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COP26: the time has come for radical change

We need to see major commitments to safeguard the planet, explains Steve Andrews, CEO of Earthwatch Europe

Earthwatch’s vision is a world where humanity lives within our means and in balance with nature. As world leaders start to pack their bags and head for Scotland, this vision has never been more important.

And it is not going to be achieved without fundamental change in the way we all live our lives.

In just over a week’s time, the eyes of the world will be fixed on Glasgow, hoping that our leaders can grasp the urgency and agree a path that saves our planet from the worst, most shocking effects of climate change. The significance of COP26 cannot be overstated.

Earthwatch has been around for 50 years. In that time we have achieved great things, providing inspirational experiences to tens of thousands of people, which have in turn created a deep and significant personal connection with the natural world and an understanding of the role of science in protecting it.  We see daily the passion of our supporters for protecting our planet.

But despite these achievements, we are also clear that the world as we know it cannot be saved by waiting for individual people and companies to take action. The kind of change we need is so massive and so urgent that it needs to happen across society. And for that to happen, it has to be driven by policy change from governments.

Here in the UK, we have seen how government policy can have quite dramatic impacts in nudging society to change:

  • In 2010, only 6.5% of British energy came from renewable sources. As a result of government incentives to generators, this figure reached 30% by 2018 and continues to grow rapidly. Indeed, this nudge from governments led to a situation whereby off-shore wind is the cheapest way to generate electricity in the UK today.
  • Since the government mandated, in October 2015, that supermarkets must levy a 5p charge for plastic shopping bags, recently increased to 10p, the use of plastic bags in the UK has reduced by 95%, saving 7.4 billion bags.
  • The UK government announced, in November 2020, that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2030. The UK car market – and the electric car charging infrastructure – is already changing dramatically as a result.

At COP26, we are looking to global leaders to radically increase the pace of change across society. Citizens of the world are deeply anxious about the future and are desperate for their governments to drive this change.

Earthwatch is a science-based NGO that helps people and companies to understand the gravity of the environmental threats facing the world, engages citizens in undertaking more science, and helps society to identify and implement solutions. We do this in many ways. It is important work because we’re engaged in changing the hearts and minds of people and their companies.

And although one individual or company changing their lifestyle will not save the planet, each one that does so contributes to a movement which shouts out to government, “We are ready for change. We are not scared of it. We want it.” Each individual gesture helps to normalise changes to the status quo for others. And every citizen who helps us to collect data to understand how we can prevent environmental catastrophe, is playing their role in contributing to a better understanding of what we need to.

On 6 November there will be a Global Day of Action for Climate Justice, when all concerned citizens can show their leaders at COP26 that they want progress on this issue. Earthwatch staff will join them.

We need a radical agenda for change that makes it easier for all of us to live within our means and in balance with nature.

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