KICKING off a decade of action in order to hit ambitious global efforts in line with the UN’s 2030 target on sustainable development and the Paris Agreement’s mission on climate change, these 10 years were widely regarded as our last chance to reverse some of the worst excesses of fossil fuel consumption and accelerated global warming.

Of course, Covid-19 has changed everything. As nations across the world have locked down, economies have nose-dived, with climate ambitions put on pause to focus on the immediate battle to reduce the death toll and contain the virus.

Now countries emerging from this initial first wave are being urged to consider a green recovery that aligns with the UN and Paris objectives rather than a return to business as usual. International commitments on these vital environmental innovations forged and publicised at global get-togethers such as the UN’s Climate Change Conference, the COPs, are an integral part of a worldwide push for change, with leaders in the spotlight on their actions as much as their words.

This was also to be the year that Glasgow was due to host COP26. This particular COP was seen as a vital opportunity to move beyond the impasse of COP25 and the lack of concrete steps towards making real and immediate progress on net-zero carbon transition. However, due to the pandemic, this conference has been postponed not once, but twice. Last week, the UK Government’s proposal of a further push-back from the initial suggestion of early next year to November 2021 in order to be past the current travel restrictions related to the virus was accepted by the COP Bureau. These concerns are of course legitimate, but they are also convenient for a government that has done very little to prepare in advance for the global great and the good to descend on Glasgow to discuss some of the most important questions of our time, never mind make actual progress and show leadership on their own climate ambitions.

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COP26 has been quite the political football for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration, with petty arguments on Scottish Government involvement and even a rumour that Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would be excluded from attending on behalf of the home nation, despite our exemplary record on the environment and renewables. With the focus more on one-upmanship than a true dedication to tackling the climate crisis, it is hard to be convinced of this UK Government’s best intentions when it comes to a sustainable future.

It’s all part of their obsession with Brexit and desperation for trade deals with the States. Leaving the EU and turning more to America makes the UK Government an unconvincing player in addressing the climate emergency in tandem with economic recovery after this pandemic, given that President Donald Trump has already reneged on the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Interestingly, there appears to be a strong correlation between countries with a poor record on their commitment to climate change and an even bleaker record on their handling of Covid-19. The US, Brazil, Russia and the UK have the highest virus death tolls in the world at present and an ambivalence or downright belligerence on playing their part in saving our planet. This makes them on the wrong side of progress – because this pandemic has shown us that urgency in dealing with a crisis trumps delay and obfuscation. Postponing action or shrugging off responsibility in a vain attempt to save the economy, as Johnson did with his dithering on implementing lockdown, can have devastating effects to the opposite. The same can be said of the race to reduce emissions, despite ample evidence that shows how much economies could benefit from a greener response to recovery.

Countries such as New Zealand have recognised this opportunity. They acted fast on the coronavirus crisis and have suffered far less loss to life as a result; now the New Zealand government has integrated an innovative climate response into their economic rehabilitation. Closer to home in Spain, where the death toll has now reached 27,500, the government is currently drafting a law to provide an institutional framework that recognises the importance of energy transition in tandem with economic recovery post-pandemic. This law will ban all new coal, oil and gas projects with immediate effect, end direct fossil fuel subsidies, commit to emissions-free vehicles and make their electricity 100% renewable.

Back in the UK, pressure is growing to incorporate climate action into our recovery plans. Some major players in the UK energy sector are addressing this issue and the opportunities presented by a world forever changed by Covid-19. Just last month, SSE chief executive Alistair Phillips-Davies launched his company’s five-point “Greenprint” action-plan for the energy sector recovery, including targeting offshore wind-projects and electric motorways for transporting clean power. Phillips-Davies pointed out: “This moment in time is pivotal on many levels. Coronavirus has demonstrated only concerted, focused effort can solve a crisis and that goes for the climate emergency too.” Are you listening Number 10?

SCOTLAND is certainly all ears. We’re keen to continue to play a positive role in this vital green regeneration and radical reimagining of our economic and energy systems. Hosting COP26 in Glasgow means that Scotland can very much be at the heart of a climate-centred and resilient new world.

Covid-19 has highlighted how collective action instead of self-interest and scientific evidence instead of fake news is the only way that the human race can move forward in the face of danger and threat to life. This vital message and indeed our visceral experience of this virus must inform global action on a green recovery process. The big decisions that need to be taken at COP26 can only be delayed at our peril. The UK Government must understand that, like coronavirus, this is a crisis that cannot be put on hold.