The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly referred to as COP27, begins today in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

The UN Climate Change Conference has happened every year since 1995. It brings together all the states that signed the UNFCCC, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a 30 year old international environmental treaty addressing climate change. Every UN member state is a signatory to the treaty as well as Palestine, the Cook Islands, Niue and the Vatican: in effect, the whole world is signed up and has been since 1992. If we identified the problem so long ago and have spent 30 years trying to fix it, how come we are teetering on the very edge of climate catastrophe as we come to the end of 2022?

We know, and have known for a long time, that if we can limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, we can significantly reduce sea level rise and the frequency of the frighteningly intense heat waves we have suffered in the past few years. And we even know how to do it: we know that we have to stop digging up the carbon that the planet stored away underground over the billions of years it took to create the very specific environment in which we, very specifically, evolved. How can it be so hard?

The UN secretary-general António Guterres says that the fossil fuel industry has humanity by the throat; he is warning of what he has called collective suicide. He has proposed a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies’ excessive profits to be distributed to the developing countries that are suffering the floods and fire of extreme weather. But he may be a lone voice.

Tomorrow and Tuesday, world leaders will attend and make the speeches that will attract the world’s media. Thereafter, the diplomats, negotiators, scientists and experts will stay to do the real work, unrewarding, frustrating and very, very slow, while our government hands out licences to drill for gas and oil in the North Sea, considers planning permission for a new coal mine, and limits the amount of land available to solar farms.

We can do more than watch and wait. We can ask our local supermarket if they use electric delivery vehicles and we can choose to shop only in the places that do. We can ask Trowbridge Council for the infrastructure to charge our EVs while we shop; we can ask for a clean, cheap and efficient public transport system or for somewhere to safely lock up our electric bicycles. We can ask how council buildings are heated and if our councillors have turned down their thermostats and put on a woolly jumper, just like we have.

We mustn’t let COP27 make us feel helpless, because we are not. Not only do we have a vote but our every choice can make a difference. Instead of driving, let’s walk to the reserve this morning for a tromp through the muddy woods while we consider our next carbon-free move.

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