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29 October 2021

Cop26 must not be a missed turning point

Politicians know climate action is urgent, but they need the will to act now

By Lorna Slater

With the eyes of the world turning to Glasgow, there are big expectations for Cop26. There is no doubt that we are now at a crossroads and the choices being made in the days ahead will have ramifications for years to come.

Boris Johnson has promised “extremely tough” talks and described the conference as a “turning point for humanity.” These are big ambitions, and, if Cop is to meet them, it will need more than hot air from the governments in attendance.

Cop26 is a massive opportunity. It is an opportunity to shape our future, and the futures of generations to come. Here in Scotland, we will do everything we can to make it a success. There is certainly a lot that the Prime Minister and his colleagues could learn from the approach to climate action and a just transition to net zero that we are taking in Scotland.

In August, following a record election result, my co-leader and colleague Patrick Harvie and I became the first Green politicians to enter government anywhere in the UK. 

The cooperation agreement that we negotiated with the Scottish Government was historic. It provides a blueprint for the kind of radical and far-reaching climate action that needs to happen in Scotland and beyond.

We have plans in place to double Scotland’s onshore wind capacity and boost renewable and marine energy. Earlier this month we announced £1.8 billion worth of investment in warmer, greener homes and a review of incinerators. We are also trebling the active travel budget and investing £5 billion in decarbonising and improving Scotland’s rail network. 

But people need to be at the heart of our transition, and so do the skills of oil and gas workers. That is why we are investing £500 million to ensure that the North East of Scotland and Moray, where these jobs are concentrated, can become thriving hubs of innovation and turbocharge our green economy. I would urge the UK government to match that ambition.

These are bold changes, but, if we are to provide a future for the young people of today and tomorrow, then they are opportunities we cannot afford not to grasp.

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But they are not only changes that need to be made in Scotland, they are ones that nations across the globe should be undertaking.

The last 18 months have emphasised how interdependent our lives are and the clear fact that none of us are safe until all of us are safe. That applies to pandemics, but also to climate change. When we burn fossil fuels in one country, the impact can be felt by people around the world. 

When world leaders meet in Glasgow, it is not just their own countries they should be thinking of, but the global footprint of their actions. 

One of the great mistakes that many make is to assume that climate breakdown is something that will happen in the future, when, in fact, the impacts are already with us. Extreme weather events are becoming far more common, with the World Health Organisation estimating that over 150,000 people are dying every year as a result of climatic change.

If we are to show our support and solidarity for people on the frontline of the crisis then we must urgently focus on global action. 

There are things that we can all do that are good for us and good for the world around us, but it is not the choices of individuals that are responsible for the crisis we are in. Rather, it is a system which has put fossil fuel extraction above environmental justice – combined with decades of inaction by governments who have promised the earth but failed to deliver.

It is the biggest polluters who must make the biggest changes, whether that is governments or big business. But, as long as they are motivated by self-interest and shareholder profits, it is sometimes hard to see words turned into action.

When I think about the future, I wonder what the history books will say. I desperately want them to say that Cop26 was a summit at which leaders lived up to the challenge they were set by young people, took the action that was needed and delivered the change that was promised. I want them to point to the fairer and greener future that was introduced in Scotland and other countries around the world.

What I don’t want them to say is that everything regressed back to business as usual. I don’t want them to say that, despite having more knowledge at their fingertips than at any time in the past, and despite the lessons of the pandemic, our leaders put their heads in the sand. 

Cop26 cannot be an end in itself. Once it is over it is vital that there is no loss in momentum. The conversations happening in Glasgow are important, but they are not the end of the story. They need to be followed up by meaningful actions, with proper timeframes and accountability.

If previous climate conferences teach us anything it is that targets alone are not enough. It will take major investment and political will to make the changes we need. That is what we are doing in Scotland, and it is the same commitment we need to see from governments around the world.

Lorna Slater is the co-leader of the Scottish Greens, and Scottish Government minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity

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