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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Don’t listen to the gloomsters. Cop26 was a British success

The debate over Cop26 has prompted an explosion of talking heads, and the synergy between two groups of them is particularly curious. The radical wing of the climate protest group Extinction Rebellion seems to be in perfect harmony with staunch climate deniers, with both branding the climate negotiations a failure despite sitting at opposite extremes of mainstream politics. 

This isn’t a surprise, because successful climate diplomacy fits neither of their agendas. For radical protesters, diplomacy is too slow and involves careful compromise. For climate deniers, it works on a problem they pretend doesn’t exist. Both were always going to slam the outcome of the Glasgow summit. 

And yet, for people who trade on attention, both groups seem out of step with the public, for the public appetite for proper climate action is clearly growing. A recent YouGov survey found that the number of people rating the environment as a key issue facing the country has hit a historic high, with its importance standing in equal measure to the economy.

Moreover, in positive news for the Government, the number of people who expect COP to have a successful outcome was higher at the end of the talks than at the beginning, and is highest of all among Conservative voters. 

Such optimism was not misplaced, since the Glasgow agreement did indeed turn out to be something of a success. Where the 2015 Paris Agreement set out the framework for slowing down global heating, Glasgow is forcing the world to pick up the pace. 

Just look at the hard numbers. Before Paris, we were on track for 6 degrees of warming. In the years that followed, we lowered that to 4 degrees. Before the Glasgow summit, we were on track for 2.7 degrees. Now estimates say we’re on track for between 2.4 degrees and 1.8 degrees. 

These numbers aren’t about temperatures gently rising and falling on a summer’s day. If this planet warms by 4 degrees, ice sheets will melt and virtually all coastal cities will be inundated. At 3 degrees, farmers’ food yields fall rapidly and marine ecosystems are likely to collapse. Every fraction of a degree matters, and the Glasgow agreement has successfully bent down the curve.

Thanks to the extraordinary abilities of British diplomats, this is the first time that a reduction in coal use has been mentioned in an international agreement. They have brought India more into the fold, signing them up to an ambitious decarbonisation plan which includes a commitment to generate 50 per cent of its electricity from renewables by 2030.

It’s time to ditch the defeatist, fatalistic idea that there’s no point in Britain going through such pains when other countries pollute more. Our country is one of the most influential in the world, and where we lead on climate, others follow. We can change world emissions through our finance, influence, and diplomacy. 

Since Britain became the first country to set out a detailed net-zero strategy, much of the Western world — and even China and India — have followed suit. Britain was also a first mover on ending overseas fossil fuel finance. Now, scores of other countries are doing the same, including China and America. 

Thus for all the shouting from the sidelines, this country’s environmental campaigns have proven to be a success. I would caution the small number of MPs who might be tempted to talk this down that in doing so they would not only be wrong, but unpatriotic. They would be dismissing a hefty British achievement. 

My time as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change taught me that people don’t want politicians and activists to be po-faced defeatists. They want pragmatists who crack on with the job and are grown-up enough to accept a compromise. 

When I was MP for Hastings, my constituents broke down into three groups after the Brexit referendum. A small minority were hardcore Remainers who wouldn’t accept any form of Brexit. Another small minority were hardcore Leavers who wouldn’t accept any deal. The vast majority in the middle wanted a compromise deal, brokered without fuss, which kept us trading and friendly with Europe but honoured the referendum.

That same silent majority exists when it comes to climate change. People want international leaders to come together and deal with it. They are prepared to make changes and compromises, because they know that the cost of failing to act is steep. What they are not interested in is perfectionism or cynical delay tactics.

Amber Rudd was secretary of state for energy and climate change 2015-2016

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