COP26: A Test of British Soft Power and the World’s Left and Right

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Britain, apparently, used to be known for its common sense. The country with the practicality, wealth and explosive creativity which resulted in the Industrial Revolution; harbinger to this modern age with the steam train, the first ripple in the pond. Britain, the small country which punches above its weight in culture, finance, and reputation. Britain, who contributes around 1.1pc of global climate change emissions, part of a group of countries whose territorial emissions are all around 1pc and count for a staggering third of current emissions. Britain must itself change, but it will only make a difference with allies as united climate change democracies.

A climate change conference overshadowed domestically first before it even began by EU fishing wars and then quickly by the Owen Patterson scandal, COP26 held in Glasgow was fraught full of contradictions for both politicians and activists. Politicians face the issue of coming across as actors rigidly sticking to their own scientific script; there specifically for the start of COP to generate media attention for the issues and there also for their own political gain. Biden fell asleep, hypocritical private jets landed, embarrassing tonka-toy SUVS rolled in, organised Sturgeon hosted whilst advertising her ‘nation in waiting’, and Johnson flexed British political muscle, namely the private sector, in his Bond ticking-bomb opening speech.

Conservatism, liberalism, and socialism all claim to subsume environmentalism under their own ideology, but the irritation remains that none of them alone, or even together, are enough to solve the climate crisis.  You may think of environmentalism as giving back what you receive. Maybe even a mental image of a glistening river: transparent and full of life. Preservation is the cousin of conservatism. So, resisting anthropogenic climate change would be a natural extension of preventing ecological damage. Today’s Conservative MPs voted down an amendment which would have stopped raw sewage being dumped into rivers and coastal areas. This was to protect private companies.

It makes me laugh reading right-wing nonsense arguing that Thatcher was an actual environmentalist based on her ending of coalmines. You can see one of Thatcher’s, and her successor Major, most prominent legacies outside of London, driving anywhere towards Leeds. The ending of trains, the sell-off and running down of them has accelerated our own part in climate change. Prime Minister Johnson has just cancelled the HS2 segment to Leeds, condemning future generations. Meanwhile, days before COP26, Chancellor Rishi Sunak in the budget confusingly cut taxes for domestic flights. Domestic flights should not need to exist in this geographically tiny island.

Liberalism led most of all to climate change, but it is still unfair to blame this crisis on individuals. In conversations with friends, all agree it is an economic privilege to afford long-lasting products and to avoid huge causes of waste such as fast fashion. It was the eco-conscious segment of the middle classes in all advanced big-polluter countries which were ahead of the game with sustainability, and they should be celebrated: people persuading before politicians. Government regulation can avoid environmentalism being seen as a class choice through efficient, affordably costed, and modern public transport from modern tram-trains to cleaner long-distance trains. Recycling should increase to a higher standard each decade and be the same nationally. Further, water fountains in every transport station and every town to eliminate single-use plastic. Retail service-sector Britain needs to be engineered so it takes responsibility for its consumer class.

Climate Change needs to continue being a global bipartisan issue and following the science here will only succeed through strengthening democracies. Collaborative events like COP26 remind us how politicians are flawed, but they establish that democratic world leaders are still our best conduit to the immensely powerful Billionaire monarchs who hold the keys to immediately reducing climate emissions. COP26 was met with anticipation not because of us, but due to the recently elected President Biden, a Democrat ready to reverse recent years of American environmental apathy. The world cannot afford the elected left or right to lurch away from being on the big table, but the planet needs radical climate change activism. The methods should develop – avoiding risk to others and balancing urgency with histrionic fatalism which turns-off the non-converted – and a major aim should be directly protesting to ensure vague targets are upheld.

Britain developed the first COVID-19 vaccine, a miraculous moment around the world. This was a result of the new hard power, a culmination of our brilliant academia and gold-standard scientific research. Like we are seeing globally with the coronavirus, the climate crisis may one day be completely rebalanced by game-changing science, but these complex problems firstly require international political resolve. The planet cannot wait for us to wait. Britain has both soft and hard power. Our political influence will always be limited if we limit ourselves. With Climate Change, act without hypocrisy, with other countries, with science and with integrity. Act with common sense.