The big environmental issues we should all be talking about

The COP26 conference might not be happening this year, but that doesn't mean we can ignore the environmental issues facing the planet.

Climate change experts and world leaders should have been among 30,000 delegates meeting in Glasgow over November to discuss environmental issues at the UN Climate Change Conference

The meeting of world leaders, nicknamed COP26, was delayed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but when it does go ahead it will be one of the largest international summits ever hosted in the UK. 

And when that happens, climate technology, capacity-building, science, education and sustainable development will be among the topics discussed to “agree coordinated action to tackle climate change”. 

But experts warn the global climate is breaking down now. Rising seas and extreme weather events are putting millions of people around the world at risk. 

So what are the things that should be urgently talked about, even if the event isn’t taking place just yet?  

Moving away from fossil fuels 

Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is one of the main things experts agree we need to do to tackle climate change and other environmental issues. 

Greenpeace claims the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has rocketed, and is now at levels not seen in millions of years.

Environmental organisation WWF also says we need to cut our man-made greenhouse gas emissions drastically and move toward renewable energy. 

This means changing the way we heat and power our homes, use water, dispose of food, and drive our cars.

The vast majority of vehicles are currently powered by fossil fuels and Greenpeace activists have urged the government to accelerate its plans to phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2030. 

They even claim that this could create 30,000 new jobs in sectors such as energy, battery manufacture, and retail. 

“The government no longer has any excuses. We need a firm commitment to ban new polluting cars and vans by 2030, along with an active industrial strategy to boost manufacturing and support re-skilling, so workers can benefit from new jobs that will be created across the economy,” said Greenpeace UK’s policy director Doug Parr. 

“The rewards are there for the taking. It’s time for the Prime Minister to plug in and put electric vehicles on a fast track to 2030.”

Our diets are also a major factor and experts agree that we need to eat less meat due to the huge levels of deforestation and greenhouse gas production that come from the meat industry. 

A group of leading medical organisations recently said meat and dairy foods should have labels showing the environmental impact of producing them

Kristin Bash, of the Faculty of Public Health, said it was important we change our diets. 

“We can’t reach our goals without addressing our food system,” she said. “The climate crisis isn’t something we should see as far in the future. It’s time to take these issues seriously now.” 

Green infrastructure

Wider change will also be needed to overhaul the system at large. Lord Deben, the Chairman for the Climate Change Committee said steps will need to be taken to build a green, climate-resilient economy. 

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Deben said the immediate investment was needed in low-carbon infrastructure such as improved broadband. 

Rather than building new roads, Deben added infrastructure is needed to make it easier to walk and cycle. 

Deben said: “Recovery means investing in new jobs, cleaner air and improved health. The actions needed to tackle climate change are central to rebuilding our economy. 

“The Government must prioritise actions that reduce climate risks and avoid measures that lock-in higher emissions.”

There is some good news. Renewable energy is growing at record levels and the International Energy Agency believes greener electricity will displace coal by 2025.

Climate inequality 

Experts have said it’s important that our transition to a greener economy must be inclusive. 

This means policy must be developed in partnership with communities to make sure the costs and benefits of ambitious climate action are shared fairly and equitably. 

A briefing paper by academics from the COP26 Universities Network said job creation by itself wasn’t enough, and that it was important to look at how much green jobs paid and how secure they were. 

Dr Tom Pegram of University College London, the lead author of the report, said low-skilled workers could be affected by decarbonisation. 

Pegram said: “The individuals, households and communities that stand to be most negatively affected by decarbonisation policies are often already losing out in existing socio-economic arrangements.

“Covid-19 has served as a stark reminder that socio-economic disruptions tend to worsen existing social inequalities, we must not make the same mistake with decarbonisation policies.” 

Recovering from the pandemic 

For the time being, Covid-19 will be the main thing on everybody’s mind. Although many have said this is the perfect time to re-evaluate our outlook and tackle the climate crisis. 

According to new research by the European Environment Agency, Covid-19 lockdowns may have had positive impacts on our environment, especially in terms of emissions and air quality.

But despite these improvements, there have been environmental downsides, including an increase in single-use plastics. 

The Climate Change Committee has urged the government to use the pandemic to rebuild the nation and deliver a stronger, cleaner economy. 

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change should be integral to any recovery package,” said Lord Deben in his letter to the Prime Minister. 

“These remain scientific, economic and social imperatives and will only be delivered if ambitious steps are taken during this Parliament.” 

Big Issue vendors need your help now more than ever. More than 1,000 vendors are out of work because of the second lockdown in England. They can’t sell the magazine and they can’t rely on the income they need.

The Big Issue is helping our vendors with supermarket vouchers and gift payments but we need your help to do that.

Please buy this week’s magazine from the online shop or take out a subscription to make sure we can continue to support our vendors over this difficult period. You can even link your subscription to your local vendor with our new online map.