The day the well ran dry

On Wednesday 20th July our water stopped running: after providing our farm with running water for 36 years our well was dry. For us this was serious and scary. We were already being careful with our water use as it has been dry since the New Year. But then, suddenly, the only source of water for our home, our garden, our livestock buildings and half of our fields has run out.

John Whetman, Audrey’s husband, setting up an emergency water supply.

We farm on the drier, eastern edge of Dartmoor, not far from the beautiful River Teign. We keep around 30 cattle and 20 sheep who graze our flower-rich pastures, making sure they are full of insects, spiders and birds. We have a garden full of vegetables and fruit that feed us right through the year. We farm with nature, not against it; we don’t use fossil-fuel based fertilisers or sprays and we heat our house using wood cut from our hedges when we ‘lay’ them. We are trying hard to minimise our effect on the planet – but our well is dry.

For many years we have known that our climate is changing and becoming more erratic, so six years ago we spent £2,000 on reserve water tanks, which we fill up with winter and springtime water. But we only have 10,000 litres, so we had to act fast!

The first thing we had to do was to move our cattle to the far side of the farm, where they can drink from the brook, or to our furthest fields, where there are mains water troughs. The cattle have now eaten the remaining dried-up grass in our far fields and we are feeding them our winter hay. It is going to be a long hot start to the winter! Thank goodness we have small fields and big bushy hedges that give our animals some shade throughout the day!

In the garden, anything that isn’t essential has been left to its own devices. In the house we minimise water use, but every evening we soak our tired bodies in a few inches of (shared) hot water. When we have finished, I add some eco-detergent and the dirty washing for a bit of a scrub and a good soak. In the morning we drain the laundry on a clothes horse propped across the bath before putting it out on the washing line to drip-dry. The rest of the bath water is used to flush the loo or water plants. Across the world millions of people live with very limited water, but many people in the UK turn on the tap and don’t even think about how it got there.

Why has our well dried up? We’ve only had 22cms of rain this year (less than 1 inches). In July we had less than 0.5cm. We’ve also had higher temperatures than we have ever experienced before. So climate change is definitely a big factor, but it is more complex than that. People use more water each day than they used to, and there are more people too! To satisfy the demand, water companies are extracting extra water from rivers and reservoirs. As a result, our natural underground water levels are falling, and in the summer the water is below well-level.

So, what next? It will probably be months before our well runs again, and we are fortunate that our neighbours have invited us to plumb into their supply until the situation improves. We have bought 250 metres of pipe to bring the water down to the farm and now we can start to be just a little less miserly with our water. So, we will get through, but this scorching summer has given us a lot of gruelling, extra work!

Council’s carbon reduction targets won’t do the job

Following its Climate Emergency declaration three years ago, Teignbridge District Council has published and adopted Part 1 of its Climate Action Plan. Part 2 is expected later this year.

Action on Climate in Teignbridge (ACT) welcomes the long-awaited plan, believing it is an essential first step in delivering on the council’s commitment to be a carbon neutral district by 2025. It is excellent to see standards set, but ACT has concerns that the emission reduction targets included in the plan are based on outdated data and will not make the difference we need to see.

Part 1 of the plan sets out how the council expects to reduce carbon emissions in its own sphere, in things it owns, purchases, funds and supplies. Part 2 will cover the wider district, including transport, housing, businesses, land use, energy and infrastructure.

The plan includes 39 actions, four policies and 11 targets. ACT has no major problem with the actions or policies. It is primarily the targets that need further work.

Carbon emission targets are set by reference to a carbon budget. The budget sets a limit on the cumulative amount of greenhouse gases an organisation, a country or the world can emit that gives a significant chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures. It is like a financial budget, where you set yourself weekly or monthly spending limits so you don’t go overdrawn.

In the case of carbon budgets, the limits are how much carbon can be emitted over a time period, to make sure we don’t trigger runaway climate change. We can’t afford the equivalent of an overdraft when it comes to the climate!

Carbon budgets have to be adjusted as the average global temperature rises and to take account of whether targeted emission reductions have been achieved. Global warming has now reached 1.2C and we are on track to reach 1.5C by the early 2030s, if not earlier. The tighter the budget, the more likely we are to limit global warming.

