Cop26 is over – now it's time for urgent action

We need a social consensus that change is necessary and positive, and that sustainability has value

Climate change needs our utmost attention and immediate action. The non-binding pledges made in Glasgow during the just-concluded Cop26 do not appear to go far enough or fast enough. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already warned that the average global temperature could rise by more than 1.5°C before 2030. This could leave the once historic Paris climate target, agreed by 191 countries and the EU in 2015, consigned to the dustbin of missed opportunities.

The Middle East, in particular, is facing a bleak outlook. Climate change is expected to cause extreme heat events across greater areas and for longer periods, making some regions unlivable. Rising temperatures will put intense pressure on crops and already scarce water resources. We have seen this in other regions already.

What should give us hope is the fact that we can still change a lot, but we must act now. Declarations of intent without corresponding measures are no longer enough. What we need are clear targets and measurable objectives with specific timelines.

Whether Glasgow really marks the start of the decade of implementation can only be judged when the World Climate Summit comes to an end. However, there is a concern that the hopes placed in Cop26 are unlikely to be fulfilled.

The IPCC report is very clear: we need to act, and we need to act now. It's not just about introducing new technologies. Nor is it just about saving a little energy. It's about fundamentally changing our approach to dealing with energy in an environmentally responsible and climate-friendly way. This affects everyone, whether governments, corporations or citizens.

On the plus side, the share of coal has fallen to an all-time low; just under 2 per cent of the electricity mix, compared with about 40 per cent a decade ago. A switch away from coal to renewable energies and nuclear power, as well as the use of natural gas can have a significant impact on our carbon footprint. The largest greenhouse gas emitters need to act together with one another. While environmental groups criticise the use of natural gas, the fact is that the fuel can help to significantly reduce CO2 emissions immediately. Of course, more renewable energies are preferable. But the quantities available are currently nowhere near enough to meet the world's electricity needs. If gas helps us build a bridge by reducing CO2 emissions by a good two-thirds compared to coal, while guaranteeing security of supply, then we should use the bridge. Will gas still be the right approach 25 years from now? Probably not. But we should finally stop talking about long-term targets and act immediately.

The Middle East has a leading role to play not just in ensuring security of supply of affordable gas to the world, but also to reduce the carbon cost of that gas – by improving efficiency and cutting emissions. But this region also has an opportunity to develop the technologies of the future. With abundant natural renewable resources in the forms of sun and wind, converting that into green hydrogen is one of those opportunities. It has the potential, not only to leverage existing gas infrastructure, but also decarbonise multiple industries and become an exportable commodity.

Another important factor for Glasgow’s success will be whether the industrialised countries keep their promise to support energy transformation in poorer countries with $100 billion annually. This was first decided in 2009 at Cop15 in Copenhagen, and the process was due to begin in 2020. However, not enough has happened, with experts estimating that the funding target will not be reached for another two years. Yet, the poorer countries are in urgent need of support, and not just for the coal phase-out. The effects of climate change are unevenly distributed, with developing countries and those located in the southern hemisphere being hit hardest. Not only was it affirmed in the Paris Agreement, but it is also the moral obligation of the industrialised countries, which have built up their prosperity over decades at the expense of both the environment and the poorer countries.

A boy shepherds camels near Al Karamah Dam in Shouneh March 7, 2014. The Middle East's driest winter in several decades could pose a threat to global food prices, with local crops depleted and farmers' livelihoods blighted, U.N. experts and climatologists say. Varying degrees of drought are hitting almost two thirds of the limited arable land across Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Iraq. To match analysis CLIMATE-DROUGHT/MIDDLEAST. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed (JORDAN - Tags: ENVIRONMENT AGRICULTURE BUSINESS)

Finally, we all need to accept the introduction of a CO2 price. Without appropriate incentives, behaviour will not change. How high the price must be can vary from sector to sector. There are already enough studies and expert opinions on this matter. However, it is important that there is a common, fair price system in as many regions as possible, which takes account of international competition and prevents social burdens – and thus the division of society – through compensation mechanisms.

This will also help to spur investment and innovation in clean technologies. We need to leverage technology quickly. We need to have more partnerships, more demonstrator plants and more pilot projects to test the capabilities of clean innovations, which can then be rapidly ramped up and expanded. Higher prices for goods and services need to be accepted to safeguard the planet.

No matter what the delegates in Glasgow decide, in the end it is also up to each of us whether we get back on track and turn things around. Every government, every company and ultimately every consumer has a responsibility. We need a social consensus that change is necessary and positive, and that sustainability has value. We are already in the middle of the storm.

Dietmar Siersdorfer is the managing director of Siemens Energy Middle East

Published: November 14th 2021, 7:00 AM
Dietmar Siersdorfer

Dietmar Siersdorfer

Dietmar Siersdorfer is the managing director of Siemens Energy Middle East