COP27 is going on now in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and will last from 6 to 18 November. It’s the world’s biggest environmental forum, and over 200 governments have been invited. It’s a huge gathering of world leaders, and the fortnight of negotiations will kick off with a World Leader’s Summit on 7 and 8 November. After that the real negotiations will start, between civil servants, diplomats and government representatives. Tens of thousands of negotiators, lobbyists, members of the press and observer organisations from many nations will be descending on Sharm El-Sheikh too, so making the whole gathering absolutely enormous.
What COP27 will be about
The focus of COP27 is climate change.
Action over climate change is becoming ever more necessary. The UN has published a report that says that current measures will lead to a global warming of 2.5°C, and this will cause catastrophic climate breakdown. As the earth warms, there will be more periods of very high temperatures, marine heatwaves, periods of heavy rainfall, severe droughts in some regions, intense tropical cyclones and reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.
Climate change is thought to be a driver of many weather-related disasters, such as the heavy flooding in Pakistan, the world’s deadliest flood, which killed 1,717 people and caused damage worth US$40 billion. The drought in Europe this summer was driven by climate breakdown producing an unusually dry winter and spring followed by record-breaking summer temperatures. The drought was so severe that rivers ran totally dry – in places the Loire could be crossed on foot, and in Italy the river Po ran 2 metres below its normal level. Meteorologists estimate that the drought is the worst in 500 years.
Climate change near you
These world events are dramatic and extreme, but are taking place a long way away and may seem distant from our everyday lives. However, the effect of climate change in the UK is evident and will get worse as the world warms. It is likely that our summers will become hotter and drier, and our winters will become warmer and wetter. Temperatures in the UK exceeded 40°C for the first time on record earlier this summer, and extreme weather events are likely to become even more frequent.
The temperatures themselves don’t seem that bad, but heatwaves do cause spikes in deaths, especially in those with existing heart and lung conditions. Also more forest fires occur, as tinder-dry brush is set alight by the slightest spark. The record rainfall in the winter is likely to cause flash flooding.
Climate change is affecting local wildlife. Many species will find it hard to adapt to increased temperatures, as these affect the availability of the food they eat. Changes are likely to be seen in species distribution, as species from Southern Europe move northwards. This could have knock-on effects as species compete for food and shelter. Habitats such as saltmarshes and wet grasslands could be damaged by extreme weather conditions and the species that depend on them could be lost, as they are unable to adjust to these changing conditions.
What COP27 is trying to do
There are three main areas that COP27 will work on:
· How to reduce emissions, principally of carbon dioxide
· How to help countries to deal with climate change
· How to provide financial assistance and technical support for those countries
The world is starting to reduce the rate at which greenhouse gases are emitted, but a recent synthesis report from the United Nations’ (UN) climate body warned that cuts are not happening fast enough. At present, the world is on track to warm by around 2.5⁰C.
Events in the world, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has made energy prices skyrocket, the political turmoil in the UK, the low point of relations between the US and China and the cost of living crisis have meant that climate change has slipped down the agenda. This means that the targets on greenhouse gas emissions and the willingness to finance developing countries’ climate change adaptation projects has decreased dramatically. Hopefully the talks will provide a space for refocussing and reaffirming commitment to meeting climate change targets. They are certainly necessary.
What you can do
All the discussions by world leaders and their negotiators set targets for major industries and governments. These seem a long way from the lives of individual people, yet actions by individuals, when done by many, make a big difference. Around two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions are linked to private households. The energy, food, and transport sectors each contribute about 20 per cent of lifestyle emissions.
The UN has started a campaign for individual action in which they highlight actions you can take to limit your carbon footprint. There is even an app you can download to log your actions. These are collected centrally, and you can view the total positive actions taken by individuals across the globe.
There are ten impactful actions that you can take:
Save energy at home
The light and heat in our homes is powered by fossil fuels. Lowering the temperature in the rooms by 1°C, swapping the light bulbs with LED lights and upgrading your insulation will all reduce your carbon footprint.
Walk, cycle, or take public transport
Walking or cycling instead of driving a car will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as being good for your health. Use public transport where you can, and consider sharing rides with colleagues or friends.
Eat more vegetables
Eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and less meat and dairy, can significantly lower your environmental impact. Producing plant-based foods generally results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions and requires less energy, land, and water. Switching from a mixed to a vegetarian diet can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 500 kilograms of CO2e per year (or up to 900 kilograms for a vegan diet).
Consider your travel
Aeroplanes burn kerosene-based fuel – i.e. a fossil fuel. They use large amounts of this, producing significant greenhouse gas emissions, so flying less often reduces your carbon footprint dramatically. Taking one less long-haul return flight can reduce your carbon footprint by up to almost 2 tons of CO2e.
Throw away less food
When food rots in landfill, it produces methane, which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Wasting food also wastes the energy used to produce and transport it.
Reduce, reuse, repair, recycle
All consumer goods require a lot of energy in production. They are also generally produced in China or South East Asia, meaning they are transported a long way to get to us. More carbon is emitted in this process. To protect our climate, buy fewer things, shop second-hand, repair what you can, and recycle. Every kilogram of textiles produced generates about 17 kilograms of CO2e. Buying fewer new clothes – and other consumer goods – can reduce your carbon footprint and also cut down on waste.
Change your home’s source of energy
Utility companies often have tariffs that ensure your electricity comes from renewable sources, such as solar or wind power. Also, if you can, installing solar panels on your roof generates energy for your home directly, and also feeds renewable energy back into the National Grid. Use of renewables cuts your carbon emissions by up to 1.5 tons of CO2e per year.
Switch to an electric vehicle
Buying a car is an expensive proposition, but more car companies are producing electric or hybrid vehicles, and they are often cheaper to run than the petrol alternatives – especially given the current price of fuel. If the electricity the car uses comes from renewable sources, then it represents a considerable saving in carbon dioxide emissions. This has to be balanced against the high environmental costs of extracting the rare metals needed for the engine and battery.
Make your money count
Your power as a consumer affects the behaviour of the companies that you buy from. Many are selling environmentally friendly products – such as clothes made from recycled plastic, or responsibly sourced cotton. You need to judge how genuine these claims are, or how much they are “greenwashing”. Choose products made by companies who have genuine commitments to reducing carbon dioxide emissions and waste.
Lobby your MP – they are there to speak for you after all. You can find your MP, and what they have contributed to debates in parliament at TheyWorkForYou.com.
You can also join local activist groups, talk about climate change with family and friends, and let companies you interact with know that you support carbon cutting initiatives.
It’s not all bad
As a final note, to counter all the dreadful news about climate change, here are one or two reasons for cautious optimism.
Emissions in China fell by 3% year-on-year, a drop of 230m tonnes. It is too early to say whether this is a long term trend, but it is good news.
Installation of renewable energy plant is increasing, especially solar. Clean energy investment has grown by 12% a year since 2020, as public and private support for sustainable finance increases.
The USA passed major climate change legislation through Congress. Analysis has found the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) could propel the country to a 43% cut in emissions by 2030 compared with 2005 levels – a big leap from where it was otherwise headed.
So we are capable of reducing our carbon emissions and keeping our planet liveable. Let us hope that the gathering of the mighty at COP27 accelerates us along that path.
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