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Opinion

The COP26 climate summit must not be a cop-out

Estimated global governmental spending on Covid is $12trillion. Set against that, the $50tn needed to ‘save the planet’ looks achievable. There is no choice, anyway, says Big Issue editor Paul McNamee.

When we said it costs less than you might think to save the planet, that is relative, of course.

Very few of us have $50trillion tucked down the back of the sofa. Even trying to visualise $50trillion is mind bending. (We’re sticking with US dollars here as that is the currency Morgan Stanley used to articulate the figure).

One trillion is 1,000 billion. If we break it down to understandable units, that’s about five Jeff Bezoses. If we were to go further, we only need about 250 Bezoses to sort the planet right out.

That might be a struggle. Other routes need to be found.

The world is producing more carbon than ever before. To keep global temperature rises within the agreed acceptable 1.5C range this century, an acceleration in decarbonisation is needed. However, a report last week said oil and gas production would increase between now and 2030.

The UN’s COP26 get-together in Glasgow feels like it comes at the most vital time.

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The over-arching intended outcome for the COP summit is something of a show and tell.

Nations show how they are ratcheting up their commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Then they talk about how they can do better.

It was all supposed to happen in 2020. But the Covid global lockdown meant that there was another year for nations to get their act together. It also meant that the US had a chance to change president and change tack on meeting global shared goals. That’s a positive.

But talk is cheap. Giant steps are needed.

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The UK government showed positive leadership last week with the unveiling of their plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emission to net zero by 2050. Part of it insists that all electricity for the UK will be produced clean by 2035. Maybe when Boris Johnson was pictured at an easel on his Spanish holiday he was in fact studying emissions graphs…

There will be a lot of difficult headlines for the event organisers and hosts during the Cop26 event. There are planned strikes in Glasgow. This could be especially embarrassing as people are being encouraged to leave their cars and use public transport.

There is also the issue of space. Global headlines have told of the homeowners with spare beds chiselling would-be delegates and climate campaigners for thousands for somewhere to sleep.

This will be forgotten if something is achieved. If attendees agree to uphold the carbon cut and capture plans and show how they’ll be funded and given life, then the whole charabanc will have been worth it.

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There are encouraging signs beyond the summit. China, frequently environmentalists bête noir, has already said it’ll be carbon neutral by 2060, with more details to come in Glasgow.

One of my favourite parts of our COP26 environment special edition is looking at some of brilliant ideas that people are coming up with to make a difference.

These range from a way to use the heat generated by home computers to heat homes, to a way to capture the methane escaping from cows. I don’t know if cows farting will be on any leaders’ agenda, but it should be. Always.

Change will come down to cost, for now and future generations. One other big figure worth noting is this. The estimate of global governmental spend on Covid help measures was around $12trillion.

That was spent in little over one year. Set against that, $50trillion, over a generation, looks achievable.

And there is no choice. The alternative is much more costly.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue. Read his past editor’s columns here.
Paul.McNamee@bigissue.com

@PauldMcNamee

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