So the world leaders, lobbyists and activists have come together at COP26 and left behind the Glasgow Pact. There’s been much debate about whether the pact goes far enough – does it really “keep 1.5 alive”? I sincerely hope so, for the sake of our children and grandchildren, but I don’t feel sufficiently well-informed to contribute to that debate.
I have a different question, though: did COP26 really have to take place in Glasgow? Did those tens of thousands of delegates actually need to convene in a single location at all?
You may be aware that COP26 was postponed by a year due to COVID-19. It was initially planned to take place in November 2020. At the same time that the postponement was announced, the whole world was learning to work – and meet – virtually. By November 2021, when COP26 actually happened, we had all gained at least 18 months of experience in online collaboration. Could those learnings not have been applied to COP26? Woods for the Trees did our bit last month when we gave a virtual presentation to the Cambridge Zero conference – if we can, why can’t the UN?
According to Carbonbrief.org, 39,509 delegates registered for COP26, making it by far the most-attended climate conference in history – far beyond COP21 in Paris, which had 30,372 attendees. Let’s assume (conservatively) that the average delegate had a 4,000 km round trip flight to Glasgow – that’s the equivalent of a return flight from Rome to Glasgow. Each of those flights would have a carbon footprint of 0.725 tonnes CO2. This alone is above the estimated yearly maximum 0.600 t CO2 that can be generated by a single person in a year to avoid climate change.
Taking all the delegates together, the total carbon footprint of travel to COP26 was 28,644 t CO2. To offset that, around 171,864 trees would have to be planted. But wouldn’t it be better to organise a COP summit where all the delegates stayed at home, and set an example for the rest of the world to follow?
That’s why I’d like to see the UN taking the lead in virtual conferences. Please make sure that COP26 is the last in-person climate summit and put your collective brains together to ensure that COP27 is held entirely online!