As published in PoliticsHome on 16th July 2021.
As hosts of COP26 and a world leader in tackling climate change, we can use this opportunity to set market-driving targets, share best-practice in how to achieve them and help the world transfer fairly to a net zero economy.
Sadly, the England football team could not quite secure victory in the Euros final and our opponents teased after the match that “football’s coming Rome”. But while we may have been fierce opponents on the pitch, our two nations are coming together to host something with far greater significance off the pitch. In just a few months’ time, Italy and the United Kingdom will jointly host the COP26 Climate Change conference in Glasgow.
It has been dubbed by John Kerry as the “last best chance” to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Leaders from around the world will gather in Glasgow this November to negotiate shared goals and objectives on carbon reduction plans. The key message for the conference is to “keep 1.5 alive”, meaning we limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
As hosts of the summit and a world leader in tackling climate change, we can use this opportunity to set market-driving targets, share best-practice in how to achieve them and help the world transfer fairly to a net zero economy. From investment in offshore wind to phasing out petrol and diesel cars, the UK has already shown the way. And I am hopeful we can raise greater ambition from other countries, including the biggest emitters, later this year. This is the crux of the matter.
While the UK only accounts for around 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, we will all feel the impact of climate change. Not only that, but as a developed country with one of the best understandings of science and technology, we can provide the answers. It is incumbent on all of us to act.
Seeing wildfires in Australia or record temperatures in Canada can seem remote, but for my constituents the effects of climate change are felt much closer to home. The memory of the 2013-14 floods on the Somerset Levels remains fresh, when the village of Muchelney was transformed into an island requiring a daily boat service to ferry essential supplies to marooned villagers and local businesses. A similar story can be told across the UK, from Cumbria to Derbyshire, and strikingly in London just this week – not to mention the devastating floods in Germany this week which have resulted in a tragic loss of life.
Last month, the government’s independent advisers – the Climate Change Committee – published their latest climate risk report. It assesses the future impact of climate change on the UK – and it made for grim reading. The risk to the UK is getting worse under all scenarios and we need to adapt now.
Not only must we mitigate the worst effects of climate change by driving down emissions and halting global warming, we must also invest in adaptation measures to secure vital infrastructure and prevent unnecessary deaths from heatwaves and floods. The National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England, published in 2020, found that 5.2 million homes and businesses are at risk from flooding – and since 2017, half a million homes have been built that are unsuitable for future temperatures.
Episodes of extreme heat are becoming more frequent, with the chance of a hot summer like we saw in 2018 now up to 25 per cent per year, compared to less than ten per cent a few decades ago. And in 2020, there were more than 2,500 heat related deaths during the heatwave in England, higher than at any time since records began. Evidence suggests that unless there are adequate adaptation measures, this number could more than triple by 2050, from around 2,000 per year to around 7,000.
Instead of waiting for flood waters to rise or heatwaves to strike, we should fix the roof when the sun is shining, investing in flood defences and cooling systems, with initiatives from tree-planting to ventilation. If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can act with urgency when we must.
The science is clear that we need to act – and we must act now. It is a social and economic imperative. Just last week the OBR found that a failure to invest in mitigating and adapting to climate change would be more costly in the long-term.
The climate change conference may be coming to Glasgow in November, but the impacts of climate change are already here. We need to ensure COP26 is a success to tackle global warming – but also for the sake of communities here in the UK.