The UEA Lasdun Lecture series started this year with a talk entitled “Climate of Change: UEA at COP26”. The lecture was by Professor Mark Searcy, the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Science. He introduced the three speakers for the evening, each of them having attended the COP26 summit in Glasgow.
Professor Corinne Le Quéré, a Royal Society Research Professor of Climate Change, spoke first. Speaking largely in favour of the outcomes of COP26, Professor Le Quéré highlighted the achievements of the summit and the logistical and diplomatic difficulties of taking action on climate change. Describing her hopes for the summit, referencing it as the “first challenge” of the Paris Climate Agreement signed in 2016, she noted world leaders discussing their goals for a net-zero future. Professor Le Quéré spoke in favour of the COP26 results overall, noting the summit could be described as a “good COP”.
Professor Heike Schroeder, on the other hand, described the summit as a “bad COP”. Professor Schroeder, from the School of International Development, was keen to insist measures taken at the summit may not be enough to keep within the 1.5 ℃ limit agreed at the Paris talks. Pointing to the issues presented by the decision to “phase-down” coal usage instead of “phasing-out”, she described the COP’s approach as “surface-level”.
The call to change the language was made by organisers after pressure from China and India regarding the fossil fuel industry, a decision COP26 president Alok Sharma said he was “deeply sorry” about. Hoping the summit would have taken a more imaginative approach to solving the climate crisis, she ended her talk by pointing out the current deal may, to quote Einstein, “try to solve the problem with the same mindset that created it.”
Finally, the Executive Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, Asher Minns spoke about the media and public’s interest in the summit. The key part of his message was, there was a large underestimation in the public’s interest in climate change. While COP26 could highlight the problem, he emphasised that governments around the world were on average not doing enough to combat climate change. Representation of this data showed over three-fifths of the UK public would support more money being spent on combating the climate problem.
The evening ended with questions from the public regarding climate change, sustainable development, and helping those who may be forced to move home due to global warming’s effects. Although all of UEA’s representatives at COP26 had largely different viewpoints and concerns around the summit, they could all agree on one thing.
The judgement as to whether or not this COP was successful will be decided in the next 10, 15 or even 30 years. If action is taken to limit the rise to just 1.5 ℃ it will likely be viewed as a success, however, should successive governments fail to adhere and deliver on their promises and commitments the Earth may pay a hefty price for their inaction.