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Cop26: World leaders urged to act or public will ‘never forgive’ them, says Lord Deben

·5-min read
Cop26: World leaders urged to act or public will ‘never forgive’ them, says Lord Deben

World leaders have been urged to seize their place in history as the generation who saved the planet but were warned if they fail to act now their populations will “never forgive” them.

The stark choice was laid out by Lord Deben, chairman of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, ahead of the COP26 global warming summit which starts next week in Glasgow.

In an interview with The Standard, the peer stressed the goal to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, to avoid catastrophic climate change, was already in an “urgently critical” state.

“We know that we face total destruction and we know how to prevent it, isn’t that a wonderful challenge,” he said.

“If this generation of leaders now steps up to that challenge, it will have made us the most responsive and responsible generation of all time.”

However, as the years tick towards feared apocalyptic fire and floods, he also warned: “We don’t have any time.

“The thing I want to say to democratically elected leaders, and indeed all leaders, is: ‘Your populations, however difficult they may find it now are never going to forgive you if you don’t take action now’.”

All eyes are currently on China’s president Xi Jinping to see whether he will fly to COP26, with expectations that a high-level delegation including special climate envoy Xie Zhenhua will be sent instead.

“This is the time in which the world is going to act and not being part of that is a great pity,” added Lord Deben.

“But you must make sure that those people who are a part of it are able to step up and include your country in the world.”

China was already “doing a great deal” to address climate change, though, he stressed: “What I would like to see of course is that China will bring its date for net zero forward to 2050.”

Lord Deben, who is better known as John Gummer and was Environment Secretary in John Major’s government, also turned the spotlight firmly on Australia as a stumbling block in the battle to stop the use of coal to power economies.

“Australia is a country which really should have understood what needs to be done and I’m very hopeful that we can try to convince (Prime Minister) Scott Morrison that really he does have to commit himself to net zero and have a policy to do that otherwise Australia will be left behind.”

He believes there has been a major shift in the public’s perception of climate change as so many countries are now feeling its force.

“If you look at Biden’s reaction to the floods in America, it was very interesting, because he said immediately ‘this is exacerbated and the result of climate change’ and they didn’t laugh at him whereas two years ago they would have,” he explained.

“The change is that people are feeling this.

“The big thing for international leaders is to recognise that the public will turn against them very rapidly indeed as climate change really affects them.”

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s has understood the need for his vast country to go green, Lord Deben believes, and Britain and other countries ahead on the net zero curve have a “mutuality” role to assist those facing bigger challenges moving to renewable energy.

“So as far as Modi is concerned, we have to help him do what he needs to do, which is politically quite difficult, but which he has shown himself willing to do,” he stressed.

“It’s the one way which India can meet the demands of development.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin has already made clear he is not coming to Glasgow.

“We shall just have to put international pressure of every kind on Russia and have to be very clear about not depending on Russian sources of energy for example,” said the peer, with many EU countries far more reliant on Russian gas than the UK.

Russia is also “suffering from climate change in a real way,” he added.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will also be absent from COP26 and this is a blow as the country has a pivotal role in the fight against global warming.

“It’s a really serious situation that Brazil is changing the climate of the world because it is not protecting the rainforests and because it has gone back on what it was doing before,” stressed Lord Deben.

He believes that the “oil world is over”, with the world reliance on it due to fall sharply.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia had “partially understood that” and had made “very considerable” development in renewables, he added, speaking before the Middle Eastern kingdom announced its goal was for net zero by 2060.

Lord Deben, whose committee advises the UK government, said he was “very pleased” with its net zero by 2050 strategy unveiled last week.

But he emphasised: “What we are looking for now is action...we will be keeping its feet to the fire.”

There had been a “very remarkable” change in the City over the last two years and it was now taking climate change “absolutely seriously and centrally”, he argued, though “there is always more to be done”.

The biggest successes for COP26 would be if countries “ratchet up” their commitments on tackling global warming and if wealthy nations make a “reality” of delivering $100 billion a year so poorer countries can go green without going through that “dirty period of endangering the earth”.

As for the aim of keeping the rise in global temperatures below 1.5C , he strikes an alarming yet optimistic note: “It’s in an urgently critical state but like all the best hospitals we can in fact turn the critical state into healthiness.”

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