As COP26 enters another day, there has already been an agreement by over 100 countries to reduce methane emissions, an international agreement on deforestation that includes Brazil and Russia and $8.5 billion dollars to help South Africa – a major emitter of greenhouse gases – end its reliance on coal. Over 40 world leaders have also pledged to fund clean technology around the world. And India came forward with a promise to reach net zero by 2070 – 20 years too late but still a big step forward.
The methane agreement looks particularly promising as rapid reductions in production of this potent greenhouse gas could have an almost immediate effect on global warming.
But we have been here before and grand words have failed to meet their full promise: see Climate Tracker. Greta Thunberg calls this “blah, blah, blah” and she is often right – for example she was one of the first to call out the UK for not counting the greenhouse gases it produces from international aviation, shipping and imports. Already the UK’s COP26 promise to become the world’s first net zero finance centre looks wishy washy without being enshrined in law.
But if we are to address the Earth emergency there really is no alternative to global meetings, agreements and government actions. And it is getting easier to hold countries to account on their promises: big data from satellites for example can now show us immediately where methane is being emitted and forest are being cleared.
The British Prime Minister left COP26 expressing ‘cautious optimism’ to the outcome of the meeting. Maybe he believes his own words, but the UK can hardly expect to be counted a world leader on climate change or lecture others when it reduces tariffs on domestic flights and prevaricates on new coal mines and oil fields. Still, if populist leaders really do see the need to catch up with public opinion – and can be held to account – that might be a good thing.
Whatever the outcome of COP26 we will all continue to do what we can in our own lives, communities and professional spheres of influence. And we will all be watching. Expectations have been raised and governments will fail to meet them at their peril.