In a world divided up by national boundaries, the emissions warming our atmosphere have no territorial allegiance. It’s a classic “tragedy of the commons”, with individual emitters acting independently according to their own interests but depleting a shared resource through their collective action.
In this case, the shared resource is the wafer-thin veil of atmospheric gases, described by astronauts as looking like a contact lens on an eyeball, upon which all life on this planet depends. And with carbon dioxide levels continuing to rise, global temperatures responding, extreme weather events increasing, and unprecedented wildfires ravaging parts of the Arctic, the implications of our centuries-long chemical experiment with the 62-mile-deep atmosphere of our planet are growing ever starker.
In fits and starts, the countries of the world have awoken to this threat and acted. Since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has provided a platform for recognising the problem and developing multinational solutions that try to balance mitigation and adaptation, are just and fair and recognise different stages of economic development.
Many have heard of the landmark Paris Agreement which was the product of the UNFCCC “Conference of the Parties” or COP in 2015 that for the first time brought all nations into a common cause to combat climate change, with a shared goal of curbing the global temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to increase adaptation support for those countries who are already suffering the consequences of climate change.
Since then, annual COPs have refined the Treaty, set measurement boundaries and developed a rule book but the 26th Conference of the Parties, due to be held in November 2020, will be the most important meeting since 2015 as the promises made in Paris on national action to cut emissions and deliver cross-border financial commitments for mitigation and adaptation are up for scrutiny and review.
Earlier this year the UK Government bid to host the 26th COP, in partnership with Italy, and I was delighted on Friday to announce that we have chosen the UK’s 4th largest city of Glasgow to be the venue.
If we are successful, COP26 will bring 30,000 delegates and hundreds of world leaders to Scotland next November and I know Glasgow will be a wonderful UK venue for this global event, with its excellent facilities and experience of hosting major events like the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
But the purpose of this and every other COP is to commit to shared action and it has been the actions of each of the four nations that make up our United Kingdom that has allowed us to bid for this event with confidence.
Together we have made the UK an international leader in the fight against climate change with: the fastest reduction in CO2 emissions among G20 countries since 2000; the passage of the world’s first Climate Change Act in 2008, the creation of a visionary global alliance to stop unabated coal burning for power generation and just last month the implementation of UK government legislation for a Net Zero UK economy by 2050 – the first major industrialised country in the world to make this commitment.
So Glasgow and Scotland will host the key negotiations but we will be asking the other nations of the UK to be closely involved, with events and actions that highlight progress and ambition in tackling climate change and creating green jobs – almost half a million at the last count.
Our shared UK effort and commitment, and our productive partnership with Italy, will help us set the scene for cooperative and ambitious action at this critical global event and at a time when the clarion calls for action are being heard around the world.
We have been in the vanguard of climate action and, as we leave the EU, we have an opportunity to set a gold standard for environmental policies. But we cannot do it alone.
Working alongside our international partners and allies and committing to collective action will require a huge effort from those organising and attending next year’s Conference. I am proud that as a United Kingdom we are preparing to rise to this challenge.
Claire Perry MP, former UK Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, is the UK’s nomination for president of COP 26