The COP26 Summit and How we as Individuals Can Help to Reduce Global Warming

Ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow (October 31 – November 12), the UN Environment Program has released a report described as a “wake-up” call.  An analysis of country pledges to reduce emissions shows they fall far short of what is necessary to maintain global temperature rise under 1.5 C this century; instead the earth is likely to rise by 2.7 C causing a sharp increase in catastrophic weather events.  There is also clear evidence of human agency.

What then can we do as individuals to alleviate climate warming while leaders haggle over their efforts?  For example, Australia’s current right-wing government is refusing to phase out coal — the worst fossil fuel polluter — and now pledges net zero emissions by 2050, a full two decades after the COP26 objective.

So what can individuals do?  It turns out they can help more than might be apparent.  The consumption of red meat, lamb and beef, contribute the highest greenhouse gas emissions in foods.  Per kilo of consumption, lamb causes 39.2 kge (kilogram equivalent) of CO2 — an equivalent measure because ruminants belch methane.  Lamb is closely followed by beef at 27.0.  In contrast, pork is much less at 12.1, turkey causes 10.9 kilos equivalent and chicken 6.9 kge.  The very lowest numbers are registered by foods such as nuts (2.3), vegetables (2.0), fruit (1.1) and lentils (0.9).  Not only then is eating more fruits and vegetables good for you — as we are told often — but it is also good for the environment.

While travel has declined during the Covid19 epidemic, it can be expected to pick up as the situation stabilizes.  Transport in all its forms is responsible for 24 percent of direct CO2 emissions caused by fuel combustion according to the Paris-based IEA (International Energy Agency).

Cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles and three-wheelers account for three-quarters of transport CO2 emissions because of their numbers.  Although far fewer in numbers, airplanes cause 3 percent of global CO2 emissions.  Trains carry many more passengers so that even diesel trains produce less pollution per passenger than airplanes.  And driving a car solo has an impact similar to an 80 percent full airplane.

In addition there are adverse health effects causing an expected 16,000 deaths per year due to aviation alone.  The clear conclusion for individuals is simple:  Travel less and drive less, and take trains where possible.  It is also another reason why the US needs to develop a high-speed electric train network as in Europe.

For individuals, the obvious conclusion is to waste less, and to buy less.  From cars to clothes to shoes, each item has a carbon footprint  — and the less we purchase, the smaller will be ours as manufacturers sensing declining demand will produce less.

In the end, it is up to us as individuals to generate consumer behavior — an integral factor — that protects the future of our common home.

Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.