Comment | It's not just about the environment
By Professor Zoe Robinson, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at Keele University. This article first appeared as a Personally Speaking column in the Stoke Sentinel on 8th November, 2022.
With COP27 starting in Egypt this week the media is once again full of talk of 'COPs' and international climate talks. Here’s a quick summary of some of the key points to help you through the climate talks coverage.
COP stands for 'Conference of the Parties'. This is the annual meeting of the (currently) 198 'parties' (mostly countries) that are part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The annual COP aims to make progress on the global issue of climate change. Topics under discussion range from agreements on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to ways to finance climate action.
Climate change is a truly global issue, and it needs a global response. The greenhouse gas emissions released by one country have effects in other countries. These climate change impacts are accelerating, from heatwaves to droughts to flooding, with effects on all aspects of everyday lives. The impacts are not experienced evenly across the globe, with some countries impacted much more by climate change than others. Importantly, the majority of countries experiencing the worst climate impacts are responsible for only a small amount of the emissions causing global warming.
This is the reason that one of the big issues that will be discussed at this year's climate talks will be whether an agreement can be reached whereby the developed countries, responsible for more of the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, will provide finance to developing countries to account for the 'loss and damage' they have already experienced due to climate change. Unsurprisingly there is resistance from the developed nations, and this is going to be a key area of contention this year.
A common complaint about these international climate talks is the seeming hypocrisy of all the flights being taken to attend the COP, and the associated greenhouse gas emissions. We do need to reduce flying, and yet we also need to acknowledge that some things, such as contentious climate negotiations, can be done better in person. Having leaders visible at these talks also sends a message back to their home nations that these issues are important.
So, are these climate talks worth it? Personally speaking, I would say yes. The criticisms that there is a lot of talk and not much action and that the rate of progress is too slow, are valid. Yet that almost every country in the world has agreed to pursue efforts to limit global average temperature rise since pre-industrial times to below 1.5c is an amazing achievement in its own right. We have come a long way.
In the UK there has been some great progress with decarbonising our electricity supply, yet other sectors are more challenging to address. We see examples of leadership from organistions in tackling the climate crisis. At Keele University our Low Carbon Energy Generation Park is producing up to 50 per cent of our electricity needs on campus, but, like every organisation, we still have a lot of challenges to meet our ambitious carbon reduction targets.
Despite the progress we see, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. One of the biggest mistakes we have probably made is to talk about climate change as (just) an 'environmental issue'. Climate change is really an economic, social, political, cultural issue. While the natural environment is impacted by climate change, and our natural carbon storing systems are also a key part of the solution, by seeing climate change as an 'environmental issue' it has allowed those who don’t see the environment as their area of interest, to disregard their role in the solution. Tackling climate change doesn’t just need every country to work together in solidarity, but it requires every sector to play their role, and it requires every one of us to apply pressure through our own actions to demand change. All of this is needed to create the social transformation we need.
The annual COP climate talks provide us a moment in the year no matter what our role in society, to reflect and make our own commitment to addressing the climate crisis. What will yours be?
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