The Teignbridge plan states that the council aims to limit its cumulative emissions “to levels consistent with 1.5°C and well below 2.0°C of global warming”. This needs revising as, at the COP26 climate meeting held in Glasgow last year, governments agreed to make 1.5C the firm limit to aim for, due to the risks of allowing any further warming.

The basis for setting the council’s carbon budget also needs revision, as the budget calculation uses data from a 2018 study. That doesn’t sound too out of date, but there has been a significant rise in average global temperature since then. Moreover, setting targets for emission reductions based on this budget means they fall well below the UK government’s legal requirements.

ACT believes the council should use the government’s statutory carbon budget to set its targets. It would be even better if it used the Paris Agreement targets, as ACT has proposed.

There is a big difference between these various targets. The annual emission reductions required under the Paris Agreement (for a likely, or 67% chance of staying within 1.5C) are 10.4% year on year. To meet the UK’s statutory requirements (for a 50/50 chance), they are 7.9% year on year. The Teignbridge plan targets are based on a study that recommends a minimum carbon reduction of 4.2% flat rate.

There is another issue: the targets only include the council’s direct emissions. These are mainly from heating council buildings and fuel used in the council vehicle fleet. These are known as scope 1 and scope 2 emissions, and only account for about one-third of the council’s annual emissions. The bulk of the emissions, known as scope 3, are indirect, from stuff the council buys, mainly for building work and services they buy in.

The plan does have ambitions to influence the council’s suppliers with regard to scope 3 emissions, but they are not included in the targets.

Finally, while most of the 39 actions in the plan are good, some excellent, there is no indication of the expected emissions reduction for each action, or the timescale involved. ACT believes this should be addressed as soon as possible, and that a regular review of progress against the expected reduction for each action should also be part of the plan.

Teignbridge District Council still has work to do on its Carbon Action Plan.

Economic growth measure fails on green front

The UK economy shrank by 9% in 2020 but bounced back in 2021, growing by 7.5%. This year, it is expected to grow by 3.6%. These numbers matter a lot to the government, but there is increasing debate about how relevant they are to setting economic policies to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies.

That’s because our national prosperity is measured purely by the rise or fall in the market value of all the goods and services we produce (known as gross domestic product, or GDP). There is no consideration of anything that can’t be measured in price terms, including environmental and social matters. And that is a problem, according to climate focused economists called on to give evidence to the government’s Environmental Audit Committee earlier this year.

For example, the value of planting trees will only be measured if and when those trees are cut down and sold as timber. They are not valued for the shade they provide, the carbon they sequester, or the habitats they offer to wildlife. Even more perversely, the likelihood of more severe storms, floods, heatwaves and wildfires due to climate change will be good for economic growth because cleaning up after such events will add to GDP. There is no accounting for the loss of life, livelihoods, housing or infrastructure.  

Similarly, GDP, which was developed as a measuring tool in the 1930s, ignores both the environmental damage caused by extracting fossil fuels and the pollution and greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning them. And what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed, as the well-known saying goes.

Another critical aspect in tackling climate change is that of equity. Richer nations have caused the problem while poorer nations not only suffer most from the effects but are also less able to adapt. This is recognised in environmental treaties, with richer nations committing to help poorer ones develop and cope with adaptation. 

GDP also ignores distributional issues. This is most obvious when the government celebrates a rise in GDP whilst a majority of the population see a stagnation in their income and a drop in living standards. But it is also present when importing natural resources and value from poorer nations without properly compensating them.

Given these defects, the Environmental Audit Committee asked its five witnesses whether GDP is still up to the job of guiding economic targets. Only one declared support for GDP remaining a key metric, with perhaps some enhancement for environmental effects. The other four said it was no longer fit for purpose and we need to employ a range of measures, perhaps in the form of a dashboard, to record financial, social and environmental elements of prosperity or damage. 

Many such measures are readily available, including sustainable development goals, environmental and planetary boundaries and measures of social wellbeing, but few countries build them into their economic plans or give them any prominence.

