The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) is officially underway in Glasgow, with world leaders joining tens of thousands of negotiators, government representatives, businesses and citizens, for twelve days of climate talks.
It has been five years since the previous conference in Paris, where participating countries agreed to work together to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. And with scientists warning that time is running out if we are to avoid causing irreversible damage, the need for meaningful action has never been more critical.
But what has been achieved since those talks? And what may be set in motion as a result of this year’s event?
The Greta Thunberg affect
Public support for climate action has never been stronger, with a 2021 study revealing that 93% of EU citizens now regard climate change as a serious problem.
One figure who has helped drive global awareness and a real sense of urgency for the issue is Greta Thunberg. Despite her young age, the student from Sweden has crashed onto the world political stage, challenging politicians to leave their ‘empty words’ behind and to stand up and take action.
Whether you are inspired by her passion or not, there is no denying she has got people talking and inspired a generation to think about the planet and consider how each individual can make a difference.
The reality of climate change
The reality is that our throwaway culture, reliance on fossil fuels and thirst for flying have all added to the rising levels of carbon dioxide entering Earth’s atmosphere. The impact of this is now being felt across the world - most acutely in the form of freak weather incidents, which in 2021 alone included:
· Wildfires raging in Australia, Canada, Turkey and Greece
· Flash floods in Germany, Belgium and the UK
· Blizzards in Spain and the US
· Typhons, cyclones and hurricanes hitting Fiji, Indonesia and the US
Scientists are now forecasting potentially devastating temperature rises of between 2.5 - 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century if no definitive action is taken.
What are countries doing about this?
The top 3 polluting nations today are China, United States and India, whose combined emissions are responsible for a whopping 52% of all global emissions. They are closely followed by Russia and Japan.
To have any real impact, these powerhouses will need to make some fundamental changes when it comes to their significant reliance on oil, coal and other fossil fuels; as well as their large and growing populations which are putting increasing pressure on resources.
But up until last week, China was not even going to attend COP26, Russia had also declined and Japan was still deciding. Without a clear action plan for how these countries will address areas such as fuel, agriculture, fashion and industry, along with aligning their net zero ambitions with the rest of the world, the global target seems unlikely to be attained.
However, at the eleventh hour, China’s Xi Jinping announced he will “dial in” to meetings, while Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida decided to make COP26 his first foreign trip since taking office. Joe Biden (President of America) and Narendra Modi (India’s Prime Minister) are already in attendance - so there is now at least some hope!
With some of the most important people coming together in the same room - including Greta - there is an opportunity for action to occur.
What direct action do we at KrakenFlex hope to see?
In line with the greater vision of Octopus Energy, we want to collectively fight climate change - so, any progress in this space is a win for us!
But specifically, we hope to see a clear plan laid out for how the UK (and more broadly, the World) is going to electrify the economy - and a date for when this will be achieved would be fantastic. The ability to replace fossil fuel-driven assets with ones powered by sustainable, low carbon sources, is a no brainer.
This will not only have climate benefits but cost benefits too. Incentives, rebates, and legislation are a few sticks and carrots that could work to drive this forward;
· Retail customers could be incentivised to help accelerate the transition to electric vehicles (which could in turn be automatically charged with green energy).
· Households and businesses could be empowered to warm up to renewable heating systems, such as heat pumps, which are less energy intensive and produce fewer emissions.
· While rebates for large scale storage could be used to help dynamically manage the variable load of renewable generation.
One of the biggest factors the government needs to think about is ensuring that nobody is left behind. For example, communities living in rural and more isolated locations may not have access to the same level of infrastructure and technology, and this needs to be considered.
Another huge issue is fuel poverty. The retrofitting of heating, insulation and access to clean energy is a social service and must be made accessible for all. According to the IEA, around 2 billion people globally do not have reliable access to electricity and 13% of households in England cannot afford to heat their homes.
On a positive note, there is real potential to create new markets for smart technologies, expand existing industries and create new jobs which will benefit the whole economy.
So, will COP26 live up to the hype?
I remain optimistic! If ever there was a time to make real change, it is now.
Smart technologies have been around for a while now and are rapidly reducing in price, putting them within touching distance of a tipping point with traditional methods. With the right government stimuli, as well as ensuring that no one is left behind, the world could make use of their potential and turn it into kinetic, meaningful energy!