Olympic champions in Tokyo, let’s be climate champions in Glasgow

This post is by Robbie MacPherson, environment APPG coordinator and political adviser at Green Alliance.

This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) reconfirmed what we already knew; that climate change is the most serious challenge of our time and that human behaviour has contributed to a warming planet. The IPCC Report was also clear that runaway global heating is inevitable without rapid, largescale emissions reductions this decade. Whether they like it or not, the report signals a clear message to decision makers in the UK and internationally: now is the time to go ‘faster, higher and stronger’ in our efforts to tackle climate change.

The prime minister is rumoured to have said he wants COP26 in Glasgow to be the ‘climate change Olympics’. Well, prime minister, we’re ready. In the same spirit that he helped to bring the country together in his role as London mayor during the 2012 Olympic Games, we need to see a replication of that effort for COP26. The prime minister and his cabinet should look to the strength of Emily Campbell, the resilience of Tom Daley, the speed of Jason Kenny, and the courage of Lauren Price to make the remaining days before COP26 really count. It was by going ‘faster, higher, stronger’ that propelled Team GB to fourth place in the Olympic medal table in the recent Tokyo games. By following the same mantra, the prime minister and his colleagues can stand on the podium in Glasgow as climate champions – they will not win gold medals, but they might just help save the planet.

The prime minister was right this week to post video from Downing Street, following the publication of the IPCC report, acknowledging both the severity of the findings and the need to act faster on “coal, cars, cash and trees”. This clear messaging was a welcome restatement of the government’s climate commitment at a time when some have been questioning the UK’s ambition on net zero.

Sceptics have pointed internationally to countries with more emissions than the UK. The race against the climate crisis can’t be won alone. Other countries are already following our ambition today, with China setting their own net zero target as a prime example. We cannot afford a race to the bottom, mired in stasis and finger pointing. Global Britain can and should continue to lead the way. So, what needs to be done in the days ahead?

The prime minister needs to unite his team ahead of COP26
The first thing that needs to happen is for coach Boris to unite the team, not just in his own party, but across the UK as a whole. It was widespread engagement that contributed to the success of London 2012 and created a legacy that encouraged the public to become more active, boosted local economies and improved public services. A similar sense of team unity can help to do the same for Glasgow 2021.

We know that the public are already on board with more ambitious action on climate change. But the public need to hear more about how climate action can also make their lives better through good jobs and cleaner air. The public need to see COP26 as an opportunity to showcase UK achievements on the green agenda, in a race to the top. We should not worry about being too far ahead of the pack as world leaders on climate change, we should celebrate it.

The prime minister can utilise the full spectrum of UK leaders in the context of COP26, building on the consensus to act on climate change. From the leader of the opposition and metro mayors to local authorities (especially those who have declared climate emergencies) and the devolved nations, this must be a team effort, not a top down one concentrated in Whitehall. It was great to see the prime minster mention his intention to involve leaders of the devolved nations in the COP26 process and this should be the blueprint for going green this year. Local leaders can engage their communities and make this a national effort, uniting and levelling up for the climate.

The UK must demonstrate leadership on climate and nature
Green Alliance’s Net zero policy tracker highlights several areas the government must act on to meet our climate targets. This includes a target to halve resource consumption by 2050 as well as increasing investment in climate and nature by an extra £22.4billion every year until the end of this Parliament.

There is also room to be more ambitious on renewables, ensuring the UK power sector is decarbonised by 2035 and that new licenses aren’t granted to fossil fuel extraction, whether it be in Cambo or Cumbria.

Overall, the UK is doing well, but is in danger of missing its own legally binding carbon budgets. This would be an unnecessary setback for ‘Global Britain’, when doing more is well within reach. Ahead of COP26, a raft of announcements on everything from decarbonising homes to ending fossil fuel subsidies would really help increase the drumbeat and raise the bar for our counterparts.

The extreme weather events this summer, from flooding in the UK to Europe’s hottest recorded temperature in Italy, have shown what scientists have warned us about for decades is already here. When it comes to the climate emergency the cost of inaction will dwarf whatever the upfront investment costs are today.

It was a Conservative prime minister who first allocated National Lottery funds for Team GB, enabling them to evolve into the world leading, record breaking team. It could also be a Conservative prime minister who meets this moment by allocating the necessary investment and leadership to unlock climate ambition, place us on track to meet net zero and deliver a successful COP26 in Glasgow. Now that’s a legacy.

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