COP26: How Covid experience has helped prepare the way for dramatic action to combat climate change – Ian Swanson

There have been some positive signs coming out of the COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow.

By Ian Swanson
Monday, 8th November 2021, 4:45 pm

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As well as powerful speeches from Sir David Attenborough and leaders of some of the countries most at peril from global warming, the first week saw agreements about ending deforestation, cutting methane emissions and moving away from coal.

When the conference wraps up at the weekend – it is due to end on Friday evening, but the last one ran on til the Sunday afternoon – Boris Johnson and other leaders will no doubt claim that while much still needs to be done significant progress has been made, while Greta Thunberg and other campaigners will call it a giant missed opportunity.

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Much will depend on how far the pledges made in the Glasgow glare of publicity are honoured when everyone gets back home.

But there are signs that the general public, not just in this country but around the world, are ready and willing for serious change.

Perhaps it has something to do with the experience of Covid.

The sudden and unprecedented lockdowns which countries introduced in early 2020 meant a dramatic overnight change in people's everyday lives.

Tens of thousands of protesters took part in a march through Glasgow on Saturday (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

In the UK, the government delayed locking down partly because it thought people would be resistant to such extreme measures, but it turned out most were perfectly prepared to comply because they realised the seriousness of the situation.

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The government recognised that massive financial support was essential both for people and for businesses and channelled billions into furlough and a variety of other schemes.

Covid was and still is a worldwide problem, but the climate crisis is a potential global catastrophe on an even bigger scale.

But just as people were ready to work from home, stop going out, forgo holidays and postpone family visits and special celebrations in a bid to beat the virus, polls suggest people are also ready to accept drastic measures to cut carbon emissions and combat global warming.

The biggest ever opinion poll on climate change, for the UN Development Programme, in 50 countries found two-thirds of people agreeing it was a “global emergency”.

In another poll across 31 nations, 56 per cent wanted their governments to set stronger targets to address climate change as quickly as possible.

Polling in the UK revealed 68 per cent support for frequent-flyer levies to cut air travel; 62 per cent for phasing out gas boilers; and the same percentage in favour of products being priced to reflect how environmentally friendly they are. Higher taxes on red meat and dairy produce had the lowest level of support at 47 per cent.

Some of these measures will achieve more than others and it may well be that greater sacrifices are needed.

Just as the poorest countries in the world need financial help to implement measures to combat climate change, it’s the poorest communities within the UK and other richer countries which will find it hardest to make changes and they too will need to be helped with funding.

But it is encouraging that the public recognises the seriousness of the position and is, at least in principle, prepared for real change.

As Greta Thunberg said at the start of COP26: “It's never too late to do as much as you can.”

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