Some witnesses also threw doubt on the goal of ever increasing economic growth in rich countries like the UK, with research quoted showing that the richer a nation becomes, the less beneficial is additional wealth. 

The ability to grow our economy whilst reducing carbon emissions, a process known as “decoupling”, was another topic of discussion. Witnesses criticised the government’s claim to have achieved significant decoupling, pointing out that the emissions embedded in our imports are not counted. We should also take account of our historic emissions and our material (non-carbon) footprint on the environment and planet, they said.

It will be hard to move away from the metric of economic growth as it is built into many of our social structures, and much work is needed to imagine how a post-growth society and economy would operate. But the consensus among the witnesses to the committee was that it needs to be done.

IPCC Working Group lll report on mitigation of climate change

António Guterres

Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.

Christiana Figueres

The IPCC report tells us we are on a suicidal path. Change or kiss stability goodbye.

There is a wealth of analysis and opinion on this report in the press and professional journals but CarbonBrief’s comprehensive detailed question and answer paper covers the main aspects. 

Much more has still to be written but here is a summary highlighting some key areas of interest.

Introduction

On 4 April the IPCC released its third report, by Working Group lll (WG3), from its 6th Assessment Report, with an updated global assessment of climate change mitigation progress, explaining developments in emission reduction and mitigation efforts and assessing the impact of national climate pledges in relation to long-term emissions goals.

As is always the case, the main report from the scientists, of about 3,000 pages, was then summarised with every line of the summary discussed, and where necessary amended or removed, in order to gain the approval of 195 countries. The result is the 64 page  “Summary For Policymakers” (SPM). 

At two weeks, the discussions over the SPM were the longest of any such report with key text such as “vested interests”, “lobbying”, “degrowth”, “media” and even “economic growth” all appearing multiple times in the main report but missing in the SPM, reflecting the influence in the review process of vested interests determined to avoid publishing issues that reflect badly on their activities.

Based on current policies the report gives a likely increase in temperature over pre-industrial levels of 3C (2.2C to 3.5C) by 2100 and says that if we are to stay below 1.5C, with limited or no overshoot (ie exceeding 1.5C before 2100), greenhouse gas emissions must fall 43% below 2019 emissions by 2030 – on the whole that’s  48% for carbon dioxide and 34% for methane. 

It’s worth noting that, as a result of the pandemic, CO2 emissions dropped by about 6% in 2020 but they have since bounced back meaning that, effectively, from the start of 2022 the report says we have to match 2020’s reduction in each of the remaining eight years of the decade.

One aspect of the report that has been widely misreported in the press is the point at which emissions must peak, covered in the report as:

Global greenhouse gases are projected to peak between 2020 and at the latest by 2025, in global modelled pathways that limit warming to 1.5C 

This was taken to mean that we can continue to increase emissions for another  three years whereas, in reality, emissions should have peaked closer to 2020. It is explained here

What the new IPCC report says about how to limit warming to 1.5C or 2C 

(based on: CarbonBrief analysis)

The report provides a detailed view of possible futures and potential solutions  based on 1,200 scenarios from the IPCC’s database that were considered suitable to calculate a broad range of future greenhouse gas emissions and global climate outcomes. 

In other words, the report doesn’t offer a projection of where we are going but, given where we are and promises made, provides a detailed view of possible futures, with emphasis on those indicating temperature outcomes of below 1.5C and 2C. So, for example, some will involve rapid reductions in fossil fuel use and others rapid reductions in energy demand.

Nearly all scenarios however rely, in differing degrees, on Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) either to cater for residual emissions of CO2 and non-CO2 gases (eg Methane) or to reverse interim temperature “overshoots”, say to 1.6C, by anticipating “net-negative” emissions, to bring the average temperature back down to the target by the end of the century.

The CDR envisioned is a mix of natural, eg afforestation (planting on new ground) & reforestation (replacing trees lost), and technological, eg Bioenergy with Carbon Capture & Storage (BECCS) & Direct Air Capture & Carbon Storage (DACCS). 

There are no scenarios where large deployments of CDR avoid the need to substantially reduce emissions over the course of the 21st century, if warming is to be limited below 2C.

