COP26 is a unique opportunity to put climate policy at the forefront of our industrial strategy
The Government should look to revitalise Britain’s role as a world leader in climate diplomacy by supporting industry transition to a net-zero economy, writes Darren Jones MP.
The science is clear: this is the climate crisis in action.
The fires came on the heels of an unprecedentedly hot and dry year, with temperatures on the continent climbing to an average daily maximum of 42°C on 17th December, topping an all-time record set only the previous day. Australia’s persistent and punishing drought — the essential precondition for fires on this scale — exists as a result of this heating process. And the key near-term factor in making the fires so devastating — a severe and growing disparity between temperatures in the eastern and western Indian Ocean, part of its cyclical Dipole weather event — is made more routine and more extreme by a rapidly heating global ocean.
The scale of devastation — thousands of people homeless or displaced; sixteen million acres of land destroyed; as many as a billion animals killed in the blaze — is appalling. But the sense of horror we share must also underpin a recognition that the crisis in Australia is a window into the future if we fail to decarbonise before it’s too late. The world over, achieving it will require a new and uncompromising commitment to climate diplomacy — and here Britain has a central role to play.
The UN’s 26th annual Conference of the Parties on climate change will convene in Glasgow this November, with Britain in the chair, presenting a unique opportunity to shape our collective response to this defining challenge. Although we know that success isn’t guaranteed — world leaders will meet for COP26 in the shadow of last month’s crushing failure at COP25, not to mention the pivotal presidential election taking place in the US a few days beforehand — the Government has every reason to seize the mantle.
Some wins should be easy: three quarters of Australia’s power generation, for instance, is still dependent on coal — and as we know in the UK, renewable sources like wind and solar can, with public and private investment, offer an alternative that is commercially superior as well as environmentally necessary.
Here at home we have progress still to make — in decarbonising our heat supply, making our buildings more energy-efficient, and supporting industry transition to a net-zero economy — but can point to real successes too. The ongoing phase-out of coal-fired power plants, for example, has seen the share of UK energy generated by coal fall from more than 40 percent a decade ago to under 2 percent today.
In this context the Government should look to revitalise Britain’s role as a world leader in climate diplomacy. This means mobilising our soft power tools ahead of November — but even more crucially, it means leading by example and putting climate policy at the forefront of our industrial strategy. As we demonstrated in my Science and Technology Select Committee report on clean growth technologies in the last Parliament, Britain’s industry and research capabilities can lead the world in its journey to net-zero. That’s why I argued in the House earlier this month that we harness COP26 to showcase the best of British research and industry in finding a way through the crisis.
Defining ‘success’ at COP26 is hard — but at a minimum our leadership must mean laying out an achievable roadmap to net-zero, and bearing it out through real and sustained commitments to get things right at home. The bushfires are one among thousands of demonstrations of what the climate emergency means in real time, and the world has woken up.
Britain must now step up, while we still have the chance.
Darren Jones is the Labour Member of Parliament for Bristol North West.
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