FEATURE: COP26 and The Goal of Net Zero

By Fleur Howe- Environmental Editor

As this is being published, we are reaching the end of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). Spanning the 31st of October to the 12th of November, this year’s conference, held in Glasgow, is potentially the most crucial conference thus far. With the slight drop in carbon emissions over the last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic the global consensus exists that the climate must rebuild in a greener way than it has before.

Boris Johnson announced that the priority is ‘Securing a brighter future for our children and future generations’, in order to do that the increased global temperature should be kept below 1.5C. The Paris Agreement of 2015 saw the consensus of every country to keep the goal of 1.5C with the maximum being 2.0C. Despite the agreement being made there lacked an accountability for every country to act on it. COP26 aims to set out a plan and agreement for the following decade in order to succeed in the Paris Agreement.

In 2009, the richest countries promised to raise $100bn by 2020 which has failed to happen, there is suggestion it will be reached by 2023 but will that be too late? The lack of funding has induced some uncertainty on the capability of the UN to be successful in halving carbon emissions by the end of the decade. Despite this, a breakthrough arising from the conference is the promise to provide poorer countries with the tools to switch to sustainable energy sources, with the potential of creating 20million jobs and boosting the economy.

Protesters in Glasgow demanding change during the first few days of COP26

The largest focus arising from COP26 is 70% of the world’s targets to have Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. The larger polluters such as India have set their Net Zero target for 2070, China for 2060 whilst Russia remains having no fixed target. To be Net Zero would mean that no more carbon emissions would be put into the atmosphere than being taken out of it. Greenhouse gas removal is to be increased by the protection of natural ecosystems and crucially 85% of countries promised to stop deforestation by 2030. In New York 2014 we saw countries declare the halving of deforestation by 2020, an agreement not signed by Russia or Brazil, and saw next to no accountability being held. COP26 has reiterated the severity of the situation as we see nearly all of the biggest contributors to deforestation sign the agreement including Nigeria, Nepal, and Indonesia.

The UK has seen a 44% decrease in carbon emissions since 1990 and aims for 78% by 2035 and has made significant promises, including a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030. As well as cutting out coal by 2024 with 40 other countries agreeing to move away from it, whilst China – the world’s largest polluter – was not amongst the 40. With more reluctance from the larger greenhouse gas emitters, we are on track to be at 2.7C by 2100, failing the Paris agreement.

However, some sources suggest the Paris agreement was never possible, as it stands currently reaching Net Zero emissions requires urgent and drastic global change and the extensive deployment of clean energy sources. The goal of the Net Zero is problematic in its reliance on a dedication to change, a dedication that has been sorely lacked before. It also arguably rejects the urgency of the situation, giving the world another 30 years pre-emptively forces the issue onto the next generation. Johnson’s focus on securing a future will not be possible if the global responsibility is placed solely on future plans and not on the plans for now. It is undoubtable that the next few years and most significantly the next decade, will be imperative to the future of our climate in a way we have not seen before.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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