Article by Dr Julian Harrop

The Conference of the Parties no 26 (COP26) finished a week ago. 197 countries were represented, tens of thousands of negotiators are NOW back home, perhaps starting the real work (we hope) of making their agreements manifest. For the rest of us there are many lingering questions. It was said to be the largest and most important conference on the planet, but was it a success? Did it work? Was there a universal consensus? Was there a unified determined approach to curb climate change and keep the 1.5oc degree dream alive?  There is a definitive answer to these questions of course, “yes”, “no” and “maybe”


Was anything actually achieved?  Although none of the agreements were legally binding according to the BBC they have set the global agenda on climate change for the next decade. Many of the agreements we have already covered in the past two posted articles since the start of the COP, such as;  

  • Green House gas Emission reduction
  • Stopping deforestation
  • Financial help to poorer countries  
  • Methane emissions reduction
  • Increasing green finance
  • Phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies
  • US / China climate change agreement, significant as these two countries are the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters
  • Agreeing rules on carbon offset markets, which the last two COPs tried and failed to finalise.
  • Among the final things that occurred very much on the last minute on the final day was the signing of the Glasgow Climate Pact, this agreement included number of points that were agreed   such as:

An agreement that asked for countries to agree to reduce their reliance on coal and fossil fuels, the term “phase down” replaced “phase out” at the insistence of the China and India.  

  • Countries that have already suffered from the effects of climate change will start dialogue with a UN body that will provide assistance to address the consequences of climate change and a standalone fund will be accessible. There was acknowledgement that the 2020 milestone target of $100 billion aid was not met by the richer countries

These are big promises, they could have been bigger and arguably there should have been a lot more of them, that said we need to give some time to see if they are taken in the right direction, nothing will happen overnight. One problem is we are all too used to seeing promises broken by governments and big business on a daily basis, so scepticism is quite a natural reaction. 


So, all of these things (and others) were agreed, why then is there still so much doubt and suspicion. To quote an environmentalist   interviewed on the BBCs COP26 coverage “Climate change responds to emissions not promises”

If you followed social media websites, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, the press and environmental organisations, the comments and reactions to what was achieved at COP 26 are largely negative.

Many stating that COP 26 did not deliver on the big picture goals, and that the 1.5oc degree target. In short opinions varied from a golden opportunity not fully utilised, to one totally wasted.

Many ambitious agreements were reached and signed, but there remains widespread doubt that the signatories have the resolve to make good on them.

To be honest part of me is impressed anything got agreed at all, hundreds of politician’s tens of thousands of negotiators, opposing agendas and so much distrust. The world cannot instantly turn a switch to become sustainable overnight, there is no magic bullet, a period of transition is required, and that is almost always a painful process. One resounding message was that that the promises have to be backed up in hard action, there will be no patience for lethargy, or backtracking, from hereon in the eyes of every sceptic will be firmly fixed on the governments that made the agreements and made the lofty promises. As my Mother said to me a million times in childhood after I had broken an equal number of promises “I’ll believe it when I see it”.

Why is there the feeling that it’s all so much “blah blah blah” to quote Greta Thunberg? And why is there so little trust in those in power?  As Simon Mundy stated in the FT’s Nov 18th 2021 Rachman Review:

“One is the people who have the hands on the levers of power tend also to be people who are doing pretty well out of the current set-up and so are incentivised not to want to shake it up too much” https://www.ft.com/content/f1dbd73c-381c-475b-8b22-fa07abd6d92f


According to the Economist “The Glasgow Summit left a huge hole in the worlds plans to curb climate change, but did agree a way to fill it”

What I am certain of Is that we will not achieve any of this if we compartmentalise responsibility. It’s the Government’s fault, it’s the Prime Minister’s, it’s the Russian’s the Chinese or the American’s. The simple truth for me at least is that it is all of us who share responsibility.

SO, let me ask you one question;

Do you consider your personal carbon footprint, your own tiny slice of responsibility for the cause of climate change?

Do you ever really think about it?  According to Mike Berners-Lee. We are all used to making financial choices, we have a sense of proportion of what we can and cannot afford what is costly and what is cheap. However, we do not have this perspective with our carbon footprint, and we should. How we live affects it greatly. We might be surprised at how much (or little) we are personally responsible for in the way we live our lives, and how easy that might be to change, for the better or worse.

For me much condenses into a single word “awareness”, simple and obvious maybe, but nonetheless powerful. Pick the wrong mushroom and you could die, ten seconds of research could tell you if its safe, you are then “aware”, and can make an informed choice, not one based on ignorance, awareness can therefore have big payoffs.  We have all been shown the warning sign at COP 26, so we need to make our informed choices. Would you eat Beef reared on deforested land if you knew its carbon footprint was nearly four times that of locally reared beef, even though it might be cheaper?  Have you ever bought asparagus that was airfreighted from Peru? If so it had a carbon footprint of nearly 20kg of CO2e (1) produced for every kg of asparagus on your plate. Do you like a glass of orange juice? If so, a litre carton has a carbon footprint equivalent to that of 6 kg of oranges. Our informed choices can individually make a difference, collectively a truly massive one.   

We will post more on the carbon footprint of everyday products and services, on the ROSE website


Personally, I saw hopeful signs reflecting some of my comments above. I heard the voices of thousands of young determined and passionate people in common cause from all over the world, many representing the places hardest hit by the adverse effects of climate change. There were strong indications that the world’s financial institutions are turning their immense financial power towards investment strategies and visions beyond fossil fuels and the linear industrial economy. Greenwashing was a term I heard used (correctly) more times in this COP, than any other before it is giving the refreshing feel that this well used trick is finally exposed for what it is “smoke and mirrors”, so future claims and promises will be quickly exposed.  

One of a few things I took from the COP26 is that every commercial sector that wants longevity, every boss, every board, every politician needs to understand that the upcoming generations are tomorrow’s employees, employers, clients, customers, shoppers, consumers and voters and they want a sustainable world. Adapting to that in our businesses and lives is what I call future proofing. As a region Caithness and Sutherland have other reasons to learn this lesson, longevity in the face of a changing commercial landscape being one of them.  

What I took ultimately from COP26 was not to place all my faith in those I cannot control and work with what I can, what I can do. I used to think that one person had no power to effect change, I was wrong. I should look back to the start of the environmental movement and relearn that lesson from Rachael Carson (look her up).

We can make a difference and part of that is to assess how we live, improve what we can, make smarter and informed choices, create awareness convince others in word deed and of course what and where we spend our money on

To quote CS Lewis, “You can’t go back and change the beginning but you can start where you are and change the ending” 

 (1) To take into account the emission of other greenhouse gases when calculating the level of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists have devised an equivalent measure – CO2e (which literally means carbon dioxide equivalent).

ROSE Sustainability Ltd aims to promote the shift of Caithness and North Sutherland’s economy to one where sustainability is prioritised.

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