Eoin Tennyson is an Alliance Party Councillor for Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council
In Glasgow this week, COP26 delegates will pore over past climate pledges and calculate how they will impact global warming. The answer will be clear: the promises made to date and efforts to meet them have been woefully inadequate.
2015’s Paris climate agreement committed nations to holding global temperature rises well below 2C from pre-industrial levels, while endeavouring to keep that increase nearer to 1.5C. Yet, according the the UN, the world is still on course to warm by 2.7C by the end of this century. As secretary-general António Guterres put it, this is code red for humanity.
This year, we ran out of excuses. Deadly floods wreaked havoc in China and Germany, hundreds were killed in a heatwave in British Columbia, and temperatures exceeded 50C in Pakistan. Closer to home, the record for the highest temperature in Northern Ireland was broken not once, but three times in a single week. A wake-up call that climate breakdown is here and an ever-present danger, not some distant prospect etched far into the future.
The impact of a 2.7C rise would be devastating. Heatwaves and droughts would increase in intensity, duration and frequency; ice caps would disappear at an accelerating rate; ocean acidification would deteriorate further; and sea levels would rise by a centimetre every three years.
Despite the scale of the challenge – and the obvious and existential consequences of failing to grapple with it – there remains a chasm between the rhetoric of governments across the globe and reality. The UK is a case in point. Despite the boisterous claims of Boris Johnson’s government, it remains a long way off meeting its own climate targets.
Just a week before COP26, the Chancellor cut domestic air passenger duty in half – gifting a tax cut to frequent flyers and gaslighting climate activists. A political choice that’s hardly emblematic of a climate leader, and that sits in stark contrast to the approach of France which is moving to ban domestic flights altogether where a viable rail alternative exists.
Then there’s Brexit. A course of action which has not only consumed the time, energy and resources of diplomats who should’ve been focused on preparation for COP26, but which reduces our influence on the world stage and undermines our ability to respond to global challenges.
In Northern Ireland, like on so many issues, we continue to lag behind. Calls for meaningful climate action have long been overshadowed and drowned out by the jingoism of the main parties. We still don’t have a stand alone climate change act or NI-specific emissions targets. Nor do we have the long-touted Independent Environmental Protection Agency to hold government accountable.
Our biggest enemy is no longer climate denial, but climate delay. Those who reject the scientific consensus are an ever-shrinking minority. The greatest threat is now posed by those who purport to accept the scientific consensus, but refuse to respond at the pace science demands.
The case for acting now is clear. That’s why Alliance has set out our Green New Deal: a vision for an urgent and radical overhaul of the policies and practices which have hindered our progress to date. It’s a plan to rapidly decarbonise and restructure our economy, while recognising that climate justice must go hand in hand with social and economic justice.
To ensure no one is left behind, we have also laid out plans for retraining allowances and targeted bursaries for under-represented groups in the labour market, a strengthening of workers’ rights and the development of a universal, affordable childcare system.
COP26 could be our last chance to keep 1.5C alive. We must grasp this chance for change. Our people, planet and future prosperity depend upon it.
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