The report made to the UK Parliament following the conclusion of COP 26 referenced Aristotle and reminded us that Aristotle taught that virtue comes not from reasoning and instruction but from habit and practice.
The success of COP26 will lie not just in the making of promises but in adopting the programme of work to meet those targets. So, let’s take a look at some of our habits and practices (HaPs) and see if there is good news and room for optimism. Are we happy with our HaPs? What is our ‘Aristotle score’ out of 10?
In COPs past there was considerable effort made by sceptics to undermine the science of climate change, citing of the Mediterranean warming period being a particular favourite. It would appear that we have got out of this habit. Glasgow seemed to be largely devoid of climate scepticism and the debate now is all about dealing with it.
Aristotle score: 8/10
Being truthful is a good habit. Glasgow ended by telling the world that the target of 1.5 degrees of warming (which is really quite a bad outcome) is hanging by a thread. Even that is not truthful; we have almost no chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees and I believe everyone at the conference knows this, so why not say it?
However, COP26 did at least go further than ever before in acknowledging the damage that has already occurred due to climate change, which shows some willingness to tell the truth.
Aristotle score: 5/10
The UK framed the conference with the proud declaration that we are freeing ourselves of coal and that coal should therefore be phased out. Of course, the UK built one coal-fired power station a year in the 1970s to allow our economy to grow fast, something India and China are doing now.
The 23 countries that have agreed to phase out coal are to be congratulated but the protocol does not include China and India, so to say planet earth has seen the end of unabated coal is premature; King Coal will take more than words to be defeated.
Aristotle score: 6/10
The Paris COP in 2015 was a landmark for agreement on National Contributions to GHG reductions. The Paris Rulebook, setting out the guidelines for delivery of the Paris Agreement, has been completed in Glasgow a full six years later. Many countries are failing to deliver their agreed National Contributions, the system is too slow and the promises too weak.
Yet, there was progress on some important issues. The Global Methane Pledge aims to limit methane emissions by 30% compared with 2020 levels. So we are going to reduce farting, flaring and fracking, which is good as methane remember is 24 x worse than carbon dioxide in global warming terms. Unfortunately, major players didn’t show up, most notably Russia.
COP26 agreed to commit to working collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. However, a few days later Indonesia, for example, claimed that the zero-deforestation pledge it had signed was ‘unfair’. It is a better habit and more accountable to not sign these agreements if there is simply no intention to honour them.
Aristotle score: 4/10
So, as we know, a lot of work is still needed if we are going to avoid the worse impacts of climate change. In my view, overall COP26 was a success; the world is slowly getting itself ready for a major reversal of climate damage, probably just in time.
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