Updated: Feb 10, 2022
As COP26 comes to a close we are left to consider what its legacy will be. What will be the impact of the agreements reached? Will they actually reduce carbon emissions fast enough and how will they affect our daily lives? These are of course questions that will only be answered over time, but time is the one thing we have little of, given the rapid return to pre-covid levels of greenhouse gas emissions and their expected rise in coming years.
The primary aim of COP26 was to galvanising support for an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero, within the next 30 years (mid-century), to prevent global warming reaching 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Even this 30-year timeframe seems rather too generous, given recent reports which suggest we may have less than ten years before we reach that level of warming.
Whilst some progress appears to have been made in a number of key areas and a lot of encouraging noises were made, there are still too many words and not enough action, not helped by the diversionary and delaying tactics employed by some countries to protect fossil fuel revenue streams.
Our own government’s announcement to force most big UK firms and financial institutions to show how they intend to hit climate change targets by 2023 in detailed public plans, are to be welcomed, but those plans must then be put into action and rigorously enforced to ensure they achieve their goals in a timely manner.
From a local perspective, agreements on deforestation, methane capping and the provision of funding for under development countries may seem to have little relevance but there are some rather disappointing things we seem to have in common with COP26 - the encouraging noises and lack of action.
In a recent rather shocking study, the Harrogate District was ranked in the bottom ten of all the local authorities in England (314) for its commitment to going green! Of the eight green indicators used to compare authorities, Harrogate was well below average in three – ‘domestic carbon emissions’, ‘the energy efficiency of homes’ and ‘local authority spending on environmental issues.’
Although Harrogate Borough Council set out a vision to have a net zero-carbon economy in place by 2038, it seems the plans to achieve this have not move far from the paper they were written on. Initiatives like the Station Gateway and White Rose Forest tree planting proposals may be seen as positive steps, but in reality, they will have very little impact on overall emission levels. Decisions are also still being taken which are likely to increase rather than decrease emission levels, exemplified by the continued approval of new housing developments to be built with inadequate energy efficiency ratings.
Of course, the solution lies not just at the council’s door but also with those of us who live in the district. We may each face our own set of challenges but they are far from insurmountable. Together with the borough council we now need to put in place and enact our own Climate Action Plans, which effectively address the main sources of carbon emissions that we are each responsible for, and that do more than just scratch the surface of the problem.
Making net-zero a reality takes more than a few words and good intentions, it needs a sea-change in the way we all behave.