COP27: Leaders must get their heads out of the sand - Lorna Slater

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It's hard to believe that it has been a year since the eyes of the world were on Scotland for the COP26 climate conference.

Scientists, journalists, politicians and campaigners came from all over for a fortnight of climate talks and negotiations.

I was fortunate to be in Glasgow for the second week of the conference, and, among activists, there was a real and inspiring sense of urgency in the air.

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There had been no shortage of promises in the weeks leading up to it, with world leaders stressing the need to grasp our "last best chance" for change.

Participants attend the leaders summit of the COP27 climate conference at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre in EgyptParticipants attend the leaders summit of the COP27 climate conference at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre in Egypt
Participants attend the leaders summit of the COP27 climate conference at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre in Egypt

Unfortunately, warm words are not enough. By the time that the last of the corporate stalls had been packed away, it was clear that the conference had failed.

There were some positive steps and agreements, particularly when it came to coal reduction and deforestation. But the overall package did not live up to the scale of the challenge or go anywhere near far enough.

In the months since we have seen record heat waves. Wildfires and droughts have spread across Europe. We have also seen catastrophic flooding in Pakistan, which has wiped out thousands of homes and displaced millions of people.

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Energy bills have skyrocketed due to surging gas prices, plunging millions of households in the UK and beyond into fuel poverty. All of this has been made worse by our over reliance on fossil fuels and by Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.

If we are to have any hope of reaching net-zero then this year’s COP has to reach big and meaningful agreements and succeed in all of the areas where last year’s summit failed.

Despite the backdrop of chaos and the pressing need for change, far too many governments are putting their heads in the sand.

If we take the UK Government for example, it is doubling down on the same failed policies that brought us to this point.

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Downing Street has already announced that it will approve another 130 new oil and gas exploration licences. It is an utterly reckless and irresponsible move, and the worst kind of climate vandalism.

With some of the world’s most skilled engineers and 25 per cent of Europe’s potential offshore wind capacity, Scotland could play a vital role in securing a just transition from oil and gas.

With Greens in the Scottish Government, there are already hugely important steps that we are already taking: a £500 million just transition fund, increased investment in renewables, recycling, nature and record funding for for walking, wheeling and cycling infrastructure.

But, when it comes to tackling the climate crisis and cutting bills, the most important powers all lie with Westminster.

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From taxing the obscene wealth of the oil and gas companies to taking these companies into public ownership and curbing the out-of-control price hikes, these things can only be done from Downing Street.

With the powers of independence we could take big leaps towards sustainability, like banning new oil and gas fields, fixing the broken energy market and implementing a Green New Deal that invests in our communities, our workers and our future.

I look forward to the day when we can advocate for these vital policies at future COP events, and do so as a normal and independent country.

The decisions that are made in Egypt over the days ahead will have consequences for generations to come. Let us all hope that the decision-makers in the room show the boldness and ambition that is needed.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Lorna Slater is a Lothian Green MSP and Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity

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