“COP: Unfortunately, it is one year later and little has changed”

Wednesday December 7th 2022


Lorna Slater, Scottish Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lothian MSP and Scottish Greens co-leader writes her monthly column for Midlothian View.

Last November I wrote a Midlothian View column about the failure of the COP 26 Climate conference. Unfortunately, it is one year later and little has changed.

Last month, leaders gathered in Egypt for COP 27. In some ways it was an improvement, with leaders taking one big step forward in terms of agreeing a fund to support countries on the frontline of the climate crisis.

However, in almost every other respect it was yet another case of too little too late.

The fact that leaders couldn’t even agree on a plan to phase down fossil fuels shows just how much work there still is to do.

The science is clear and the technology we need is there. The big thing that is missing is the political will.

Unfortunately, unfulfilled plans and broken promises have become a common feature of these conferences. It’s not just that the targets are not ambitious enough, they’re not even being met.

Take last year’s agreement on deforestation for example, which was one of the highlights of the Glasgow summit.

Governments agreed a pledge to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030. Over 140 countries signed up. This included countries with the most important and threatened forests such as Brazil and Indonesia.

To meet these targets, rates of deforestation would have to be reduced by 10% per year. However last year this rate was only 6%. Words alone are not enough. There is a lot of work to be done if we are to come close to hitting the targets.

That is why I have some trepidation about the few positive developments that were negotiated.

We should absolutely welcome and applaud the agreement for a new “Loss and Damage” fund for vulnerable countries. It’s only right that the governments and companies that have profited the most from decades of climate destruction do their part to help countries that are disproportionately affected by climate change.

To even have an agreement on the principle is a huge step forward and a tribute to all of the activists and governments who have called for it.

The policy itself was fiercely resisted by the US government and others, so there are still big hurdles that will need to be cleared in terms of identifying what level of funding will be provided and how it will be distributed.

Unfortunately, when it came to oil and gas, the influence of the fossil fuel lobby was as clear as ever.

Carbon burnt anywhere has an impact everywhere and will have a cost for all future generations. That’s why there is a responsibility on all polluting governments to tackle the issue head on.

Yet, if we take the UK government for example, it is talking about the importance of tackling the climate crisis while granting over 100 new oil and gas exploration licences and is actively considering opening a new coal mine in Cumbria.

It is simply not good enough for the wealthiest countries to pledge their support for those that are having their environments devastated by climate change while continuing to pollute the world at such enormous rates. For such a pledge to be effective there must be a plan to stop polluting in the first place.

The lack of any meaningful international agreements doesn’t reduce the responsibility for individual governments to cut emissions.

After a further 12 months with record temperatures and more extreme weather events, it is more urgent than ever that every government pulls out all stops to take the action that’s needed.

In Scotland we are doing everything we can to lead by example.

With Greens in government we have banned new incinerators and put a falling cap on incinerated waste. We have ensured record funding for wildlife, nature, recycling and infrastructure for walking, wheeling and cycling. We are the only government in the UK to have banned the worst single-use plastics and introduced free bus travel for everyone under 22.

These are the sorts of changes we need to see from all levels of government everywhere. With the world on fire and the crisis getting worse, we cannot afford to do otherwise.

I truly hope that next year I will be able to write a more positive column. We can’t afford any more wasted years or summits. Our future, and our world, is far too important for that.

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