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Boris Cops COP26

Scotland is being pushed aside at its own climate conference

By Aidan Bridgeman

Image courtesy of Number 10

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly known as COP26, is being described as the world’s “last chance” to address climate catastrophe, according to the previous US Secretary of State John Kerry. Glasgow has the privilege of hosting this year’s Conference of the Parties (COP) in November, but it means that Scotland will be the first country ever to host a UN Climate Change Conference and not have much of a say in how it’s run (unless we count Montreal 2005, sorry Québécois). The COP26 website proudly displays a UK Government icon and outlines the ‘UK Presidency’, with no mention of Scotland’s obvious involvement. Ultimately, does it matter who hosts this conference? Well, if it wants to have an impact, yes.

It's not just John Kerry saying this is the last chance. This very sentiment is being repeated by leaders across the world, but worryingly, it seems as if the UK government is quiet on the event. Busy with Brexit and coronavirus, the Conservatives didn’t even appoint a President of COP26 until pressured into doing so; they sacked the first President too. The previous Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth was replaced by the Secretary of State for Business as President, which is perhaps a sign of things to come. Should I be surprised, though? This is coming from Boris Johnson, a good friend of Donald Trump, who is infamous for not believing in climate change. Johnson thinks the kind of people who care about the climate are “hair shirt-wearing, tree-hugging, mung bean-munching, eco freaks”. He clearly does not take climate change seriously either.

Whilst I think the Scottish Government can and should do a lot more to tackle climate change, it’s certainly more ambitious than the rest of the UK. Scotland has said that it will go net-zero by 2045, five years before the rest of the UK. These are just words though; action is more important. Back in 2019, Boris Johnson didn’t even bother turning up to the Channel 4 climate debate. Since then, the UK has been unambitious and, frankly, uncaring. According to Carbon Brief, the Conservative government has missed out on delivering climate targets time and time again: only 2 of 31 have been met. Furthermore, the UK government continues to invest in fossil fuels in foreign countries and has shown itself to be weak on even trivial issues, such as Heathrow’s third runway. Scotland, on the other hand, is increasing foreign aid to help developing countries with climate struggles, decarbonising the public and private sector, and allowing the public to drive the green efforts through a Citizens’ Assembly.

Even if you’re all for the UK taking the charge at COP26, you can’t disagree that they need to highlight Scotland as their engine for climate recovery. Johnson himself has said “our green industrial revolution will be powered by the wind turbines of Scotland and the North East”.

Tackling climate change isn’t just about setting CO2 targets and raving about green transport, however. Whether you like it or not, climate inequality is economic inequality is global inequality. Without a doubt the austerity politics of the Conservative Party mean they care little about economic inequality. Moreover, climate change disproportionately affects developing countries, and the UK’s increasing protectionism and “Britain First!” approach isn’t helping. Just in November, the UK government cut the overseas aid budget once again. And in an effort to save money, I’m sure, the foreign aid government agency was merged with the Foreign Office back in June.

The UK claims to want to be a global voice, but we just left one of the biggest loudhailers there is: the European Union. Not very outwardly looking at all. Now we, and the rest of the Global North, are trying to hoard the covid-19 vaccines as best we can, ignoring others. More so, ask yourself this: which country is more open to welcoming or assisting climate refugees?

Additionally, it should go without saying that the UK’s disastrous handling of Covid-19 has weakened its diplomacy strength. Scotland has done much better comparatively. Johnson and the Conservative government have repeatedly not listened to the science. It’s been ignored constantly at the expense of people’s lives.

Is the UK going to listen (and I mean actually listen) to the science around climate change? Scotland is listening. But the world isn’t listening to Scotland—it can’t. The world knows very little about our wee nation, despite the fact that we’re hosting this giant conference later this year. Scotland’s potential for a positive global influence is being squashed, probably so the Tories can have a big fancy lunch come November.


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