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You’ll be hearing a lot about climate change in the coming weeks, in the lead up to the COP 26 summit meeting in Glasgow, beginning on November 1. Should you be listening? Of course, but more importantly, you should take what you hear from governments with a large dose of scepticism.

For many individuals, the scale of the global warming issue is too much to process, in terms of how it will affect them – if they’re over 50 if probably won’t – and what they can do personally to help save the planet.

The harsh reality is that if climate change continues unchecked, our planet could well become uninhabitable for humanity in the second half of this century. The widely publicised report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said as much.

The hope rests with what governments can do to alter course before it’s too late. That is why COP26 is so important.

So global heads of government will try once again to provide leadership on the issue at the COP26 meeting, while activists and media turn up the heat on politicians as they outline their plans to combat climate change.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg, as is her way, put it more bluntly: “Build back better. Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah blah blah. Net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah.”

Thunberg’s no-bullshit approach is far from the only voice calling out the hypocrisy and contradictions inherent in government and corporate statements. Even the man in the street now knows what greenwashing is.

So why do we place our faith and trust in a group of countries that have so far failed to meet the commitments they made in the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement; to provide $100 billion of funding to carbon reduction initiatives while working to transition away from hydrocarbons?

Six years later, the US, China, Europe and Australia are still massively reliant on coal, oil and methane gas.

China’s claimed ambition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060 looks particularly disingenuous when you consider that instead of cutting its reliance on coal, China put 38 gigawatts of new coal-fired power capacity into operation in 2020, equal to the entire coal-fired power generation capacity currently installed in Germany.

The power of the coal lobby is such that it is hard to see how governments can break the cycle of dependence. Alternative energy sources are making inroads, but it is very slow going and there are still doubts as to how solar and wind can reliably replace hydrocarbons. The arguments in favour of nuclear will become harder to ignore.

The legacy of peak coal is going to be very painful and expensive to change in the short term. Curiously, the words fossil fuels, coal, oil or methane gas do not appear in the Paris Agreement. It’s too hot for the politicians to handle, for fear of losing votes. But COP26 is likely to bring this particular issue much more clearly into focus.

London, September 2021

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