Nevertheless the authors caution that CDR “cannot serve as a substitute for deep emissions reductions” pointing out that the role of CO2 removal can at times be over promoted in some scenarios due to insufficient reliance on renewables, such as wind and solar, limited use of demand-side options (reducing the energy we use) and understating the future costs of CDR technologies.

Concerns are also expressed that: 

..the prospect of large-scale CDR could…obstruct near-term emission reduction efforts, mask insufficient policy interventions, might lead to an overreliance on technologies that are still in their infancy, could overburden future generations, might evoke new conflicts over equitable burden-sharing, [and] could impact food security, biodiversity or land rights.

Despite these warnings scientists and environmentalists see CDR, and now larger overshoots, to say 1.7C or 1.8C, as just another way for policy makers to kick the can further down the road, rather than take the radical action needed today to both replace fossil fuels with renewables and reduce energy demand.

It is also noticeable that with the IPCC judging that 1.5C is now likely to be reached early in the next decade; statements by policymakers and media are shifting from emphasising a 67% likelihood of staying below 1.5C and “keeping 1.5 alive” to a 50% chance of 1.5C and a 67% chance for 2C. The report indicates that, with current policies, the chance of remaining below 1.5C with little if any overshoot, is now around 33% and some academics are now indicating that 1.5 is no longer achievable.

As an aside, research subsequently published in Nature assessed and plotted all national pledges (promises) currently on the table and surmised that if all came to fruition (action) temperature at the end of the century could be limited to just below 2C. Unfortunately some in the media have painted this in an over optimistic light, ignoring both the poor history of turning pledges into policy, then action and warnings of the threats in a +2C world. Here is a more balanced opinion by Christiana Figueres

Summary of mitigations

Section C12 of the SPM (page SPM-48) sets out the costs and savings associated with each mitigation option, making the point that no account is taken of the costs of doing no more than is already in place.

It ends with this chart which shows, for each type of mitigation, its potential for reducing emissions by 2030, so the longer the bar the better the result, with the colour gradation indicating the relative costs, blue = saving  and red = the costliest.

Chapter 5: Demand, services and social aspects of mitigation

The title of this chapter in the main report belies its importance. This is the first time a WG3 report has contained a section on the realities of demand in terms of what people currently consume and what they need, rather than what suppliers, eg the fossil fuel industry, say drives them to keep supplying more, a given in all the climate models.  

The chapter dispels the myth, again favoured by fossil fuel companies, that poorer nations will need to continue to use fossil fuelled energy to improve their wellbeing, before being able to switch to renewables and other forms of mitigation.

The environmental movement has always promoted circular economies of reuse, sharing, more efficient alternatives and the need to stop overconsumption and it’s now official, scientific research not only backs this up but takes it to the wider global economic level best summed up by one of the chapter’s co-lead authors, Prof Joyashree Roy :

Assessment of social science literature from various disciplines helped this report to mention with high confidence that people do not need energy per se but they need a set of services to meet their basic needs such as comfortable homes, mobility and nutrition.  

A paradigm shift in the way we think about climate action is reported for the first time in this IPCC report. If people are provided with opportunities to make choices supported by policies, infrastructure and technologies, there is an untapped mitigation potential to bring down global emissions by between 40 and 70% by 2050 compared to baseline scenarios.

The evidence described in the chapter dispels the myth that demand drives supply and economic growth, rather suppliers drive increasing supply, economic growth, overproduction, built in obsolescence and waste (in resources and money). Similarly it highlights that, by using the potential of demand side mitigations, the need for CDR technologies could be minimised. 

Environmental economist Prof Julia Steinberger, a contributing author to chapter 5 commented:

This is the first time we’ve ever had a chapter on demand because this idea about economic growth and demand being linked was just untouchable. Everybody wants economic growth, so everybody wants demand to increase and that’s it. But as soon as you start questioning it, you realize that it’s a God with clay feet. That you can actually do a lot better with a lot less. There’s nothing preventing us from doing a lot better and using a lot less, including resolving poverty and deprivation around the world.

