Editor’s comment: High expectations for COP26…

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

03 September 2021

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT
Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

In a few short weeks, the UK will host the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (aka COP26) in Glasgow. Originally scheduled to take place in November 2020, COP26 was postponed for 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This editorial leader was originally featured in the September 2021 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. And sign up to receive your own copy each month.

The summit aims to accelerate action towards the goals of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (a 1992 international environmental treaty designed to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system”) and the Paris Agreement (a subsequent 2015 treaty with more than 190 signatories, representing over 95% of worldwide emissions attributable to human activity, intended to intensify efforts to limit global warming).

Meanwhile, a few weeks ago, at the beginning of August 2021, the latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report warned that climate change is now “widespread, rapid and intensifying”. According to the report, only massive, immediate and sustained cuts in greenhouse gas emissions will make it possible to avoid global warming of 1.5 °C or 2 °C. The Guardian described the report as “its starkest warning yet” of “major inevitable and irreversible climate changes”, a theme echoed by media, politicians and activists around the world.

The IPCC is an intergovernmental UN body, mandated to provide objective scientific information to aid understanding of the impacts and risks of human-induced climate change, as well as potential mitigation and response options. An internationally accepted authority on climate change, the IPCC does not conduct its own original research; but in the largest peer review process in the scientific community, thousands of scientists and other experts undertake a systematic review of all relevant published literature – spanning tens of thousands of studies. The comprehensive review process entails multiple rounds of critique and commentary, emphasizing transparency and rigour, with key findings compiled into regular “Assessment Reports”. These updates contain a “Summary for Policymakers”, which is subject to line-by-line approval by delegates from all participating governments, representing more than 120 countries. As a result, its work is widely agreed upon by both leading climate scientists and member states.

So in the run up to COP26, especially after President Biden’s election precipitated US readmittance into the Paris Agreement, an overwhelmingly majority of the world’s scientific community and governments are once again better aligned on the imminent and substantial threat posed by climate change. Whether – and how quickly – this can be converted into meaningful change and action to address the threat remains a matter of more considerable and contentious debate – and it will be the goal of COP26, under the UK’s presidency, to reach a resolution and agree the way forward.

Once the political will is agreed, it will then largely be scientists and engineers that are tasked with finding the solutions to the problem. The STEM community will be charged with continuing to play a lead role in researching, designing, engineering and building the technologies that will help reduce emissions and propel societies toward net zero to fundamentally address climate change – ideally without adversely impacting our economic wellbeing and quality of life.

This must, of course, include electronics, as the smart devices and vast server farm data centres that fuel our digital world alone could consume up to 20% of the world’s electricity by 2025, producing around 5% of global carbon emissions – more than aviation, shipping – or any country other than the US, China or India.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how nations can come together to solve problems with devastating worldwide impact, inadvertently signposting a potential step change in how nations could work together to tackle the challenges of the climate emergency. Meanwhile, the COVID slowdown saw UK 2020 greenhouse gas emissions drop to 51% below 1990 levels. Arguably, the pandemic has exposed the links that bind health, wealth and environment – so as global leaders prepare to take the world stage, growing public awareness of the effects of climate change, alongside stark warnings that time is running out to take action to protect ourselves and avert disaster, are driving high expectations for what COP26 must deliver…

EPDT September 2021's issue also contains features on Embedded technologies and Energy applications, plus the latest edition of EPDT's twice-yearly Electronics Outsourcing supplement. Read more on what's inside EPDT this month

Mark Gradwell

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