Next year’s COP26 offers Britain a chance to show global leadership. Will it take it?by Isabel Hilton / December 29, 2019 / Leave a comment
John Murton, now in his late 50s, has had a distinguished foreign office career, which includes ambassadorial posts to several countries in Africa. He lists his passions as renewable energy and Welsh rugby and he tweets in a cheerfully upbeat tone: his response, for example, to an election result that might have daunted the most resilient foreign office heart, was an enthusiastic tweet that pointed out that all parties were committed to net zero—the UK’s ambition to bring emissions and carbon removal into balance (by 2050 under current plans).
He will need all that optimism in the coming months, along with consistent application of persuasive charm, another of his personal assets. As the UK’s envoy to COP26, shorthand for the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, he faces the diplomatic equivalent of rowing single handed across the Pacific.
Getting a result at COP26 that meets the planetary need would be a challenge, even had the UK not been intent on tearing up its current relationship with its nearest neighbours. As host, the UK will be remembered for its success—or failure—in Glasgow in November 2020.
These conferences happen every year, so COP26 reminds us that it is more than a quarter of century since 196 countries and the EU agreed that climate change was dangerous to humanity.
Every year since then, they have met to try to agree—some more convincingly than others—on how to avoid the catastrophe that we now confront. Critics complain that the annual circus contributes to carbon emissions and has achieved little: thousands of people—political leaders, activists, negotiators, journalists—fly around the globe each year to participate, and it is tempting after less successful conferences—like COP25, which concluded in Madrid with some big issues unresolved—to see the whole lumbering process as costly and ineffective.
But there is no better forum in which to negotiate who does what and who pays—the two basic questions at the heart of this global enterprise—and, despite its flaws, without the UNFCCC and the action that it has stimulated, including the crucial scientific assessments that inform it, we might be looking at a possible 8°C degrees of warming instead of the three that remain embedded under the current plans. This has been achieved despite the momentous…