Recognising the inequitable use of energy, and greenhouse gas emissions of wealthier regions and households, the chapter describes how the global population could be provided with the essential services it needs for decent living standards with half of the energy currently expended.

Not surprisingly, considering the need for international approval, including by vested interests, much of Chapter 5 didn’t make it to the SPM however a few seeds were sown including, in Section B, regional and societal disparities summed up in this extract from B.3.3:

In 2019, around 48% of the global population lives in countries emitting on average more than 6t CO2-eq per capita….35% live in countries emitting more than 9 tCO2-eq per capita. Another 41% live in countries emitting less than 3 tCO2-eq per capita. A substantial share of the population in these low emitting countries lack access to modern energy services. Eradicating extreme poverty, energy poverty, and providing decent living standards* to all in these regions in the context of achieving sustainable development objectives, in the near-term, can be achieved without significant global emissions growth. (high confidence).

*Decent living standards are defined as a set of minimum material requirements essential for achieving basic human well-being, including nutrition, shelter, basic living conditions, clothing, health care, education, and mobility.

In addition to the chapter 5 download there’s an easier read starting on page 101 of the Technical Summary.

Other reference material:

CarbonBrief: Scientists react: What are the key new insights from the WG3?

Dr Gilbz: 6 minute video

Guardian: “Now or never

Discussions with Amy Westervelt: Economics, Conflicts of Interest, Media Manipulation & More (including Chapter 5)

Call for new approach to measure progress towards net zero

The Environmental Audit Committee has written to both the Chancellor and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to ask for estimates of greenhouse gas emissions to be published alongside GDP figures to indicate whether economic growth and slashing emissions can be achieved together.

This follows the committee’s inquiries in February and March into “Aligning the UK’s economic goals with environmental sustainability” and, in particular, how the reliance on GDP as a sole measure of prosperity can hide the climate and ecological impacts of economic growth.

The letters highlight in general the isolation of climate and ecological data reporting from fiscal reporting and how a true picture of how the country is progressing in all aspects of the economy, the environment and net zero targets is impossible unless integrated reporting is provided. 

Much is made of the failure to implement the recommendations of the “Dasgupta” review into our economy’s reliance and impact on the natural world.  This was a review commissioned by the Chancellor and had these headline messages

The two letters are similar in content but the one to the Chancellor provides the main thrust of the committee’s recommendations.

We need more renewable energy and a new pricing system

The jolting rise in the price of energy should help focus minds on the urgent need to speed up the transition to renewable energy sources. We need to make that switch to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it would be good if it also helped reduce and stabilise energy prices. 

That’s not guaranteed under the current pricing system for electricity, where the price we pay is mostly set by the market price of fossil fuels, even though these only generate around 40% of the energy we use each year. Renewables are now the cheapest source of energy and supply more than 40% of the UK’s annual electricity consumption. But some gas generation is needed most of the time. So electricity prices are still tied to oil and gas prices. That’s why they are currently so high, and set to rise further.

It looks like we need more renewable generation and a new pricing system, especially as electricity consumption is set to rise significantly as we seek to decarbonise our heating and transport. The government’s target is for the electricity supply to be net zero by 2035. This can only be achieved by a major increase in renewables and nuclear power, along with a big reduction in the energy we use. We need to cut out unnecessary consumption and retrofit our housing stock.

Onshore wind turbines and large solar farms are the cheapest ways of creating energy, green or otherwise. Wind has the advantage, though, of using far less land than solar and is more efficient. It also has the lowest ‘embodied energy’ per unit of energy generated– the energy required during manufacture– of any form of energy production.

The first wind farm in the UK was opened at Delabole in Cornwall in 1991. Between 2009 and 2020 wind energy in the UK grew by 715%, but most of that generation is onshore in Scotland and offshore, mainly along the east coast of England. Onshore wind was effectively blocked in 2015 when the government banned public subsidies for onshore wind farms. The ban was dropped in 2020, but there are still tough planning requirements. 

The history of wind energy means existing sources are a long way from Teignbridge, involving electricity transmission losses. You may have noticed it can be pretty windy in Devon. Indeed, the South West is second only to western Scotland as the most exposed part of the UK. We should make the most of our natural advantages! 

