COP26: Will it be our last lifeline before its game over?
COP26 is the United Nations conference that brings together almost all the world's leaders to discuss and solve the major issue of climate change. COP stands for 'Conference Of the Parties' and will be the 26th annual summit scheduled to take place in Glasgow, Scotland from the 31st October to 12th November 2021.
For years now since the late 19th Century, countless scientists from different disciplines with evidence from valid data, have continuously highlighted that anthropogenic (human) activity is the major cause of climate change. As we continue to burn more fossil fuels for energy, we release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and Nitrous Oxide (N2O) into the atmosphere, causing the Greenhouse Effect, where more of the Sun's thermal energy is retained, raising the Earth's temperature - what most people know as Global Warming. As the Earth's temperature rises, heat causes the oceans to expand while glaciers in the North Pole and Antarctica melt, causing a rise in sea levels and making many lowland and coastal areas more prone to flooding. Global warming has also increased the frequency of other extreme weather events such as droughts, heatwaves, heavy monsoons and typhoons/hurricanes. As a result, many of our lives are placed in more hardship and danger as our homes and communities are more vulnerable than ever before, our food supply is at risk from being massively reduced and the world's ecosystems are vulnerable to degradation.
Some climate scientists from the Universities of Oxford and Utrecht have developed the theory that with climate change there is a 'Point of No Return'. Essentially, there will be a point in time where the damage done to the Earth will become irreversible. It is speculated that if we reach a 2°C threshold (above pre-industrial levels) as outlined in the 2015 Paris Climate agreement, the Point of No Return could be as soon as 2035.
Our young people and future generations will be at risk as they will face the onslaught of the problems caused by climate change. Moreover, those effects will be worse for young people and future generations living in developing countries. Often, these countries are situated in parts of the world that are prone to natural disasters, and with climate change it will only become a more common occurrence. Developing countries often do not have the sufficient infrastructure to recover from climate-related disaster events thus it takes more time compared to developed countries to recover, if at all. Low-lying countries such as Bangladesh, the Maldives and the Marshall Islands will continue to experience floods and storms, and in the worst circumstances completely lose land to rising sea levels. Countries in Africa such as Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso will experience desertification on arable lands as a direct result of increasing temperatures and drought. Yearly crop harvests will be prone to loss, leading to widespread famine and malnutrition.
Collectively, we all must take responsibility in the mitigation of climate change. While small changes like walking or cycling to school/work instead of using a car can make a difference, governments and institutions must take legislative action to disincentivize the use of fossil fuels, such as oil, gas, and coal. With COP26 now just around the corner, we also need to gain the attention of the world's leaders and powerfully persuade them to make changes before it is too late. We have collated messages from people around the world, from Sri Lanka to Brazil, expressing their concerns about the future to COP26 leaders (www.girawa.org/cop26). As much as every individual has the power to make changes, our world leaders have the greatest power to implement the necessary legislation in government to curtail the effects of climate change. From eliminating the use of fossil fuels, supporting sustainable development worldwide and committing more land to the restoration of biodiversity, drastic changes to the way we live are required (as previously discussed here). To highlight the necessary scale of change, international lockdowns and a dramatic reduction in air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic were still insufficient to curb global carbon emissions. As the 'Point of No Return' looms closer, COP26 may be the last global climate change summit where changes can be implemented before it is too late.
Edited by Hugh Shirley