Missing international leaders and failed domestic policies could derail the Glasgow summit
This year, the UK is hosting what is undoubtedly the most momentous COP26 climate conference on record. It is the last COP that could put us on track for the goals set by the Paris Agreement in 2015, which saw all countries pledge to keep the rise in global temperature to well below 2C, and preferably limit the increase to 1.5C.
This means the world needs to achieve net-zero emissions by the middle of this century.
Ahead of Glasgow, there was a genuine sense of hope and optimism about rising to that challenge. This year countries needed to present new nationally determined contributions (NDCs) outlining substantial emissions reductions to meet net-zero, but many countries – including China and Saudi Arabia – have missed the deadline.
While it is welcome that China’s President Xi Jinping pledged to stop funding coal power abroad, he did not increase China’s emissions cutting targets and he is not currently planning to attend COP26.
Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, is rubbing his hands with glee at the gas crisis we’re experiencing, suggesting that he could “rescue” the UK, while also saying he is in no rush to achieve net-zero. And guess what? He’s not going to COP either.
Needless to say, that hope and optimism about the outcome of COP has dissipated.
The UK government and COP26 President Alok Sharma have their work cut out in turning the tide. But Mr Sharma is working with one hand tied behind his back, as the Conservatives fail to match their promises with actions.
Within the last 18 months, the Conservatives have launched, mismanaged and then scrapped, the Green Homes Grant scheme. Their flagship policy to help people cut heating bills failed miserably, as predicted. Now households are facing record bills and UK homes remain among the worst insulated in Europe.
Then you have electric vehicles. In the Budget in March, the Tories cut the Plug-in Car Grant available to new EV owners, while the number of “rapid” electric vehicle chargers is barely growing at a glacial pace.
The government is also dithering over whether to permit a new coal mine in Cumbria, while planning to expand oil drilling in southern England, aiming to extract three million tonnes of oil from the Surrey countryside.
Frankly, it’s quite an embarrassing and exasperating mess, when we’re supposed to be setting an example to the world. Boris Johnson is in no position to lecture other countries on cutting emissions when we’re failing to keep our own house in order.
The Liberal Democrats have long championed action on tackling climate change. In government, with Ed Davey as energy and climate change secretary, we oversaw the near quadrupling of the UK’s renewable energy and saw the country’s emissions fall at their fastest rate ever.
We will continue to fight for our children’s future and to hold this government to account long after COP26 has left town.
And we have a simple plan to get the UK back on track – a £150bn Green Recovery Plan over the next three years to put the country firmly on the path to net-zero, including an emergency 10-year programme to reduce energy consumption from all buildings. This will cut emissions and energy bills, and end fuel poverty – particularly important during the current gas crisis.
Alongside that, Treasury revenues are up as offshore wind investment grows. This must be reinvested in more renewable energy. Combined with the removal of Tory restrictions on solar and onshore wind, we would be well on the way to achieving 100 per cent green electricity by 2035 – and that’s without the use of nuclear power that the PM suggested.
The government doesn’t have long to showcase the UK’s green ambitions to the world, but as COP gets under way the likelihood of a meaningful outcome gets more remote. Without ambition, without strong leadership, and without hope, I fear Glasgow will be a failure.
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