Teignbridge District Council agrees and recently consulted on potential sites for wind turbines in the district. Action on Climate in Teignbridge put in a response to the consultation supporting the creation of onshore wind sites, provided they minimise adverse effects on the environment. Badly designed wind farms can damage bird and bat populations in particular. 

They can also be unpopular with residents. That’s partly why there was an effective ban for several years – wind turbines were regarded by some as a blight on the landscape, and noisy as well. On the noise front, wind turbines are now remarkably quiet. For planning purposes, noise from turbines must be shown not to add to the constant background noise levels for no further work to be required. 

There is not much to be done about the visual impact of most wind turbines. Like electricity pylons, roads and housing developments, they are man made structures in the natural environment.

It seems we are more likely to accept new structures that are familiar to us, like roads and housing. This is despite them having a greater detrimental impact than wind turbines both visually and ecologically, not to mention their high greenhouse gas emissions. Roads and housing are also more likely to persist for a lot longer than wind turbines, if eventually we are able to generate our energy from other low carbon technologies. We could also limit wind turbine deployment if we become more careful about how much energy we consume and distribute energy better.

But even if we build wind farms wherever we can in Devon, taking into account factors such as whether there is enough wind, the proximity to the grid and protected nature areas, less than 2% of the county’s total land area would be occupied by wind turbines. That compares to 5% of land in Teignbridge that has been built on. That doesn’t sound too bad for a technology that will help meet our carbon emission reduction targets and potentially be a source of cheap energy.

Cutting carbon emissions: a new district-wide climate project

Teignbridge is a beautiful district to live in – but, like the rest of the world, it is part of the climate problem, but also, part of the solution! There are so many people worrying about the crisis – so many communities that would like to help reduce climate change – what if we could work on it together?

Action on Climate in Teignbridge is planning to launch a project that will support community-based volunteers or existing groups who are looking for ways to enthuse and inspire their community to reduce their carbon footprint. 

Can you spare a few hours to help us do this? You don’t need special qualifications, just enthusiasm for spreading the message that everyone can do something to reduce carbon emissions. We’re looking for people who love communicating (maybe even public speaking), organising fun events, creating colourful posters and graphics, and achieving miracles on a tight budget! If you can do any of these things (we don’t expect you to do all of them!), please get in touch with Kate about joining our team    

We are looking for an overall project coordinator.  If we can’t find a volunteer, we are confident that we can get funding to pay someone to be a self-employed, part-time coordinator. You wouldn’t need specific academic qualifications, but you would need to have a friendly and optimistic outlook, and be able to talk, write, listen and express ideas clearly.  

The first task for the coordinator would be to find and support community-based climate volunteers, who would usually be town/parish-based. We would be particularly interested in working with anyone who is a member of a Teignbridge climate group. 

The coordinator and volunteers would be given introductory training and ongoing coaching to help them deliver small-scale projects – but it would be up to them to find projects and challenges that will enthuse people in their communities. Here are possible carbon cutting projects that your community might like:

  • Energy – cutting home energy use and costs
  • Reducing the impact of our clothes/fashion industry 
  • Listening to teenagers – and helping them to take action
  • Running a repair café
  • Running a community larder

If you are interested in any aspect of this idea and want to find out more, please contact Kate 

COP26: Mission accomplished?

There are differing opinions on whether Cop26, the climate conference held in Glasgow last month, was a success or failure. There was progress on some areas and an agreement was signed, but there is little expectation the governments that signed it will take the action necessary to keep global warming to 1.5C.

Jessie Stevens, the Ogwell teenager who founded the People Pedal Power movement and cycled from Newton Abbot to Glasgow for the conference, says the event felt to her like a business meeting not a climate conference. “It was a sterile environment, and such a contrast with the outdoors life I had been leading on the cycle trip.”

Photo credit: Catherine Dunn

Jessie describes her bike trip as “a life-changing experience”. She had nine full days of cycling, two rest days, and the last day was a short one, covering the final 20 miles to Glasgow. “I met lots of amazing people and learned lots of new skills.”

