.

There’s a need to accelerate positive disruption

A step change approach is needed to protect the natural world. We need to see progress as the urgency of global warming is real: parts of the Amazon, the Blue Mountains and Yosemite are for the first-time carbon sources, not carbon sinks. If we are to reverse this, we need to transform how we use the land as well as end our dependency on of fossil fuels and shifting to clean renewable energy.

As no leaders will feel comfortable having these discussions, some form of ‘disruption’ is called for. This has proved necessary to raise awareness of the climate emergency. We all need to collectively challenge ourselves and our leaders to meet global net zero targets. Activism can spur these discussions on by forcing our leaders to be more aware of, and consider, public opinion. Fortunately, we are in a unique position here – as the only species that sees the threat in front of us, we can, indeed must, do something about it.

Therefore, any progress towards targets is positive and step change adds up – before the 2015 Paris Agreement the world was heading for a 5–6-degree temperature increase. Now it’s closer to 2.7 degrees. Although there is still work to do to reduce to the target of 1.5 degrees, individual and collective actions can result in measurable change.

Who are we as people?

The climate crisis can bring out frustration in people, which is understandable, but we need to move away from antagonism. The tone in which the climate community expresses itself is important: accusing each other of wrongdoing creates division and polarisation, reducing options to who’s right and who’s wrong. The climate crisis goes beyond the initial instinctive reactions of frustration and forces us to work together. We need both pushing and pulling to harness both ‘outrage and optimism’ – both emotions have a distinctive role to play in the negotiations. Fortunately, there is a hunger for healing, and the success in COP26 is our responsibility to work together to transform our planet.

Read the next in our ‘COP26 Insights’ series here

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