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No less than a revolution is needed to tackle crisis

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People protesting at the UN COP26 summit in Glasgow.

People protesting at the UN COP26 summit in Glasgow.

People protesting at the UN COP26 summit in Glasgow.

Charging a single summit with alleviating the enormity of our climate delinquency sounds like a tall order. But when you place the challenge in the context of the immediate consequences of our cycle of failure, and the calamitous cost of once more coming up short, can it really be too much to ask?

By now, the benefits of co-operating must surely seem more attractive than the mutually assured destruction that will be the eventual price of ignoring our mistreatment of our planet.

The 2015 Paris Agreement demanded governments raise their games and annually push their ambitions. The reality is, in terms of our planet overheating, all politics must be global.

We must not get bogged down in what merely works for ourselves. The crisis is such that we must respond to the overall threat if we are to achieve the scale of change so urgently required.

No less than a revolution in our approach to energy and how we manage resources will be necessary. As 95-year-old naturalist Sir David Attenborough told COP26 delegates: “Perhaps the fact that the people affected by climate change are no longer some imagined future generations but young people alive today, perhaps that will give us the impetus we need to rewrite our story, to turn this tragedy into a triumph.”

“The world is looking to you,” he added.

The hard decisions are the only ones left.

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Staying under 1.5 degrees Celsius would require cutting planet-warming greenhouse emissions in half by 2030 and reaching ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050, according to scientific estimates.

Net zero means countries might still produce some carbon dioxide or other greenhouse agents, particularly in certain industrial sectors that are hard to decarbonize, but they would make up for it by removing an equivalent amount of greenhouse emissions from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, after a brief pause during the Covid-19 crisis, global emissions are rising once again.

The burden of responsibility for leaders in Glasgow is to set new 2030 emissions-cutting commitments that will reverse this course.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that action must match the rhetoric, as he appeared at the Glasgow summit. It was “imperative” that the world responds to the challenge.

Carbon taxes, often criticised for hiking the cost of living, are a necessary way of both changing behaviour and funding the measures, he said.

Many countries have already changed their emissions trajectories, just not enough. The details of how countries say they will cut emissions are almost as important as the commitments themselves. Laggards, including Ireland, must pay a heavy price, not just in prestige and respect, should we trail behind.

Otherwise, we will pay an extreme penalty for flouting risks. As UN chief Antonio Guterres said, we are “digging our own graves”. Worse still, we may be digging those of future generations.

Our choice on warming is stark: we stop it, or it stops us, as Mr Guterres noted.


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