COP26: How climate change is thought to be affecting the North East and North Yorkshire


World leaders have arrived in Glasgow for COP26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Their mission? To discuss how best to reduce greenhouse gases across the globe and deliver on the goals laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“It’s one minute to midnight and we need to act now," said Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the historic event commenced.


The COP26 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP26? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP26:

  • US President Joe Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, climate adviser and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and 10 other US cabinet officials.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the days leading up to COP26, Mr Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge are also attending. The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.

China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are among the leaders that have decided not to travel to Glasgow.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - Countries are being encouraged to set ambitious 2030 emissions targets. They are also encouraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal, clamp down on deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

2. Protect natural habitats and communities from climate change disasters

3. Finances for a greener future - In 2009, developed countries were asked to keep to their promises to contribute at least $100 billion (£72.5 billion) per year by 2020 to protect the planet. In 2015, it was agreed that the goal would be extended to 2025.

However, new analysis shows the goal is unlikely to have been met last year and is on track to fall short in 2021 and 2022.

4. Getting all countries and organisations to work together to tackle the climate crisis

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Highest among the conference's priorities is to develop a more detailed plan to keep global warming below 1.5°C on pre-industrial levels - or 2°C at the very least.

According to United Nations experts, it is at this point that global warming will have a truly catastrophic impact on food production, water reserves, biodiversity and sea level rise.

But here in the North East of England, people from a wide variety of professions and backgrounds say climate change has already made life harder for humans and wildlife.

They are calling for changes to be made before it is too late.

Agriculture

Back in February, much of Richard Bramley's Kelfield farm was underwater.

Richard Bramley's farm in February 2021

After a sustained period of heavy rain, the River Ouse burst its banks. A large portion of Mr Bramley's crop was destroyed.

He is in agreement with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in believing incidents like these are becoming more regular as a result of climate change.



"Since 2007, I wouldn’t say it’s almost been an annual event but it’s starting to become that way," he says.

Wildlife

The North East of England is famous for its unique and charismatic wildlife.

Large populations of grey seals and puffins entertain international tourists while a colony of kittiwakes has settled down on the Tyne Bridge and Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

All have become symbols of the region and showcase a degree of biodiversity. But, according to zoologist Professor Mike Jeffries at the Northumberland Wildlife Trust, they are at risk of serious decline due to rising temperatures and resultant storms.

Large numbers of crustaceans and sea birds have been found dead along the Teesside and Northumberland coastline in recent weeks.

No clear link has yet been drawn to climate change or other human causes such as pollution.



Air pollution

Newcastle is a car-loving city, with almost 100,000 registered vehicles serving a population of just three times that many people. More than half of all journeys are made in private vehicles.

But though convenient, cars account for 20% of the city's carbon emissions and help place Newcastle among the worst polluted cities in Europe - though the City Council contest this claim.

The link between air pollution and health problems is well-documented.



Seventy-three-year-old asthmatic Violet Rook measure pollution levels on her residential street. She is concerned about the dangers posed not only to her but to young people who live near her.

Newcastle and Gateshead council officials intend to introduce 'clean air zones', but Dr Sara Walkers, Director of The Centre for Energy at Newcastle University, is urging motorists to wean themselves away from car travel.

"Everything that we do makes a difference in terms of the overall impact on our climate," she says.