We can and must maintain momentum post-COP26, here's how

Guest blog by Dr Peter Matthews, past president of CIWEM and former chair of Natural Resources Wales.

So it is finished for the moment. The Glasgow Climate Pact is less than we hoped for, much more than we feared for, but much more than blah, blah, blah, to paraphrase Greta Thunberg.

Carbonbrief produced an excellent summary of the key outcomes. And the Society for the Environment website has some useful insights.

COP created a further surge of interest in what climate change means for us as individuals. But it has gone quiet since and we need to maintain the energy. Are we really connecting with everyone?

November 5th was COP Public Engagement Day, but how many amongst the wider public knew that, and how many engaged, understood and made a change? What do we need to do as individuals? There has been much discussion which could fill many pages.

It won't be easy. Not only must we overcome the inertia of our ingrained habits at home and at work, we must confront outright opposition to change. The pandemic has shown us we can make drastic changes to our personal habits for the greater good, in a relatively short period of time.

Mobilising the public

But is it enough to rely on individual proactivity in seeking out climate change rescue wisdom or to rely on reactivity in receiving information perhaps via social media or email? In the age of misinformation, is something more visible and trusted now vital?

The Climate Change Committee and the Behavioural Insights Team, a social purpose company which is partly owned by the Cabinet Office, both have very useful information on their websites about the impacts of climate change on citizens and the actions they can take.

But who, amongst the wider public, would go to these regularly of their own volition? There needs to be greater visibility of where to find such trusted and reliable information.

We need something that people can find, read, and refer to easily – in whatever format they access their information through their day-to-day lives – whether in hard copy or digital. These would be written in ways which would help us move towards better practices and habits, through reliable presentation of fact and advice and could include guidance on the best sources of further information and available support.

This could provide general and specific information, for example, on the environmental impact of diet and what is and isn’t recyclable. On climate-friendly fashion and the amount of money to be saved on heating through an additional layer or using less water.

There are many other examples, such as help and advice on home insulation and more environmentally-friendly ways to travel, home working and thinking local when it comes to the weekly shop and more. We can all make changes which, whilst they may feel somewhat alien at first, are considerably less restrictive than most of our experiences since the covid-19 pandemic hit.

The power of the COP acronym

We also have an opportunity to exploit the power of the acronym COP. It now has a ringing resonance with the climate crisis and what we need to do to rescue the planet.

Could we have a dedicated annual day for COP which tracks progress made against targets (aside from COP public engagement day) and discusses where citizens can make the biggest change and where support is needed or available? We should aim for this to raise to the level of an annual awareness day, that would be a firm fixture in the environmental calendar.

How would this stack up with the UN World Environment Day on June 5th? Would it be too much to have two environment days a year bearing in mind the scale of the challenges?

One suggestion emerging from thinking by a group of CIWEM past presidents, aligns what we need to do with the sundry methods for doing so. Identifying the best, most impactful actions for citizens could be articulated through what I describe as a COP test, applied to social issues in a balanced way.

This semi-acronym would be a nice, long-term way of expressing a complex problem and the response, to cut through greenwash, and to ground-truth claims and proposals on actions and their climate impacts.

A COP test would find the best practicable climate change rescue option – really just the established principles of best practicable environmental option updated to include all climate change issues.

I explore the underlying behavioural issue on the Linkedin group Climate Crisis and the Pandemic. Whatever.

Ultimately, we must retain the interest and enthusiasm of November's COP26 summit and figure out ways of engaging and supporting the public to make impactful, science-based climate actions they can own.

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