With COP26 taking place later this year, how far do you think targets need to go beyond current agreements if we are to succeed in keeping global warming below 1.5-2 degrees?
We need to go quite some distance beyond the current efforts that are being made internationally. If we continue on the trajectory from the Paris climate change agreement of five years ago, then we would miss the 1.5-2 degree target by a considerable margin. So, we need to make additional efforts both in terms of NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions), which are set by governments, and through new commitments from business, industry, and civil society. It’s a whole of society effort to make sure that we make even more ambitious plans.
As you say, it’s not only governments, it’s the whole of society’s responsibility. Do you think the weight of public opinion is swinging in the right direction?
Yes, it’s moving in the right direction, I’m just not sure it has moved far enough quite yet. A lot of businesses are now realising they have a responsibility to do more and so, a lot of them are signing up to ‘Race to Zero’; an initiative for the private sector to go carbon neutral by 2050. We’re seeing more businesses sign up, from SMEs to large multinationals. So, there’s a lot of momentum building, but the challenge is that it’s easy to say we will be carbon neutral by 2050, but implementing that commitment involves taking very difficult decisions that are needed to make it a reality.
In the run up to COP26 and after it, we’re going to need to see some very hard-headed plans on how these targets are going to be reached in terms of the practical action they are going to take to decarbonise their activities.
In terms of civil society, you have the very active NGOs and people like Greta Thunberg, but what it needs is even more of a realisation amongst the wider public, the consumer, especially in the West and places like China, of the need to change personal behaviour. Again, we are seeing that, but it needs to accelerate. People’s lifestyles will need to change, but just how much is the question. People are waiting for the silver bullet of technology to help get us out of this, but I think people’s approach and attitudes need to change radically pretty early on in order for consumers to make a difference. You can do that by going to the supermarket and looking at the labels, and working out for yourself what is harmful and what might benefit the planet. Spending power is one of those really big factors in moving things in the right direction.
COP26 had been planned as the largest ever international gathering hosted by the UK with 30,000 attendees. How appropriate do you think this is given the subject of the summit and can the summit still work effectively remotely in a post-Covid environment?
There’s a valid criticism about flying in all of these participants and that’s something that needs to be looked at in terms of carbon offsets, for example. But it’s not just 30,000 gathering to have a chat, it’s about the working groups, the negotiators, the heads of government, coming together physically to come up with an agreement on a way forward. That’s much more difficult to do in a virtual world. The other downside to an entirely virtual event is that it penalises the smaller countries that might not have the resources, perhaps not even the internet access, and fear that they may be frozen out of the negotiations.
I can see some kind of hybrid event, where you would have a smaller number of delegates, perhaps two or three negotiators per country and ministerial-level representation meeting physically. The political decisions and trade offs that are needed are much easier to achieve if people are physically present. So, perhaps a high-level segment of leaders together towards the end of the summit, and then some kind of virtual conference for the majority.