Net zero is Britain’s great opportunity at COP26 – Lord Deben

WE face a remarkable challenge, and it is one that requires action on every single front.

Our treatment of this planet has warmed every corner of it – the atmosphere, the seas, and the land – driving more and more extreme 
change.

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It is this extreme weather which is contributing to events such as the severe flooding seen across Yorkshire in the last couple of years.

Boris Johnson and Sir David Attenborough at the launch of the COP26 climate change summit.

These are impacts which are set to get worse in the future unless we take urgent action to tackle and prepare for climate change.

We must move quickly – move to avoid the worst climate outcomes, but also move to benefit from the transition.

Lord Deben is chair of the independent Climate Change Committee. As John Gummer, he served as Environment Secretary and Agriculture Secretary from 1989-97.

Fossil fuels have been the basis of a fruitful global economy that has brought us wealth, but they have also brought us to the verge of disaster.

We need to turn to the new technologies that will green the way in which we produce hydrogen, steel, and heat our cities and our homes.

Climate change activists in Glasgow ahead of the COP26 summit.

It has become inevitable that the whole world will have to tackle climate change and so those countries that get there first, with complete plans for a fair transition for all, stand to benefit most.

It is that understanding that keeps me positive that we will make the necessary changes.

Our progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions has certainly been too slow and we have wasted far too long contesting the science, but it is clearer with every passing day that reaching net zero – the UK’s target for reducing emissions – is not only a vital necessity but one best viewed as an opportunity.

A positive destination for society, which will make it greener, cleaner, and kinder. 

So, we are not only fighting for our future existence but making changes that will enable us to live better, healthier lives.

Small shifts in what we buy, what we eat, and how we travel have big results in how businesses operate and in what they supply.

Naturally, the cars and vans and the boilers that depend on coal and oil and gas must all be replaced. They won’t be ripped out but instead exchanged for something better when they are at the end of their useful life or beyond repair.

Furthermore, with the right financial support and information to encourage these changes, they won’t cost the earth, nor will they be any less efficient than what we have now. Indeed, some are already much better and they’re not damaging the planet.

These are changes we can all embrace and as we move to heat our homes differently using a heat pump, benefitting from smart technology, and refuelling our cars with a plug at home or in the street, the changes make our lives so much better with cleaner air, new green spaces, and better health. 

There are also much wider benefits. Switching from the day-to-day of today to the day-to-day of tomorrow will lead to investments in technologies which can improve the economy, make the UK more energy independent – insulating us from the effects of high gas prices – and bring jobs back to Britain. 

We expect to see 200,000 new jobs just in making the UK’s homes zero carbon. These are jobs across the UK, not only in London.

There will be further regional success stories and opportunities aplenty, like the world’s first recyclable wind turbines to be made in Hull through to the Zero Carbon Humber decarbonising our heavy industries. Seizing these benefits will require a combined effort from Government, local authorities, business, and each and every one of us.

The experience of the UK Citizens’ Assembly on climate change, which featured a representative sample of the UK population, showed that when information is available and understood there is greater support for climate action.

Information about the need for 
climate action is critical, alongside information about how to reduce emissions and how the transition can be best achieved.

A public information campaign, led by Government but crucially involving local councils, would be a vital step in addressing some of the concerns, questions, and myths about what needs to happen in the UK. 

The UK must show bold leadership, especially in this coming decade. Our political leaders must take people with them and engage them in the choices ahead.

And we must go full throttle, not just because we are hosting COP26 – the international climate summit in 
Glasgow which opened yesterday – but because tackling climate change leads 
to a fundamentally better destination.

A destination with new jobs, real savings and better health, alongside 
a stable climate for future generations.

Lord Deben, formerly John Gummer, is chair of the Climate Change Committee, which advises the Government. He served as Environment Secretary and Agriculture Secretary from 1989-97.

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