Eco 2022: ‘Yes, world leaders did drag their feet at Cop26, but we all have a part to play’

FORUM 'Without accountability, pledges are not enough'

Monday, 10th January

desouza

OPINION by MAYA DE SOUZA

THINKING about action on climate change, takes me back to over 100 years ago, the time of the Great War. Leaders sat back in their headquarters behind the lines.

Brave young people went to war: they often ran forward simply to be blown to bits. People were expendable. Words could be put out in the press – voters could be kept happy.

Is this another similar crisis of leadership? We all know the fragile planet with its thin blanket of an atmosphere is at crisis point. We see people fleeing floods and fires – even in the Colarado winter – and plagues of mice and mosquitoes as temperatures rise and ecosystems suffer severe stress.

The people affected are often poor, the dispossessed, people whose lives seem to have little value, who we feel are accustomed to hardship.

At COP 26, each country fought its corner. Some fought against accepting liability for loss and damage faced by poor countries from the two centuries of industrialised countries burning fossil fuels. Many continued to drag their heels on finance to enable investment in new technology.

For others, India most notably, it held on to using coal mainly because of the cost of the transition. Others, like Australia, clung onto the right to sell coal, no matter the consequences. Despite this attitude, there were small but steady steps forward.

The max 1.5C goal of the Paris Agreement, fought for by the small island states from Barbados to the Maldives, was retained. For the first time, we have a commitment to phase down coal.

Rules to avoid different countries each counting the same carbon reductions were written.

Pledges on deforestation – reversing this by 2030 – and reducing methane emissions were agreed. Countries are to be back in 2022 to show their ratcheted up commitments.

So the Paris Agreement lives on, not yet belly up as some feared. Delivering on COP 26 will however require commitment by us all, if leaders are to show resolve.

Without accountability, pledges are not enough. And in a democracy – sadly perhaps – voters are responsible for that accountability. The first of the challenges we face as voters is energy prices.

We hear voices of outrage that we should have to pay to save the planet and save ourselves.

Why don’t those who live on $5,000 incomes per annum in China or $2,000 in India foot the bill?

Yes, energy prices are higher but does this mean that we need to hold prices down so all can consume just as much no matter the harm – rich and poor?

Not all are struggling to pay their bills. A forward-looking approach would be to provide subsidies to those in need and allow people to use them as they choose – perhaps to insulate their homes for next year.

There are many more issues – how we choose to travel and consume, and the policies we need to ensure the right incentives.

It’s time to think about carbon taxes and how they can help steer investment and consumption in the right way, how we should share out roadspace for private and public vehicles as well as pedestrians and cyclists.

We also need to ensure we don’t build new houses with huge amounts of energy used in making cement and steel, and that we act to insulate our homes making them warmer and less wasteful.

It will be for us to make the tough choices – recognising the importance of social justice, which I know CNJ readers are committed to.

We will need to convey our views to those standing for office, businesses and pension funds, through what we choose to buy and invest in, as well as to our friends and family.

In the end, however inconvenient this may be, the buck stops with each one of us!

l Maya de Souza is Co-convenor of Dartmouth Park Talks, Chair of Dartmouth Park Neighbourhood Forum and a member of Climate Emergency Camden. She writes in a personal capacity.

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