Whether they come or not, the fact that Police Scotland is planning for the presence of US President Joe Biden and Pope Francis at the United Nations’ Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November is a sign of the significance of what is being billed as the most important event of its kind since the Paris Agreement was struck in 2015.
In just a few months’ time – assuming the pandemic threat continues to subside – the leaders of the world will descend on Scotland to thrash out the practicalities of meeting the targets set six years ago.
Then, many celebrated the news that humanity had committed to ensuring global warming would be kept as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible in order to avoid “dangerous” climate change.
However, last month UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned a new report revealing that nations’ current plans are “nowhere close” to meeting that goal should be seen as a “red alert for our planet”.
Describing 2021 as “a make or break year to confront the global climate emergency”, he said: “Now is the time… Decision makers must walk the talk. Long-term commitments must be matched by immediate actions to launch the decade of transformation that people and planet so desperately need.”
Scotland has an opportunity to exert considerable influence on the Cop26 negotiations and not just because it is the host.
Carbon emissions in Scotland fell by 31 per cent between 2008 and 2018 – faster than any G20 country over the same period.
But, as the Committee on Climate Change, which advises the Scottish government, pointed out, “decisive action and clear policies are urgently required” if that success is to continue.
Much of the easier work on cutting emissions has been done, leaving the more difficult tasks of, for example, decarbonising household heating and transport.
However if we can find innovative ways to improve efforts to prevent dangerous climate change, we will be able to show them to a worldwide audience.
A new industrial revolution – powered by renewable energy, not fossil fuels – is dawning and, with a wealth of natural resources on its doorstep, Scotland is well placed to become a world leader, setting an example for other countries to follow and also reaping the economic rewards of being ahead of the curve.
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