David Attenborough presenter and environmental campaigner

COP26: subsidies, carbon trade and other hard choices

Image credit: Sarah Lee/ Eyevine

"Just imagine what might be possible... Tomorrow's world could be more diverse, more stable, more wild. It's within our power if we start making the right choices from today." - Sir David Attenborough

Can our leaders save the world? Put like that, it doesn’t sound very likely, does it? But as they gather in Glasgow this month for COP26 – the Conference of Parties 26 meeting – that’s what we’re all hoping. It feels almost like the planet’s last chance.

The mess we’re in certainly demands a global response, because while everyone can make a difference, no one can do it alone. However, some populations and even some individuals can make a bigger difference than others.

As the Earth’s environment worsens, it’s becoming clearer we are not going to reverse global warming without drastic action and some ingenious moves. COP26 must agree more concerted, coordinated action and get on with it. We need global agreements and national policies to cut consumption and to support technologies that mean we can produce in different ways. And that’s all about engineering.  

This month’s cover (or the image above) features a quote from the national treasure that is Sir David Attenborough. It’s a more optimistic tone than usual for Sir David because it’s from the first of the BBC series introducing the finalists in the Earthshot Prize, looking for ideas that can literally help save the planet.  

Prince William said Earthshot was inspired by Moonshot – an achievement for political will and engineering effort. Earthshot isn’t all about cutting-edge high tech; in fact there are more innovative grass-roots schemes among the finalists. But they all need worldwide support. As Sir David says, that means making the right choices today, and COP26 is the forum for those, but negotiations will be fraught.

Should the subsidy levels for renewables be falling? They are still much less than fossil-fuels subsidies but declining levels may be a sign that renewables are becoming more economic. Chris Edwards assesses where governments should put our money in the coming decade.  

COP26 could be the last chance to get a coordinated, workable carbon-trading market. Different regions use different schemes. How can they be integrated?

Insulate Britain, the protest movement that sounds more like a nationalist than an environmental pressure group, is blocking roads around London. Its focus is social housing, but getting owner-occupiers to invest in insulation would make a bigger difference. It’s just one of the ways to make future homes greener, from easier EV charging to more flexible housing that lasts longer. Homes will also have to cope with the effects of climate change.

Technology isn’t the whole answer but it’s most definitely a crucial part and engineers can do more than most people to reverse and mitigate climate change. We’re short of engineers and we’re short of the right skills. We look at what needs to be done to retool, reskill and retrain for net zero.

Another hard choice in Glasgow faces the delegates as they sit down to dinner: what to eat? Check out the best menu options.

Graphic of projected CO2

Graphic News

Image credit: Graphic News


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