Optimism for Cop26: we must win the climate battle – and we absolutely can

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Optimism for Cop26: we must win the climate battle – and we absolutely can

, environment correspondent
Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent

As an environment writer, I have seen many setbacks – but also triumphs such as the tackling of acid rain

A beautiful red-gold sunset over a field full of rows and rows of solar panels

Last modified on Mon 1 Nov 2021 08.39 EDT

I’ve been covering climate and the environment for 17 years – it’s astonishing to me that so many positive things are happening in response to the crisis.

Of course, we should have been bringing down emissions much sooner, and lots of the things that should have happened didn’t. In particular, I’d point to energy efficiency, which we all thought would be a big win early on, and fossil fuel subsidies, which have not come down as fast as we would have hoped.

But in general we are seeing positive trends. Coal, gas and other fossil fuels are mostly on the way out, and clean energy is rising and rising.

Renewables are a key part of the solution to this crisis. We need to shift away from fossil fuel energy to clean forms of power, and we need to do so urgently.

Thankfully, their use is growing massively around the world, and the cost of this renewable energy has come down far faster than anybody had anticipated: now, in most parts of the world, wind and solar power are as cheap as – or cheaper than – building coal-fired power plants, which is fantastic news.

It means the cost barrier to renewables that existed in the past has largely gone away, and we can see the cost of renewable energy, electric vehicle technology, and battery storage falling further.

These will be hugely important at Cop26. I spoke to Alok Sharma, the president of the summit, earlier this week, and one thing he is very anxious about is that Cop addresses the real economy.

The messages cannot just be political and high level about global action, but how this plays out on the ground with real people. It’s vital that we don’t see this as an abstract problem, but that it translates into greener business and personal decisions.

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It really is essential that we hold businesses to account because they are holding the purse strings and they are the ones who make the world go round.

We need to be vigilant against greenwashing, make sure we hold businesses to account on the targets, and ensure they are not wasting time with off-setting but making genuine reductions. The more businesses we have on board, the more successful the outcome is likely to be.

What would success at Cop26 look like? For me, strong ambitions on emissions cuts, from all national governments, as well as at state and regional levels. Banks need to put their money where their mouths are too, in terms of green investments.

There is hopefully going to be a deal on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and forests – we need to be planting more trees and restoring degraded land as a priority.

The long-term goal of net zero by mid-century is key, and we need to see countries putting nationally determined contributions (NDCs) in place, which are stringent 2030 goals. We may fall a bit short, but narrowing the gap would still be a positive outcome. After all, the world doesn’t stop after Cop. But what we really do need is a plan.

In my years reporting on this issue, I’ve seen so many triumphs and disasters. The bottom line on our struggle against climate catastrophe is this: we don’t have a choice but to win, and we absolutely can.

There was a time when it seemed impossible to solve the problem of acid rain, but we did. It’s true that greater challenges lie ahead, and they will require action from the whole global economy, but we have the technology and the ingenuity.

I have no time for people who say this is too expensive – if we don’t have a planet then we don’t have an economy. So solving these problems is a question of “how”, not “if”.

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