Photo credit: Catherine Dunn

She was supported on her trip by Adventure Syndicate, a collective of women endurance cyclists, and was accompanied on her first day out of Newton Abbot by 50-60 cyclists. The rest of the time between 10-40 cyclists joined her, for anything from an hour to the whole day, which was more than she expected.

“After the isolation of lockdown it was just great to be with people and the miscellaneous encounters I had were really special. It showed me just how much good there is in the world and how kind people can be.”

Jessie had trained for the trip on Dartmoor, and says that proved a big advantage, as she found the rest of the country relatively flat! But although the cycling wasn’t too arduous, long days on the bike, twinned with long evenings of media commitments proved tiring.

Asked about her first impressions of Glasgow and the conference venue, Jessie says it’s hard to say as she had few expectations. “There was the culture shock of being in a big city after having gone nowhere bigger than Exeter for two years, and the venue itself was smart, massive and corporate. There was a lot of greenwashing, by which I mean lots of company stands and brand placement. It felt as if there was an agenda to how it was all laid out.”

Jessie had a coveted pass for the blue zone, where the negotiations between world leaders took place, as one of four Young Reporters for the Environment from the UK. “The blue zone [closed to the public] looked from the outside like it was somewhere you could move around freely but it was strictly segregated,” says Jessie, who spent much of the first week there.

“It felt like the youth representatives were there as a token. There were very few instances when we were allowed to speak, and when we were there was a strong feeling that young people were speaking but not being heard. It was upsetting. It didn’t feel fair to the people who had come from the Global South to share their stories.”

Jessie also observed a striking lack of diversity. “There was little female representation, or people of colour or different social classes. It was mostly middle class white men in suits. My impression was the event was chaired by the Global North without giving the Global South the spotlight they needed.”

She was sufficiently disillusioned that on Friday 5th November, on what was billed as Cop26 Youth Day, she and around 30 other young people walked out of the blue zone and joined the Fridays for Future protest march. “We felt the streets were the only place we could get our voice and message heard,” says Jessie.

Jessie also spent time in the green zone, which was open to the public, and spoke at an event about education representing the organisation Eco-Schools. She found the second week a much more positive experience. “I felt ground down by the whole bureaucracy in the first week. But in the second week when I was out on the streets I felt the power and energy of the people, which for me highlighted the power of collective action.”

Back in Ogwell, this is the key insight for Jessie. She has to give priority to her school work, with exams coming up next year, but will also devote time to community action and connecting with other social organisations. “One of the positives of Cop26 was the media coverage of the event, but there is still a lot of work to be done on awareness, and I’m passionate about getting more voices heard. The key point for me, though, is that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of people.”

COP26 unplugged

In the lead up to, and through, the COP fortnight media and politicians were alive with all things environmental with speeches emphasising the “last chance” to make a difference but, as with any Wimbledon fortnight, it wasn’t long before attention returned to other matters. 

Many attendees, especially those from poorer nations, were of the opinion that, after 26 such events, urgent action in both mitigation and adaptation will not result from the formal COP process, and that attending meetings and events outside the main agenda were more beneficial.

Time will tell but there is now an increasing belief that change is more likely to come “bottom up”, ie from individuals, businesses, cities and regions.

A brief summary of the key issues at the COP:

2°C & 1.5°C 

The COP26 communique known as The Glasgow Pact “Reaffirms the Paris Agreement (COP21) temperature goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”

However, with updated “best available science” and with increasing emissions and impacts now evident, COP26 “resolved to” pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”. In other words, after six years, the safe limit, for COP purposes, has moved from 2°C to 1.5°C.

National emissions commitments

Despite the requirements of the Paris agreement, only 151 countries submitted new or updated National Determined Contributions (NDCs) before the COP, with India announcing new targets during the event, but outside an official NDC. 

The Paris agreement required new NDCs every five years initially working towards a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030, compared to 2010, however assessments of the NDCs submitted gave a 13.7% increase by that date, with a likely 2.4°C outcome, and so countries are “urged” to revisit and improve on NDCs by COP27 next year.

