COP26 climate change summit: Decisions the world takes now will set us on an irreversible path. We must recognise the danger and seize the opportunities – Amber Rudd

There could not be more at stake. This November, the eyes of the world will be on the UK as host of COP26, the biggest-ever critical summit to be held in our country.

This is the very last opportunity that world leaders have to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. We must move the dial from red to black.

As host of the United Nations’ COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, the UK assumes a position of great responsibility and trust. Leading the UK delegation at the 2015 UN climate talks in Paris, I saw first-hand the profound efforts of the French hosts – before and during the summit – that brought about the historic Paris Agreement.

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We are now six years on from that moment and significant progress on decarbonisation has been made by the UK and others. But, as we look forwards to 2030 and beyond, we know that this is just the tip of the iceberg and that immediate and deep emissions cuts are desperately needed.

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change further reminds us that human activity is the “undisputable” cause of rapid changes to the climate, including sea level rises, melting glaciers, heatwaves, floods, and droughts.

No country is yet doing enough to change this. We are now two years into what is being called the Climate Decade, in which we must halve emissions by 2030. The decisions taken now will set us on an irreversible path. The question remains which path that will be. All nations must now commit to credible goals and lay out the detailed steps for decisive action.

The evidence of dangerous climate change has dramatically escalated since the Paris Agreement six years ago. This year has since fires, floods and droughts in greater numbers than ever before. Now people can see and feel the impact of climate change. And they expect action from the politicians.

The Covid pandemic has shown us that when the circumstances dictate, we are capable of change that previously seemed culturally and economically impossible. There is an opportunity ahead of us to use the recovery from the pandemic to build a better and more just future for all, and one that takes us to net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of this century.

Despite increasing signs of the threat posed by climate change, no country is doing enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Picture: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images)Despite increasing signs of the threat posed by climate change, no country is doing enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Picture: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images)
Despite increasing signs of the threat posed by climate change, no country is doing enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Picture: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images)
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Climate change stretches across all areas of our lives – and all political parties – as it is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most challenging issues of our time.

In recent years, the market has transformed the cost and availability of renewable energy. The cost of offshore wind – so brilliantly prolific on the coast of Scotland – is a third of the price from ten years ago. Solar is now just one tenth.

Other countries are following the UK’s lead with offshore wind and the UK itself is investing heavily in the batteries that will be essential for the electrical vehicles of the future. A green industrial policy has become the centre of investment, jobs and opportunity. This is a fantastic opportunity as well as a necessity for us all.

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It’s not just governments but other authorities that play a part: cities, towns, regions, nations and states.

Forming part of the Under2 Coalition – for which the international non-profit Climate Group acts as the secretariat – US states have shown the power of working together to push forward environmental legislation not only without the support of national government but, in some cases, in the face of its active opposition to climate action.

In a divergence from the policies of the Trump White House, in 2020 Governor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order advancing a 100 per cent renewable future for Rhode Island by 2030, and Governor Gavin Newsom of California signed one for a target to reach 100 per cent zero-emission vehicles – for in-state sales of all passenger vehicles – by 2035.

Both cases elevated sub-national climate action and encouraged other states to follow – a vital part of climate leadership. In the Climate Decade, it’s time these voices are heard at international summits such as COP26 so that we can work together on the ambitious goals that we now face to keep temperature rises below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Business too has an essential role to play. Climate Group works to form powerful networks of business and government, unlocking the power of collective action to move whole systems such as energy, transport, the built environment, and industry to a cleaner future. The members of Climate Group’s renewable electricity initiative, RE100, now have a higher demand than either the UK or Italy.

Governments must listen to the demand signals coming from forward-thinking businesses, many of which want to hit net-zero emissions by 2050, and support them with vital decarbonisation policies that will help them meet their goals.

All nations must use COP26 as a springboard to set the course for deep and meaningful emissions reductions to happen in order to get to net zero. Scientists, business leaders and people from all around the world – many of whom are being impacted by severe weather events right now – are united in calling for swift action. Politics must not get in the way.

Amber Rudd is a trustee for Climate Group’s UK Board and a former UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. She served as the Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye from 2010 to 2019

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