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COP26: Should there be limits on meat eating? And more questions


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The COP26 climate summit is under way in Glasgow – one of the biggest ever world meetings on how to tackle global warming.

BBC News Reality Check correspondent Chris Morris and environment correspondent Matt McGrath answer some of your questions.

Would enforcing quotas for meat consumption and flight travels be efficient and feasible? Anonymous, Geneva

Chris Morris writes:

In theory, enforced quotas would make a difference, but there’s little political appetite or support for that to happen. Instead, the focus is on encouraging behavioural change.

The UK Climate Change Committee – which advises the government – has recommended that people should consume 20% less meat and dairy by 2030, and 35% less by 2050. People are also being urged to think about flying less.

Taxation making certain things more expensive would probably be a more realistic solution than trying to enforce quotas.

Why can’t we have an international fund to help poorer countries attain zero carbon emissions? Robert Patterson, Darlington

Chris Morris writes:

That is partly what the current debate on climate finance is all about.

In 2009, rich countries said they would provide $100bn (£73bn) every year to the developing world by 2020. But they have been unable to live up to their promise, and they are now suggesting they will only meet that target in 2023.

Poorer countries need this money to help tackle the effects of climate change that they are already facing. But they also need it to make sure their economies become greener as they develop, on a path to net zero carbon emissions.

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If it is people causing climate change, what is being done to stop over-population ? Gaye Schmidt, Perth, Australia

Chris Morris writes:

Overpopulation isn’t causing climate change. Rather, it’s the excessive emission of greenhouse gases that are heating the planet up. And the richest one per cent of the world’s population is responsible for more carbon emissions than the poorest fifty per cent.

It is true to say the population of the planet can’t keep increasing indefinitely, because there is a finite number of resources available. But excessive consumption has played a larger role in climate change than a growing global population.

What is the impact of the quantity of methane on climate change? Maya Yossifova, Vienna, Austria

Matt McGrath writes:

Methane is a greenhouse gas, which is released from both natural sources, such as wetlands and termites, and also through human activities such as agriculture, fossil fuel exploitation and landfill sites.

It’s a compound of carbon and hydrogen, and this makes it exceptionally good at trapping heat – and a major cause of climate change.

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, methane levels in the atmosphere reached 1,889 parts per billion in 2021.

Concentrations of CO2 are roughly 200 times higher, but methane is calculated to be more than 80 times more potent at warming over a 20-year period.

A United Nations report earlier this year said that efforts to reduce methane emissions should be focused on reducing emissions from landfill sites and gas wells, cutting down food waste and loss, improving livestock management, and encouraging consumers to adopt diets with a lower meat and dairy content.

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Are there any positive effects of climate change? Mike Bell, Germany

Matt McGrath writes:

There may well be some short-lived positive impacts to warming, but climate scientists have been quick to shoot them down because they are overwhelmingly outweighed by the negatives.

The most widely quoted “benefit” is the idea that a world with higher carbon levels will see plants grow faster and bigger. This is called the CO2 fertilisation effect.

However, research published last year suggested that this effect is already waning and any idea that it could somehow limit future warming is not supported by the evidence.

What confidence can we have of the impact of COP26 when the world couldn’t even come together for an equitable distribution of vaccines? Mahesh Nalli, London

Matt McGrath writes:

There are parallels between the pandemic and the climate crisis, but some key differences as well.

As we’ve seen over the past 18 months, countries can keep Covid at bay by severely restricting the movements of people across their borders.

Such an approach doesn’t work well with rising temperatures that are causing impacts for rich and poor nations alike.

While the question of vaccine inequity is likely to be solved by time and money, the climate crisis requires the rethinking and re-engineering of almost every aspect of our lives, from energy to food to clothing.

Ultimately the vaccine question is a short-term crisis, while climate change is slow moving and multi-dimensional.

Humans are reasonably good at sorting out one, but not so good with the other.

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The COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow in November is seen as crucial if climate change is to be brought under control. Almost 200 countries are being asked for their plans to cut emissions, and it could lead to major changes to our everyday lives.

Is the global capitalist model not at odds with climate change and the need for a greener way of life? – Andrew, Exeter

Matt McGrath writes:

According to some experts, such as the economist Lord Stern, climate change can be seen as the great failure of the market.

This is because businesses have not generally had to pay for the damage they have caused to the environment.

Global efforts to tackle climate change over the past two decades have focused more on harnessing capitalism to limit warming – for instance, putting a price on carbon and making the polluter pay, to ensure that emissions are ultimately restricted.

Meanwhile, it’s also the case that if there’s consumer demand for greener products and services, capitalism will try to meet that demand.

But there’s evidently still a lot of work to be done to make these approaches work.

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