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A Post-Cop26 Survival Guide: Re-lighting the fire towards environmental activism

CO2 emissions were a sky-high 36.4 gigatons in 2021, with factories and industry making up 73.2% of that total. Photo by Pixabay – Pexel

Watching Wall-E for the first time, now almost fourteen years ago, was when I awoke to see the dire state of our environment. Seeing the Earth ravaged not by natural catastrophes but by those that were man-made struck a chord within my 7-year-old heart.

Time and time again, we have been given warnings of our impending climate disaster. Whether it be through movies or real-life events; these warning signs have had their impact by raising awareness on a need for action. Yet, this impact is never more than temporary.

The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), which took place in November of 2021, is a recurring international event where world leaders unite to discuss pressing climate issues and innovative ways to curb them. This latest event was organised by a partnership between the United Kingdom and Italy, with 192 countries in attendance, and over 30,000 delegates representing member states, the press, and observer organisations.

If we were to look back at some of the highlights of 2021, Cop26 is regarded as an afterthought, to say the least. Because of its political affiliations, ‘normal’ people like us have not heeded to the discussions and lessons learnt from the event. And now, little over three months since its closure, environmental experts and laypeople alike are left scratching their heads at an underwhelming level of impact from what they expected to be a groundbreaking event.

But what did Cop26 really do? And how can we help make its goal a reality?

Carbon Neutrality

The big bad wolf during the meeting in Glasgow was carbon and its detrimental effects on the environment, accompanied by climate change, rising sea levels, and the breaking down of the ozone layer.

‘Carbon neutrality’ was the buzzword thrown about during the conference to counter these effects. In simple terms, carbon neutrality is when a country is able to balance its carbon emissions savings to meet the amount of carbon being removed from the atmosphere, leading to a net-zero emission rate and pristine green air for all to revel in.

Cop26 has left it up to nations to decide how they plan to achieve this goal, but its importance is no longer anything to scoff at.

41 per cent of countries have pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, which is a big ask considering the world still emits over 39 billion tonnes of carbon each year, and this number shows no sign of dropping.

In the past, we have seen nations hit a brick wall when it comes to effective solutions to combat carbon emissions. But based on the discussions during the negotiations on carbon policy, it seems as though the technology is finally available to make one means such as electric transportation a feasible reality.

By 2050, expect a near-silent Sheikh Zayed Road, because electric cars are going to take the world by storm.

The irony, however, is quite sharp, especially when you consider that most of the delegates who travelled to the conference did so by private charter, which according to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), emits about 4.3 times more greenhouse gas than an economy flight on a public plane.

Environmental activists are unhappy with countries’ reluctance to invest in more eco-friendly technology. Photo byMarkus Spiske on Pexel

Consequently, the question of their genuine intentions did give rise to some animosity from activists towards delegates. However, the organisers representing the UK and Italy did use some creative ways to make the event as green as possible.

Making Cop26 a ‘Green Convention’

One way, which was quite the no-brainer, was using public transportation. Fewer cars on the road mean fewer carbon emissions. They also had an ambulance on-site that ran entirely on hydrogen fuel. This clean fuel cell produces water rather than carbon monoxide when burned. Additionally, all the chairs at the conference were donated to charities or community projects after the event.

The steps taken to make Cop26 more sustainable create quite a powerful narrative about reducing not just our emissions but also our consumption. Buying a few decent quality clothes is eons better than swapping out your entire wardrobe every time the season changes. Donating unwanted furniture is far more beneficial than throwing them away for them to be burnt and disposed of at a landfill.

We have all been classified as ‘consumers’ by every food chain and large conglomerate in existence. The best way we can contribute to the environment is simply by consuming solely what we need, and only throwing something away when it is our last resort. Because at its core, the largest carbon emissions come from factories that mass produce these clothes, furniture, and food products.

Since plastic takes four hundred and fifty years to decompose, every single piece of plastic since its invention in 1862 is still sitting in landfills across the world.
Credit: Tom Fisk – Pexel

Methane’s Elusive 30×30

Additionally, methane also deserves an honourable mention. A record 105 countries pledged to the 30×30 goal to cut their methane emissions by 30% in 2030 in order to curb the exponential rise of the global climate by a projected 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next eight years.

However, the pledge was voluntary in nature, which led to some large methane producers omitting themselves from signing the document.

The main ways in which methane is produced, according to the BBC, is through the transportation and management of energy production and waste, which countries plan to curb by implementing more efficient policies into their domestic law. Cop26 focused its discussions on improving waste management through lessening decaying waste in landfills and even developments in satellite technology, which can spot methane leaks with pinpoint accuracy.

Fossil-Fuels Fielding Little Attention at Cop26

On the other hand, the proverbial environmental “F-word,” fossil-fuels, made no mention in Cop26. Not all hope is lost, though, as the Paris Agreement, Cop26’s French counterpart, has detailed provisions outlining how countries can lower their fossil fuel usage.

This is where the little things really do leave an impression. Using public transport as much as possible, avoiding processed foods, and investing in home appliances with eco-efficiency are all minor alterations to our daily routines, with larger-than-life impacts. Though treaties like the Paris Agreement attribute states with the responsibility to encourage these practices, it is ultimately up to us to put them into action.

Sadly though, when it comes down to it, most consumers default to fossil fuels and non-renewable sources because they are easy to come by and are cheaper in the short run. Investing in solar panels, especially in sweltering climates like the UAE’s, can have massive cutbacks on not just your emissions but also your wallet.

Imagine being able to say you pay an annual zero dirhams for your DEWA (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) bill; a real possibility especially considering the advancements in solar efficiency. It does, however, come with a hefty investment cost. Still, after 5 years of solar energy implementation, you can save just around 15,000 dirhams in electricity bills.

How Can We Contribute?

Living in the UAE, we don’t need to look any further than our own soil for an exquisite example of preserving our environment the right way. Being one of the frontrunners in the 2050 net-zero initiative, the UAE has made leaps and bounds in clean energy, such as the first commercial nuclear powerplant in the Arab world and the Masdar project in Abu Dhabi, which led to the very first car-free, waste-free, and carbon-neutral city in the world.

Without any immediate action, it will not be long before Wall-E’s fantasy world becomes our stark reality. Photo by: Lenin Estrada – Pexel

We all have the social responsibility to protect the only home we know. Though my Wall-E example was crude and childish, it is terrifying to think that what was once a kid’s movie about robots with feelings could very easily turn into reality for the coming generations.

With carbon prevention, lowered consumption and carbon neutrality put aside, the best thing we as a community could do is to keep the conversation going. Letting climate issues take a backseat is the most harmful thing that could happen – because with every moment we spend forgetting, we are consistently damaging the world around us.

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