Coal

It may seem incredible but this was the first COP to make any mention of reducing fossil fuel use.  In this case it is the “phasing down” of coal. Up until the last minute this was to be “phasing out” but India objected and was accused of watering down the commitment but this is not the full story in that, at the beginning of the COP, India was calling for an equitable phase out of all fossil fuels.

The mention of coal was regarded by leaders as a success of the negotiations but given reports, most recently by the International Energy Agency and in the Journal Nature, making it clear we will miss our 1.5°C target without immediate reductions in fossil fuel use, many see the COP as having failed in a prime objective.

Finance

The final agreement “Notes with deep regret that the goal of developed country Parties to mobilize jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation has not yet been met” and “urges” developed nations to meet the pledge through to 2025.

The provision of finance by the richer to the poorer nations has been a factor within COP negotiations for decades with the $100bn pledge having been made in 2009. Of added concern was how actual finance was being given firstly in funding mitigation rather than adaptation and secondly in being represented by high interest loans rather than grants.

Loss and Damage 

The term “loss and damage” refers to the past and present destruction of lives, livelihoods and communities from the impacts of climate change that cannot be adapted to, with the most impacted poorer nations calling on the richer, and most polluting, nations for financial compensation often referred to as “climate reparations”.

With this issue having been on the table for a decade and COP25 establishing a recording and reporting system, there was great hope that COP26 would finally see an agreement on loss and damage finance however, as in the past, with the fear of never-ending litigation, wealthier nations were happy to just leave it on the table with a continuing acknowledgement that Climate Change “will pose an ever-greater social, economic and environmental threat”.

Some other announcements:

Finalising the Paris Rulebook

Several technical aspects of the Paris agreement have been left unresolved but were finalised during the COP, including international cooperation over “Article 6” – carbon markets and offsetting.

Announcements on deforestation

The Glasgow leaders’ declaration on forests and land use, was signed by more than 130 countries promising to work “collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030”.

A new Forest, agriculture and commodity trade (FACT) statement, was jointly led by the UK and Indonesia and aims to support sustainable trade between commodity-producing and -consuming countries. 

Global methane pledge

US president Joe Biden and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced the formal launch of the Global methane pledge. Originally announced in September, the pledge asks countries to cut their methane emissions by 30% over 2020-30 and move towards using the “best available inventory methodologies” to quantify emissions.

Further reading & listening:

Local teenager on a mission to COP26

Newton Abbot resident Jessie Stevens is heading to Glasgow for the COP26 summit in November, and plans to pedal the whole 570 miles! She will be cycling under the banner of the People Pedal Power mission she has created. This aims to inspire people (particularly young people) to join her on her journey and deliver a message to the climate conference on the need for urgent action on green transport infrastructure, and much else.

Jessie, 16, is a climate activist determined to make the voice of youth heard at COP26. Such events have long been dominated by adults, she says, many of whom may not live to see the worst effects of the climate crisis. “The youth are rarely a part of these talks despite the impacts of climate and ecological breakdown impacting them the most.”

After looking at her travel options, Jessie found the easiest, cheapest, but most polluting way to get to Glasgow would be by car or plane. Taking the (less polluting) train looked complicated and expensive. She decided she would like to travel under her own power and resolved to cycle, and make as much noise as possible along the way.

“To me, cycling is a very community orientated mode of travel. This perfectly fitted my visions of #ride2COP26 as it gives space for many individuals to join the ride, gathering force and power,” she says.

Jessie will be supported on her trip by Adventure Syndicate, a collective of women endurance cyclists, who will accompany her on a cargo bike, carrying everything she needs.

“The cargo bike will not only provide physical support, but will also tangibly represent one of the viable solutions to developing a more sustainable transport system,” says Jessie. “After all, this journey is not just about highlighting what is wrong, but also about demonstrating solutions.”

Adventure Syndicate will also co-produce a film documenting the journey and the stories of those involved and the people Jessie meets along the way.

Jessie will set off on 20th October, covering between 50-70 miles a day, and invites people to join her for a few miles to highlight people power—both in terms of active travel and political voice.

To find out more visit:

https://httpspeoplepeddlepower.wordpress.com/

or email people.pedal.power@gmail.com