COP26 is done; Long Live COP 27! COPs have their uses – they concentrate the minds of politicians, business, the public, media, everyone… on the ever-present, yet surprisingly ignorable climate crisis. They’re also the best way we’ve come up with for addressing the complexities involved in getting around 200 different nations to make legal progress in doing something about it, from decarbonising to funding adaptation.
But they are…imperfect. And muddled.
Humanity has two vital, separate tasks this century:
1) stop environmental degradation;
2) maintain safe, habitable global temperature
The two are connected but these are different goals and must be pursued independently. Ensuring this should help keep us away from some damaging offsets , false accounting and inappropriate solutions.
Task 1 involves ending pollution of our air, soils, oceans and waterways with ecologically and socially harmful substances, from gut-blocking microplastics to climate altering gases to toxic heavy metals. It means ending unsustainable deforestation, overfishing and habitat destruction.
Task 2 involves keeping global temperatures at safe levels, so we can live in most of the places we do know, grow our crops and prevent dangerous events including runaway ice melt at the poles. This means using strategies such as enhanced rock weathering, fertilising ocean photosynthesisers, and techniques such as reflecting solar heat in the stratosphere or through cloud brightening.
Over time, the successful management of the first task will also start to address the second task. But not for several decades. COP will not keep us below 1.5C! Even if Glasgow had been incredibly successful, the greatest of its ambitions was to keep temperature rise below 1.5C by 2100 – we would still have exceeded this during the coming decades before, it was hoped, coming back down. Nobody expects us to avoid dangerous temperatures.
It’s high time we started engaging with the reality of our situation.