The next COP summit on climate change will be hosted in Glasgow. In the face of the climate crisis and the past few years of political uncertainty, the UK should use the meeting to successfully deliver on their large climate change promises.
Following the Conservative Party’s win in the December general election, the new government is expected by various public sectors and stakeholders to deliver in multiple fields of policy, from dealing with problems facing the NHS, to relationships with the United States, to combatting homelessness, to the rise in rental prices in the UK.
Among these is the most important of all: climate change. Following it’s postponement, the UK is due to host the 26th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) in 2021, the first such international forum to be hosted in Britain. With climate change becoming increasingly important across the world, the demand and pressure to deliver a substantial agreement is greater than ever.
The UK has long heralded itself as a ‘world leader’ in the fight against climate change, the reality of which is a matter for debate. Despite landmark victories in declaring a ‘climate emergency’, palpable progress on environmental policy in the UK is slow, with the only significant recent victory being the U-turn on policy approaches to new onshore wind farms.
Many parts of the Government and other MPs are currently discussing new approaches through Parliamentary groups and Whitehall Departments. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) recently focused on achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Then Chair of the BEIS Committee Rachel Reeves stated in March: “Putting the 2050 net zero target into law was a big sign of the UK’s climate change ambitions. However, the target is only the first step, it’s crucial the Government now comes forward with a roadmap to achieve it”.
The UK has remained a reliable signatory to agreements and participant in further negotiations that arise from COP summits. The country has an additional opportunity to develop a vital, though potentially only cosmetic, association with climate policy. Throughout COP, there are multiple instances where essential agreements become enshrined in the body of climate dialogues. We all recall the Kyoto Protocol to the Paris Agreement and, with the summit in Glasgow, the UK can stamp its name into the environmental history books.
The road ahead is still rife with bumps and potholes. The Government has already had to change the President of the proceedings, from the former Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, Claire Perry O’Neill, to the current Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma. In addition, the EU may be seeking to exert its influence both ahead of and during COP26 in Glasgow, with the bloc already having separate discussions on increasing European emissions’ targets for 2030. Additionally, as a result of the coronavirus crisis, the summit has now been postponed, throwing yet another wrench into the works in the lead up to COP26.
With an additional year ahead of the conference, it would be foolish to rule out further trials and tribulations. Undoubtedly, 2020 marks an important year for both British and international climate policy, and we must keep a critical eye on what unfolds in the lead up to and during the proceedings at COP26 next year.
Micheil Page is Head of Agora’s Energy & Climate Programme.