On 1st November the Urban Institute’s Political Scientist, Dr Linda Westman, was interviewed by Toby Foster for BBC Radio Breakfast show. As part of the annual discussions during the Conferences of the Parties, known this year as COP26 as it is the 26th event, the BBC wanted to discuss what it is all about and why it is important.

The summit brings together 200 world leaders in Glasgow, all of whom had signed an agreement in 1992 to flight climate change. The aim of COP26 is to agree an action plan to tackle global warming by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists have warned of the need to limit the rise in the global average temperature by 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid climate catastrophes. The leaders need to agree how to share responsibility fairly and what financial compensation poorer countries should receive. Many places in the Global South are already experiencing climate change, such as droughts or floods and they want richer countries to help the world reach net zero (amount of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere is the same as the amount that is absorbed) by 2050. Failure to do so will result in catastrophic climate change, such as extreme temperatures that humans cannot survive and water shortages making growing food impossible.

This situation can be turned around – IF – we change the way we live! This includes:

  • Driving cars less
  • Eating less meat and dairy
  • Taking fewer flights
  • Insulating our homes
  • Switching to renewable energy

Government will initiate some of the actions through policy changes, such as phasing out petrol cars and gas boilers, plus products that damage the environment will become more expensive, thus ‘going green’ will be cheaper.

Linda told the BBC

“The COP fulfils multiple functions at one time. The primary objective is to reach an international agreement, however the conference also provides the opportunity for those with an interest in climate change to participate, such as activists and lobbying groups”.

For Linda, it was disappointing that there was not the same level of collective visions going into this year’s negotiations as there was ahead of Paris (in 2015). This is problematic as the challenges now are much greater and there is less time to deal with them. Linda continued that the debate is emerging in a complicated political environment of extreme polarisation of opinions. Plus, climate policies are not always inclusive, and many people feel left out. For example, focusing on increasing renewable energy in a context of fuel poverty could impact people in different ways.

You can listen to the interview here, noting it starts at 1:56:00: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p09ysvws