COP 26: THE BUMPY ROAD TO CARBON NEUTRAL

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At the COP26 summit, a new global agreement – the Glasgow Climate Pact – was reached. The agreement – although not legally binding – will set the global agenda on climate change for the next decade. With the Glasgow agreement, another milestone has been achieved and the celebration has started once again by those of us that have been a part of the journey to climate restoration for over thirty years. However, from Kyoto to Copenhagen then Paris and now Glasgow, the journey to carbon neutrality has been long and not always smooth, hence why despite the celebration, the general feeling is one of cautious optimism, as we saw two-three nations towards the end of the conclusion of the agreement, threaten to pull out the way America did from the Paris agreement under the Trump administration.

That is a reminder of how vulnerable the agreement can be since it isn’t legally binding and nations are self-policed to uphold their end of the bargain with little to no consequences for those who do not. Still, Glasgow was significant in a number of ways. The agreement made mention of the role of fossil fuels in the climate crisis, something none of the 25 COPs before Glasgow had been able to do despite the fact that the link between the two has been known since the 19th century. Similarly, for the first time at a COP conference, there was an explicit plan to reduce the use of coal – which is responsible for 40% of annual CO2 emissions.

The world’s biggest CO2 emitters, the US and China, pledged to cooperate more over the next decade in areas including methane emissions and the switch to clean energy. World leaders also agreed to phase-out subsidies that artificially lower the price of coal, oil, or natural gas. However, no firm dates have been set.

It was agreed that countries will meet next year to pledge further cuts to emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) – a greenhouse gas which causes climate change. This is to try to keep temperature rises within 1.5C – which scientists say is required to prevent a “climate catastrophe”. Current pledges, if met, will only limit global warming to about 2.4C.

The agreement pledged to significantly increase money to help poor countries cope with the effects of climate change and make the switch to clean energy. Leaders from more than 100 countries – with about 85% of the world’s forests – promised to stop deforestation by 2030. This is seen as vital, as trees absorb vast amounts of CO2. The latest science shows that the world needs to nearly halve greenhouse gas emissions over this decade alone to have any chance of containing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That’s to prevent worsening climate change impacts and to steer the world away from climate catastrophe.

One major difference between the past few decades and now is that the climate change sceptics have gone into hiding. The science of climate change is no longer up for debate. It is a shame that it took many natural disasters, famine and more to win over those in denial as there is now a very small window left to repair the damage that has been inflicted by the bogus science parroted by climate change sceptics. Sceptics who needed to experience the war that is starting due to climate migration, bush fires, floods, desertification, gully erosion, the tsunami, hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides and the activation of decade-old dormant volcanoes to become believers.

It also took the intervention of the former US Vice President, Al Gore who produced a very graphic documentary titled “The Inconvenient Truth” painting the reality of the effect of allowing the global temperature beyond 2’o Celsius. Not only did the documentary go viral, it earned the former V.P a Nobel peace prize. This went a long way towards bringing us to the kind of agreement we’re all celebrating now.

However, as we celebrate the Glasgow draft agreement, I am reminded of a similar celebration following a 1974 World Bank-supported UN declaration – “Portable for Every Nigeria by the Year 2000”. At the time, some felt that year 2000 was a long time for Nigerians to wait to have access to clean water as many were drinking from wells, populated rivers and sometimes even harvesting rainwater. Despite the concern and desire for speed, as a professional, I knew that making portable water available for the whole nation would require a lot of work including in-depth investigation, the building of dams, studying the rain pattern and the groundwater, building of booster stations and reservoirs; just to name a few of the things that will be required all over the nation. It was going to take some time.

In my hometown, many people were excited at the declaration and looking forward to getting water. They knew I was a part of the team that developed the plan so they looked up to me for that as well. As the years passed and nothing happened, I became more ashamed. I didn’t know what to say to them. I had played my part but like with many government policies, the implementation fell through. In fact, not just my hometown as despite the allocated amount of time that some felt was too long, Nigerians still do not have portable drinking water for all in 2021, twenty-one years after it was to come to pass. We have been reduced to buying so-called pure water and bottled water.

The shame pushed me to drill a borehole and construct a treatment plant for my town which was commissioned by the then Bendel state governor, Jeremiah Usani. I may have the resources to do this but there is very little I can do to address the issues caused by climate change. Issues like the changing rain –patterns, the droughts, the famine and more. So, the climate change agreement is a fragile win that leaves the planet earth in intensive care according to former labour party head in the UK, Ed Milband, because reducing the global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030 will not happen unless we look into the role of coal in development, the role of exploration of minerals and the role of poor power supply in some nations.

It is everybody’s responsibility to leave the planet earth better than we met it by replenishing a little bit of what we have taken. Time is not a luxury we can afford to waste so we need to act now.

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