Cop26 is delving into excruciatingly difficult negotiations. The expectations will be immense and there will be a gloomy atmosphere at the table; little that indicates a breakthrough in the climate crisis can be achieved. A hard graft must be applied over the next fortnight to make a deal happen.
Initially, too few commitments are made “to keep 1.5 degrees alive”; blatant gaps in CO2 emissions that countries are not bridging, and signs that large emitters are desperately holding onto fossil fuel options and developing countries are left to grapple with climate-related extreme weather conditions and rising sea levels. Reluctance among short-term politicians and self-interest in wealthy countries will be evident.
The latest climate science – even more record global temperatures and CO2 emissions – will do little to lift the mood. For many outsiders, all of this will fuel eco-fear. Your concerns are not unreasonable; we face an existential threat.
The scale of change requires facing the terrible truths of the interconnected climate and biodiversity crises. The essential ingredient for big promotions must then be added; hope this is not naive. It is the antidote to fear and fainting. Is there any reason for realistic optimism?
The cop trial:
The United Nations “Conferences of the Parties” may be imperfect and cumbersome in tackling climate change, but sometimes they do great things. Cop21 created the 2015 Paris Agreement, a great monument to multilateralism that has proven to be a robust indicator of the direction of travel required. But we need to go beyond the promises of action.
Solutions already exist:
If one were to consistently apply every solution that exists today, a limit of 1.5 degrees would be reached – not easy, not without costs, but feasible. The mantra must be: “Every degree of 0.1 is important – every action of every person can make a difference”.
Important goals are achievable:
Many of the best climate scientists believe that a critical target set in the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees this century is still achievable – although the path is narrowing. This means halving emissions by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050. The reward will be a livable planet while avoiding dangerous climatic tipping points.
Modeling future climate projections has made tremendous advances, as has the ability to attribute extreme weather to excessive global warming. As strong as the recent report from the United Nations intergovernmental body confirming the climate crisis is here and now, its results have been well known for years. However, it brought certainty about the role of human activity in destabilizing our biosphere. So climate deniers were pushed aside, allowing scientists to focus more on solutions.
The technology will do its part:
The mix of human ingenuity and transformative technology shows all signs of moving us into a safer future. Thanks to innovations, the price of wind and solar power fell significantly faster than forecast. They are cheaper than coal electricity. New batteries promise to “trump and trump lithium batteries” and solve the annoying problem of interruptions when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. New energy absorbing materials like perovskite have the potential to eclipse silicon in solar panels, while superconductors can send electricity from where it’s needed most to where it’s needed most quickly with minimal loss.
The end of fossil fuels:
The worst carbon polluting energy sources are being phased out; It’s only a matter of time. The International Energy Agency insists that the current price increases and the uncertainty of supply should be the trigger for the expansion of renewable energies in order to guarantee security of supply and clean energy. Once the mouthpiece of Big Oil, the Ireland-based agency stresses the need to end fossil fuel extraction immediately and recognizes that this is by far the most effective way to turn the emissions tap off.
Politically active youth:
A politicized new generation is emerging from the ranks of Generation Z (people under 25). They act with one voice in every pocket in the world and demand greater urgency. They know their climate science and know where to blame – on the fossil fuel industry, large multinational corporations, and large emissions countries. They have a deep sense of justice, recognize the need for a just transition, while also supporting climate-threatened countries. You build large networks of people who want to do good effectively.
If leadership and change do not come from traditional political parties, they will produce their own. In most countries there are Greta Thunbergs; articulate, radical and impatient to act.
We have relentlessly abused nature and have come to a point where a biodiversity crisis could be as catastrophic as the destabilization of the climate. However, nature is amazingly resilient and offers the opportunity to do its part to cool the world and help countries better adapt to extreme weather events. Provided there is rigorous protection for vast expanses of land and sea – and an unprecedented program of restoration and reforestation.
Big business is turning:
Huge corporations and multinational corporations have finally seen the writing on the wall and are ahead of states (and politicians) in pursuing verified decarbonization. Yes, there are greenwashing opportunists, but very many are reducing their own emissions and carbon emissions throughout their supply chain.
As our emissions continue to rise, Ireland has a proven record of being one of the most climate-ambitious countries in the world. And there are areas where we are making progress. Prof. Brian Ó Gallachóir from MaREI at University College Cork refers to our 2018 report: “We released almost 40 million tons of carbon dioxide. Without successful political measures, it would have been more than 50 million tons. ”Wind energy avoided 4 million tons of CO2, changes to building regulations avoided around 2 million tons and the use of liquid biofuels avoided half a million tons. Areas in which we make a global contribution include:
Renewables on the grid:
Ireland has consistently achieved the highest levels of wind power in the world on “a synchronous electricity system” (ie a national grid). And we’re building to a point where almost 100 percent renewable energy will be accommodated. This will enable massive offshore wind development over time, with the potential for Ireland to become an electricity exporter and an important base for green hydrogen production.
Ireland’s bogs not only have the potential to store carbon, but also to promote biodiversity restoration through rewetting of bogs. Bord na Móna is leading efforts that, over time, could become of global importance in capturing carbon while improving nature. And progress can already be seen, as confirmed by Padraic Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust: “It has been encouraging to see the speed and extent of bog rewetting this year. . . It is also amazing to see how many farmers have already responded to the crisis by turning to regenerative techniques based on soil health. “
The Irish agri-food sector has always been one of the most innovative and adaptable in the world. We are told that our cattle and dairy farming makes us the most carbon efficient food producers in the world, but that is no longer enough. New standards and climate commitments require a transformation of the sector that significantly reduces methane emissions. Science dictates that our future agrifood production must result in lower livestock numbers and an increase in crop production, while at the same time improving the ability of land and soil to sequester carbon.
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