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World leaders must focus on the prize to make a success out of COP26

3 min read

Wild weather at the outset, so bad in some places that reportedly one of our environment ministers couldn’t travel to Glasgow, is a reminder of what’s at stake at COP26 - the biggest political event that Britain has ever hosted.

We all want the government and its “coal, cars, cash and trees” mantra to succeed in securing a positive outcome from the COP26 negotiations. However, as my committee told COP26 President Alok Sharma in a letter on the eve of the summit, there remains a lack of clarity on what will be considered the minimum benchmarks for success at the event. 

Right now it looks probable that COP26 won’t secure the commitments needed to peg global warming to 1.5°C. More and more extreme weather events associated with global warming above 1.5°C will bring many painful human and economic costs, including millions of people driven from uninhabitable lands.

Parliamentarians around the world have a vital role in holding governments to account for their pledges.  I feel privileged to be at COP26 this week, where I’ll join fellow Commons committee chairs Philip Dunne and Darren Jones alongside representatives from Indonesia, Pakistan and Uganda to discuss the role of parliaments in the scrutiny of climate change and nature policy.

Before COP26 my select committee voiced concerns about our government’s climate change decision-making process and how departments are held to account for developing credible green policies.  It’s not too late to prevent a failure in cross-government coordination from undermining any long-term pledges made at COP26. It is essential that the government puts mechanisms in place to assess the climate-credibility of policy across departments and to hold them to account where they have failed to deliver climate-credible policies.

Otherwise we’ll have yet more perverse decisions like that in the Spending Review to cut domestic air passenger duty.  And the government needs to firmly slam the door shut on any new coal mines in Britain, where its failure to show leadership in the global carbon-cutting challenge undermines the chances of delivering our goals at COP26.

This is about all our futures, but especially young people’s – and the importance of talking and listening to them is clear.

With the eyes of the world on Glasgow, public awareness of climate change and biodiversity issues is probably as high as it’s ever been. The government needs to build on this interest with a sustained public engagement strategy. 

The Climate Change Committee said that more than 60 per cent of measures needed to reach net zero require changes to public behaviour, but there is currently no centrally led strategy.  While we welcome the commitment in the government’s Net Zero Strategy to engage with the public more, the actions it outlines look woefully inadequate to achieve the necessary step-change to underpin Britain’s climate change targets.   

This is about all our futures, but especially young people’s – and the importance of talking and listening to them is clear. My committee understands that and is launching a search for students from schools across Britain to get involved in our work and scrutiny of government policy. 

Not only is COP26 the biggest political event that Britain has ever hosted, it is arguably one of the most decisive in terms of its impact on life as we know it on this planet. Let’s hope leadership by our Government ensures future generations of school children can remember it for all the right reasons.

Baroness Parminter is chair of the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee

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Read the most recent article written by Baroness Parminter - Government must speed up electric vehicle roll out or risk missing net zero target